Beal aims to prove he can stay durable again

Bradley Beal

WASHINGTON -- When healthy this season, Bradley Beal has mostly been quite good. He is scoring 22.5 points per game, just above his career average (22.1), while shooting a career-high 52% from the field and his best 3-point percentage (37.4) in five years.

While it has been popular at times to note the Wizards' record with and without him, his production has lately translated directly to wins. In their last 14 games with Beal available, the Wizards are 11-3.

It's just been the staying healthy part that has eluded him. Beal has missed 22 of the team's 55 games this season. That continues a trend, as last year he missed 42 games, the year before he missed 12 and the season before that he missed 15. 

Over the last four seasons, since Beal signed a max contract extension in 2019, he has played in 67.6% of the Wizards' total regular season games. He is tied for 193rd among all NBA players in total games played (190) during that span.

For comparison, teammate Kristaps Porzingis has appeared in more games (198) since returning from ACL surgery in 2019-20. Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony have played more NBA games in the last four years despite being out of the league this season.

Availability is the greatest ability, and lately Beal has had some difficulty achieving it.

"I've handled it well. I think in years past, I would be a lot more frustrated," Beal told NBC Sports Washington. "Obviously, I'm still frustrated but I've learned how to channel it."

The strange thing about Beal's injuries the last several years, and perhaps a positive, is that none of them have been the types that generally carry long-term concern. Beal's longest injury absence was last year when his season was cut short due to left wrist surgery.


Aside from that one, there have been a lot of small ailments and non-injury absences which have added up. Beal has missed time for all sorts of bumps and bruises, including strains to both hamstrings this year. Last year, he sat out briefly due to a death in the family. He's also had several stints with COVID and non-COVID illnesses.

When different viruses have gone around, Beal has been rather efficient at catching them. Sometimes, he says, it's because one of his three young sons has brought something home from school. But there have also been times when he was sick and they didn't catch it.

"I would say that part is frustrating because that's totally out of my control, getting sick or not," he said. "Obviously, that plays a part in it, too; having a stronger immune system and taking care of the body; taking my vitamins every day and making sure our kids wash their hands every day."

Those types of precautions are part of a larger process for Beal, as he strives to move past what he described as "knick-knack" injuries and other things in order to stay on the court for the Wizards. He is determined to become more durable and reliable moving forward.

It is something Beal has been able to do before. Through his first four NBA seasons, he missed about a quarter of the Wizards' regular season games, 81 in total; 26 as a rookie, nine games his second year, 19 games his third season and 27 the following season.

Back then, Beal's injuries were much more alarming in nature. That saga included a stress reaction in his right fibula. 

Beal was able to emerge from that time to be one of the most durable players in the league for three seasons. From 2016-17 through 2018-19, he missed only five games. He played 77 games in 2016-17, then all 82 the next two years.

Beal was proud of shedding the injury-prone label, and having done so gives him the confidence he can do it again.

"I'm not down about it. In years past, I would definitely be more frustrated. Now it's like I've been there before, I know how to bounce back from it," he said.

Beal was able to overcome injuries before in part because of changes to his routine. He made adjustments to his diet and weight-lifting regimen. He placed added focus on strength training so that he could absorb more contact and endure the rigors of an 82-game NBA season.

Beal also feels he's much better now at adapting to being in and out of the lineup. If he's sidelined with an injury, he goes through mental reps on the bench and stays engaged by giving teammates pointers throughout the game. That allows him to hit the ground running when he returns.


His approach to the physical aspects of preparation and injury prevention hasn't changed much since he experienced a breakthrough in 2016. He fixed the problem and then he stuck to it.

But now that he's having injury issues again, Beal wonders if it's time for another adjustment.

"It's just a freak thing. Some things aren't in my control and I just have to adjust on the fly. Pray and pray and just keep myself out of positions to get hurt," he said.

"[But] I can still be better managing and taking care of my body. Doing things in the weight more, eating. [I'm] looking at everything. Nothing is perfect, so obviously I could get back to the drawing board and figure out how to sustain my durability."

After Saturday's win over the Pacers, when asked about the Wizards' playoff hopes moving forward past the trade deadline, Beal said they need to stay healthy and that it starts with him. Washington's trajectory this season has paralleled their health and Beal has been a big reason why.

He's a three-time All-Star and one-time All-NBA selection who has twice led the Eastern Conference in scoring. The Wizards signed Beal to a five-year supermax contract worth $251 million in the offseason with plans for him as the leader of their franchise. Not only did they account for his scoring and overall impact to be part of the equation, but they also built the roster in part to complement him specifically.

In order for the Wizards to operate as designed, they need Beal out there. During some of his absences this season, especially during times the Wizards were losing games, it was common to hear from teammates like Porzingis, Kyle Kuzma and others about how important it was to get Beal back. His ability to score creates gravity for the defense and it opens up opportunities for others to make plays.

"He wants to be out there, he wants to contribute and he knows how much we rely on him. Not being available is a big piece of that," head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said.

Beal, 29, is now 11 seasons into his NBA career. He has been around so long that he could break the Wizards/Bullets franchise record for career points later this season. That record, held by Elvin Hayes, has stood for 42 years.

When Beal reflects on his decade-plus in the league, he marvels at how he has already twice surpassed the average career span for an NBA player. His appreciation for being in the NBA has grown every year and the injuries remind him of how fleeting it all can be.

"As you get older, you love it that much more and appreciate it that much more because it can be taken from you at any moment," Beal said.