All-Star Bradley Beal returned from the break Friday night with an All-NBA performance.
The Wizards still lost 123-110 at Charlotte.
Within those two sentences there's hope and fear for this season and beyond.
Beal destroyed the Hornets for a season-high 46 points. His work over 42 minutes included high-level efficiency – 16 of 25 from the field, sank all 10 of his free throws plus seven assists and one turnover – and powerful moments.
Beal scored 26 points in the second half, including 10 of Washington’s 23 in the final period. The Hornets knew where to focus their defensive effort. Washington’s leading scorer couldn’t have cared less and turned in arguably his best all-around game of the season.
When viewing a Wizards team going forward this season and especially next year for however long the injured John Wall sits, performances like this from Beal offer hope. Add starter-worthy help this summer, let Beal’s vibe lead the way and perhaps the team isn’t climbing uphill from the start next campaign.
Finding steady assistance now is the dilemma. If the Wizards intend on bringing back many of the current pieces, that dilemma could linger.
The non-Beal’s made only 10 more baskets than Beal and finished 26 of 72 (36.1 percent) from the field. Their collective assist-to-turnover numbers (17-12) explain some unsteady moments, especially during the second quarter when Charlotte rallied after Washington led 38-27. They tried. They just didn’t offer enough as Washington lost for the eighth time in 11 games.
Washington insisted veteran forward and 2019 unrestricted free agent Trevor Ariza remains in its plans beyond this season. That’s understandable based on Ariza’s historically strong two-way play even if his age (33) and possible contract demands (earned $15 million this season) offer potential downside.
The Wizards haven’t received the full-throated version since the trade with the Suns sent Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers to Phoenix. Ariza had 10 points on 4 of 13 shooting (2 of 7 from deep) against the Hornets. Usually a viable perimeter threat, Ariza entered Friday shooting 31.9 percent on 3-pointers. Oubre, a consistent clank during his four-year career, is hitting 32.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Ariza’s addition offers more than just scoring, and some aspects are not easily quantifiable. Some numbers that attempt that feat are not in love. Ariza’s PER (13.1) trails Oubre’s (16).
Chasson Randle and Wesley Johnson are not Washington’s most curious backup guard tandem this decade. They might be close, however. Other contenders usually played behind Beal and Wall, thus limiting the downside.
Johnson missed all five of his field goal attempts against the Hornets, while Randle played a pedestrian 13 minutes. Head coach Scott Brooks resorted to a big lineup with Beal as the lone guard. This maneuver worked easier with Otto Porter or, at least defensively, Oubre on the court. Neither lives here anymore.
Bobby Portis and Thomas Bryant offer Brooks two energetic interior options. With their size, mobility and shooting range, they seem like a viable pairing. For a team battered on the boards all season, using Bryant and Portis together conceivably boosts Washington’s rebounding chances.
Brooks skipped using them together much before this game. Their defensive struggles against Charlotte showed why. Washington was outrebounded 53-43 all the same.
This team looks nothing like the one Brooks coached during his first two seasons. Only Beal, Tomas Satoransky and Ian Mahinmi played for the team that came within one game of the 2017 Eastern Conference finals.
Ideally, Brooks’ patchwork lineup generates needed momentum while a playoff berth remains in reach. Washington (24-35), now a season-worst 11 games under .500, fell four games back of Detroit for the eighth and final playoff berth.
Conceivably, this core returns next season. Washington opened salary cap space by trading Porter’s hefty contract. Keeping Ariza, Jeff Green, Satoransky, Portis and Bryant eats up much of that space. Growth from 2018 first round pick Troy Brown and the arrival of a player with a 2019 first round selection increases the upside. The hope for a turnaround comes from those that faced Charlotte Friday night.
The non-Beal’s can do more now. Asking extra from Beal is outrageous, even if the shooting guard suggests that’s possible.
“I wish I could pinpoint on one thing,” Beal told reporters postgame when asked how this team finds a winning path. “But I just have to elevate my play, that’s all I know I can do is elevate my play and my leadership to do whatever it takes.”
That Beal believes more is possible is why he’s a keeper. None of us should doubt him considering the strides made during his second All-Star season. His determined approach is the kind found with contenders.
Even two-time All-Stars need help. Beal’s teammates must provide some quickly to keep hope alive this season as the organization ponders plans for the next one.
MORE WIZARDS NEWS: