WASHINGTON -- Bradley Beal ran his palm across his left cheek as he spoke, highlighting the new style of facial hair he has maintained throughout the preseason. Though it is trimmed symmetrically, it's not exactly what he dreamed of when he started growing it out.
"I've got my chops. I'm still trying to get them to connect," he said. "I'm 26 and I still can't grow a beard."
Some of that scruff may turn gray by the end of the 2019-20 season, Beal's eighth in the NBA. He has a new role, one of franchise player, something he has never been to this extent entering a season before. Though he has played plenty with John Wall sidelined due to injuries, he has never gone into a season as 'the guy.'
And, though he knows what it's like to be on a rebuilding team likely headed south of the playoffs from his early days in the NBA, he hasn't done that while being an established, All-Star player. This year could test his resolve if things go as many have predicted.
Not only could there be more losses than victories, but Beal will have to get used to playing with teammates a lot younger and less experienced than him. The Wizards' opening night starting lineup, for instance, has three players Age 22 or younger.
"It's definitely going to be a patient, long year. I will be saying that word a lot. Just being patient and understanding," he told NBC Sports Washington.
"It's a growing year, just realizing that I can't expect everybody to be perfect. I can't expect them to know what to do in every situation."
Beal plans to do his part both in games and in practices to make sure the young players fall in line. The fact he just signed a contract extension keeping him in Washington through at least the 2021-22 season shows everyone in the organization he is committed long-term. That should boost the respect he already commands as a star player.
Now, when young players look at him during frustrating times, they know he isn't pondering an exit strategy. He is here to stay and they have to follow his lead.
Beal has developed into a vocal leader and he can be hard on young players behind the scenes, especially the ones he expects the most out of.
"I know these guys are young, but I know they aren't going to fulfill their potential unless I push them there," he said.
It will be interesting to see how that plays out during and after games. There are probably going to be nights where he plays in lineups with four players who could still be in college. They may make mistakes and possibly at crucial times. Beal will have to let those teaching moments slide and choose how to categorize them to the media afterwards.
Though the Wizards have some veterans on their team, head coach Scott Brooks is planning to rely more on younger players than he has in the past. He was criticized by fans last season for not playing Troy Brown Jr. even when it appeared obvious he could help. There were some in the front office who wondered what was taking so long.
Those types of disagreements happen within organizations and within coaching staffs. But this year, Brooks may have no choice.
"The opportunity is definitely going to be there this year," Brooks told NBC Sports Washington. "Troy's going to have a great opportunity to make an impact."
Brooks will be tasked with doling out minutes and, for young players, he says there is a "sweet spot" between having them earn their playing time and getting the chance to play through mistakes.
"This is not an 'everybody get a ribbon' league. You can't play everybody," he said.
Brooks mentioned the Capital City Go-Go as a resource to use to ensure guys get game experience, even if it is not at the NBA level. But overall, for coaches like Brooks and leaders like Beal, they will have to take a nurturing approach. Brooks said that for him that could mean having lunch with young players or taking them out to coffee at a local restaurant. Maybe Beal will have to lead in more creative ways, beyond just setting an example.
There is no question a lot is going to be on Beal's plate. For the foreseeable future, the Wizards are his team. Wall may be back at some point this season, but he could miss it all due to his ruptured left Achilles injury.
For the newcomers on the Wizards' roster, Wall's absence won't mean much because they haven't played with him before. Beal is the one who will have to adjust and take on a larger role. That could be as simple as taking more shots.
Beal has set career-highs in shot attempts each of the last three seasons. He ranked seventh in the NBA last year with 19.6 shots per game and that number could increase this year.
"I definitely know that my shot attempts probably have to go up," Beal said.
He may even approach a goal Brooks has publicly set for him; to shoot 20 threes in a game.
"I might get to it this year, I don't know. But I don't want to just be considered a chuck," he said.
"That's just not me. I'm an efficient guy. I'm not a bad shot taker. I play the right way no matter what the score of the game is. I know this year I'm definitely going to have be a lot more aggressive. There might be times where I have to take some heat checks and when I'm not hot, but I've gotta take them."
Though it may not feel natural for Beal to take a ton of shots, the opportunity is there for him to be the focus of an offense like few players in the NBA are. He could take 20-plus shots per game and chase a scoring title if he wants to.
Most players would love to have that type of green light. But Beal also wants to win and he may fall frustratingly short of doing so this season. Let's check back in on him in a few months.
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