Ever since December of 2018, when John Wall's injury saga began, Bradley Beal has been the primary focus of opposing defenses to a degree not many players in the NBA have experienced. He's seen constant double-teams, and has put up really good numbers despite them.
Though it was just one half of a preseason game, Saturday night's 99-96 Wizards win over the Pistons offered Beal a glimpse at his new normal, now with two-time scoring champion and former league MVP Russell Westbrook in his backcourt. For the first time in a long time, Beal has a teammate who will demand an equal amount of attention from the defense.
"They still doubled me," Beal said. "But 100 percent you notice the differences. Guys are getting more open shots... We're going to get a lot of open shots because of the space and his attack mode and his attack mentality. Defenses have to respect it. He's going to get two feet in the paint and the rest of us have to do our jobs, get open and knock them down."
"You could see in the first half, how many open looks everyone had," Davis Bertans said. "Russ set the tone driving and kicking. Then, everybody else got into it because we got so many wide open looks."
Westbrook played 17 minutes and ended up with eight points, seven rebounds, three assists and a steal. He could have had a few more assists on plays where his teammates missed good looks.
Bertans happened to go 1-for-7 from three. Beal was 0-for-7. That won't happen often.
Still, the potential of the Wizards' offense was on display. They scored 63 points in the first half. Westbrook made plays, so did Beal, who had 15 points in 26 minutes. And Thomas Bryant led the team with 22 points on 7-for-12 shooting, including 3-for-6 from three.
Westbrook's approach was at first to get his teammates involved and run plays, but by the end of the first quarter he turned his attention to attacking the rim. He scored six points in a span of 95 seconds, starting with a tough, contested layup for his first basket since joining the Wizards.
"[He looked] really good," head coach Scott Brooks said. "Kind of like he's been looking like all training camp. He just, his spirit is about winning. He's not about stats. He just plays the right way. He teaches our young fellas the right things. He's great. He's been nothing short of spectacular."
Westbrook only played in the first half, but throughout the game was seen coaching up his teammates on the sidelines. During timeouts, he pulled players like rookie ninth overall pick Deni Avdija aside.
Saturday was Westbrook's lone appearance this preseason. Up next for the Wizards is their regular season opener on Wednesday, as they go to Philly to see the Sixers. That will be the first extended look at the 2020-21 Wizards after all the moves they made this offseason.
But what we saw Saturday night, with Westbrook, looked much different than the last two years. Beal's like certainly got a little easier.