When asked about the opportunity to coach Bradley Beal during his pre-training camp press conference, newly installed Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr. decided to highlight an area of Beal's game that isn't often talked about.
As the top scorer in the Eastern Conference two years running, Beal is known far more for his offense than he is for his defense.
"I think what’s lost is his defensive acumen. He has the ability to do it," Unseld Jr. said, adding that having more talent on the Wizards' roster should ease pressure off of Beal to score and, in turn, allow him to spend more energy on defense.
Those comments made their way back to Beal and have him believing in his own capabilities as a defender. After Monday's practice, Beal cited some personal goals that set the bar pretty high.
"Try to be the MVP, try to make first team All-Defense, or one of the All-Defense teams. First team All-NBA. Shoot for those goals," Beal said. "I’m not trying to prove myself scoring-wise, I don’t think I need to do that anymore. It’s just a matter of winning. Can I lead a team to the playoffs? Can we be successful in the playoffs?"
Beal made third-team All-NBA last season for the first time. He did not receive any votes for MVP or the All-Defense team.
In fact, those have been very rare feats for the Wizards franchise. Their last and only MVP was in 1968-69 when Wes Unseld Sr., Unseld Jr.'s father, won the honors. Back then, the team played in Baltimore as the Bullets.
Their last All-Defense selection was John Wall in 2014-15. Before that, Larry Hughes got the nod in 2004-05 as the first player for the franchise selected since Manute Bol in 1985-86.
Unseld Jr. is a former assistant coach with the Wizards, but left the team after the 2010-11 season and did not overlap with Beal, who was drafted by the organization in 2012. But Unseld Jr. saw Beal's ability to defend firsthand while coaching opposing teams.
Beal believes Unseld Jr.'s stance is partly that and part motivation.
"He’s just pushing me. He realizes I can score and I can do a lot of things on offense, but he’s known me to be a defender when I first got in the league," Beal said. "In my first few years, he had seen my ability to defend and he hates the fact that my defense kind of slipped the last few years."
Beal has been impressed so far with Unseld Jr.'s attention to detail on the defensive end. He cited points of emphasis like shrinking the floor after a swing pass, positioning for defensive rebounds and communication. Unseld Jr.'s practices have featured a lot of repetition which, in Beal's eyes, is creating muscle memory for each player.
Beal was part of some standout defenses early in his career. Washington was eighth in defensive rating in 2013-14 and fifth in 2014-15. He's been a key cog in some good defensive teams and hopes to be once again.