Many of the improvements Bradley Beal has made in his game that have led to his career-best season have been physical. He's healthy, and that helps. He has always had a pretty shooting stroke, but now he makes them more consistently. His ball-handling is worlds better, allowing him to run the offense at times, attack the rim more frequently and perfect one of the smoother stepback jumpers in the game.
Beal has also improved mental aspects of his game and one part in particular is something he and his head coach Scott Brooks have mentioned on numerous occasions this season. When Beal misses shots early in a game, he doesn't let it get to him like he used to. This year he made an admitted breakthrough that allows him to shake off a shooting slump and find a rhythm within a game.
That newfound ability came in handy in the Wizards' 114-107 win over the Hawks in Game 1 of their first round playoff series on Sunday. Beal began the game in a woeful shooting slide, making just three of his first 12 shots. After one of them, a midrange jumper from the elbow, Beal pointed to the heavens, hoping that was it, that he had snapped out of his funk.
Beal ultimately did snap out of it midway through the third quarter. After then he went 6-of-9 from the field and along the way gained his swagger back, as evidenced by this smile and celebration from the floor after Kent Bazmore fouled him during a shot he made:
Beal ended up with 22 points, three assists and three steals. Afterwards, he described what he's learned about breaking out of early-game slumps.
"Just staying with it. It's a long game. I've played in the playoffs before, so I understand the intensity of it," he said. "I can't get caught up in myself. I can't get caught up in having that selfish mindset of not making shots or not getting shots or not being who I'm capable of being. Just stay within the flow of the game and be who I am. When I did see one go down, just continue to fire them up."
Brooks hasn't been around Beal long. But he has been around plenty of elite scorers and overcoming early-game rust is part of the deal for the best of the best.
"I’m happy for Brad [Beal]. Brad missed a lot of shots early and I’ve seen the growth of him, it doesn’t affect him. He’s like, you just reboot the computer every five minutes and just focus on making the next shot. That’s a sign of his toughness that he brings to our team.”
Last time the Wizards were in the postseason, the man some call 'Playoff Beal' was born. Now there is a new and improved iteration. Just because you keep in check early, doesn't mean that will continue.