For some strange reason, Bradley Beal continues to get slept on.
The sixth-year guard, who is widely considered one of the top five shooting guards in the League and, with all respect due to DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, part of the best backcourt in the East (when healthy), was never an All-Star before this year. Last season, Beal finished behind Iman Shumpert, Kyle Korver, JR Smith, Jeremy Lin and Avery Bradley in fan voting. He was posting 23 points per game.
This season? Beal is averaging a career-high 23.8 points per game, yet still finished behind Isaiah Thomas, who has played only a handful of games, Dwyane Wade and Ben Simmons in fan votes. Fortunately game recognizes game and Beal was selected as a reserve in the Eastern Conference before eventually being drafted by captain LeBron James.
“It would surprise me if I wasn’t an All-Star this year,” Beal tells SLAM during a December afternoon photoshoot at his crib in the suburbs of DC, weeks before he made the team. “As crazy as it might sound, I don’t get caught up in it because I’ve been snubbed before—at least in my opinion—and I understand the business aspect of it. Granted, being an All-Star is great, but winning a championship is far more of a better accolade than that. That’s my ultimate goal, but I would love to be an All-Star.”
The guard isn’t speaking out of turn either. In the East, Beal is neck and neck with DeRozan and Victor Oladipo as the conference’s top shooting guard. And he’s getting his due props from his peers. Following a 106-99 loss to the Cavs in December, LeBron told reporters that Beal is “playing at an All-Star level this season,” and in January, John Wall said that his teammate “should be an automatic lock” to make the team.
Following injuries and inconsistent play during the first four seasons of his career, the St. Louis native has blossomed over the last season and a half. Through the first 40 games of the ’17-18 run, Beal has been exceptional. He has scored at least 30 points eight different times while taking on more responsibility and handling some point guard duties as Wall has dealt with a knee injury that has limited him to 37 games and will keep him out for the next 6-8 weeks.
Labeled as a catch-and-shoot player for the majority of his career, Beal has shown the full repertoire of his bag this season. The guard’s ever-expanding game was put on display during his career-high 51-point outburst against the Blazers in December: coming off screens; beating his man off the dribble; hesitation step-backs; attacking the rim; pull-up jumpers. Beal was unstoppable and put the rest of the NBA on notice that he is a threat from any position on the floor.
“I saw my first couple [of shots] go in and it was a wrap from there,” he says. “I feel like I have a lot to prove in the League and I’m big on evolving my game. I don’t want to be labeled strictly as a shooter or a catch-and-shoot guy. I want to be labeled as a scorer and a playmaker and someone who can get his teammates involved in plays off the dribble. I don’t want to be a one-dimensional guy.”
It’s a cool, grey afternoon before Christmas when we’re greeted by five dogs at the front door of Beal’s home. Beal’s four brothers—Brandon, Bruce, Byron and Bryon—are posted up at various spots around the house, either playing 2K or fooling around on their laptops, while the two Rottweilers and three French bulldogs are corralled by Brad’s girl, Kamiah Adams. It’s a familial setting, one that Beal feels most comfortable in.
“We’re a tight-knit family and we keep our circle more like a dot,” says Beal. “I’m big on family and big on love and providing for them and helping them in any way I can.”
Beal credits his mother for putting a ball in his hands and introducing him to the game. “Still to this day she mentors me and cusses me out if I don’t shoot it the right way,” he says with a laugh. He says he recognizes how lucky he is to come from a stable household where both of his parents were present.
The family atmosphere carries over to the Wizards locker room. You’d be hard pressed to find a team that is more close-knit than the Wiz, who have built a young core that will spend the foreseeable future together.
“We really are tight—it’s not just to show people that we can act like great teammates, we really are,” says Beal. “We’re even better friends off the court. We’re like brothers. We clown on each other off the court and all that stuff. It’s real down to earth. We understand that it’s a business but we don’t necessarily treat it like that. We understand that we can be cool off the floor just as well as on the floor.”
Before the 2016-17 season, Beal and Wall’s relationship came under the microscope when Wall told CSN Washington that he and his backcourt mate “…a lot of times we have a tendency to dislike each other on the court.” From that point on, their body language started to become dissected, and quotes and interviews regarding their relationship became online fodder.
With two stars sharing the rock, there’s bound to be some friction—that’s natural for anyone in a high-stakes, competitive environment. Whatever issues may have hampered them in the past, though, seem to be resolved, as the two led the Wizards to the brink of the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
“I think the thing that people probably confuse it with is that we’re competitive and we both want to win, we both want to be successful, and we both want to lead,” says Beal. “I think they get it confused that we don’t like each other, or we hate on another because of our competitive edge. I think that’s just who we are and what makes us one of the most dominant backcourts in the League, because we’re able to compete. We respect each other’s game and we push each other.”
The Wizards have been one of the more brash teams in the League, shit-talking with the best of them both on the court and during press conferences. Beal and Wall have routinely called themselves the best backcourt in the NBA, and the team has scrapped with the Celtics, Bucks and Warriors, among others. While the Wiz aren’t short on confidence, the team has yet to get over the hump and pull together enough wins to truly be considered one of the League’s elite. And they know it.
This season, the team has been up and down and after a 113-99 loss to the lowly Hawks, Wall told the Washington Post that when the Wizards play a team whose record is below .500, they “go out there playing for stats. It’s simple as that.” The quote holds weight. As of press time, the Wizards are 12-11 against teams with a winning record this season, and curiously 16-11 against losing teams—tied with the Knicks, Magic and Kings for most losses against sub-.500 teams, according to ESPN.
With the loss of Wall, Beal will once again become the focal point of the Wizards’ offense. It will take a group effort to finish strong while missing a star point guard, but with Beal at an All-Star level, the Wiz should be able to weather the storm and make another playoff push.
“I feel like we haven’t done what we’re capable of doing,” says Beal. “I feel like that’s a good thing and a bad thing because as the season goes on we can get it clicking right before the playoffs. At the same time, we’re disappointed with how we’ve been playing. We’re not happy about it and know that we should be a lot better than 17-14 [the Wizards improved to 27-22 as of press time—Ed.] at least we feel like that. We’re confident in ourselves, but reality is what it is—we’re sitting at 17-14. We’re not complacent about it, we’re not happy about it, but we feel like we have to do something about it and that’s go out and play to our potential every night.”
Peter Walsh is a Senior Editor at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @peter_m_walsh.