The genesis of Bradley Beal's $128 million max contract, signed last summer, was May 5, 2015. That was Game 1 of the Wizards' semifinal series with the Atlanta Hawks, who'll be their first-round playoff opponent starting Sunday.
This time, the Wizards are the higher seed. Then, the Hawks were the top seed in the East and pushed to the brink as Beal filled the void when John Wall went out with five non-displaced fractures in his left hand and wrist.
Coach Scott Brooks rested Beal in the regular-season finale at the Miami Heat, so his last appearance came with 33 points in closing down The Palace of Auburn Hills. He displayed every weapon in his arsenal in beating the Detroit Pistons, from three-point shooting to breaking his man down off the dribble and finishing through traffic at the rim. Beal's havoc opened space for Markieff Morris to knock down clutch shots from three-point and mid-range too.
It was playoff Beal, who also has been Washington's most consistent perimeter defender.
“That’s what good players create ... helping our team score without scoring," Brooks said. "Brad has the ability to draw attention off his cuts, off his pindowns and I thought this season he’s really improved in that and it’s only going to get better.”
In those three games missed by Wall, before he returned for Games 5 and 6 vs the Hawks in that series, Beal averaged 23.6 points, 6.0 assists and 4.6 rebounds. He also gave Kyle Korver, who was the engine that made the Hawks' motion offense go, absolute fits.
Marked mostly by Beal, Korver was held to 7.0 points per game and just 12-for-42 three-point shooting, or 28.5%. Korver had led the league by shooting 49.2% on the long ball in the regular season.
The Wizards were convinced that Beal was a max player and the only question was his ability to stay healthy after so many stops and starts in his first four seasons. This was the first time, however, that he didn't have a stress reaction in his lower right leg.
The medical staff and methodolgy were revamped to better deal with injury issues for all of the players and other than an early-season thigh strain that cost Beal three games and a rolled ankle that kept him out for one game, he was able to stay on the court. Brooks made significant changes to cut the length of practices which helped prevent overuse injuries such as stress reactions, a precursor to a fracture in the bone.
The results: Beal set career-highs across the board with 77 of 82 games played, 23.1 points, 48.2% field-goal shooting, 3.5 assists and 82.5% free-throw shooting. And he did it while still shooting better than 40% from three-point range.
Beal's overall shooting accuracy is 34th in the NBA, and just second-best among shooting guards. Gary Harris of the Denver Nuggets, who attempted six fewer shots per game than Beal (11), is No. 1 at the position at 50.2%.
Korver is long gone from Atlanta, but they have a host of three-point shooters who will command Beal's attention on the defensive end such as Tim Hardaway and Mike Dunleavy.
If Beal could solve Korver, who played on a better team that also had Al Horford, he should be able to figure out this group.