NBA

Bradley Beal.

Bradley Beal emerges from John Wall's shadow to prove his importance to the Wizards

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The Washington Wizards have had a largely inconsistent season so far and their 13-11 record is evidence of this.

They haven't been helped by nagging injuries to star player John Wall throughout the campaign and after he was recently out for a couple of weeks with a knee problem, the Wizards immediately turned to his partner in crime to step up and assume leadership duties. 

Bradley Beal has always played second fiddle to Wall and their relationship hasn't always been great as a result.

The 24-year-old sees himself as a franchise player and the absence of his backcourt partner has afforded him the opportunity to prove it in recent games.

On Tuesday night in Portland, he sent out a strong message to show that he deserves to be taken seriously. 

Career night

The shooting guard produced a terrific offensive display on the road against the Trail Blazers as he posted a career-high 51 points. 

The Wizards, and Beal, went into the contest on the back of an embarrassing performance against the Utah Jazz the previous night where they were crushed 116-69. 

Beal had a particularly bad game going 4-of-15 from the field for just 11 points. It was the latest in a string of poor shooting displays by the Washington guard and it appeared that being the number one option was maybe a step he wasn't ready for. 

But he broke out of his mini-slump in style and put the team on his back. Beal was 21-of-37 from the floor and took on a huge load offensively but he had the hot hand all night. 

He was determined to bounce back from the nightmare in Utah and he put to rest any doubts people had about his ability to lead the team without Wall by his side.

Evolution

This display was the latest sign of the growth Beal has shown since he entered the NBA in 2012. He has always been a polarizing figure in the league, mainly due to his health and consistency rather than his talent. 

In the summer of 2016, the Florida product signed a five-year max contract worth $127 million. In large, Wizards fans were happy to lock down such a talented player but there were question marks raised about committing to a player who struggled to stay on the court. 

Philadelphia 76ers v Washington Wizards

But the franchise knew what they had at their disposal and was willing to do whatever was necessary to keep him in the nation's capital. 

That decision is now proving to be correct as the sharpshooter's health problems appear to be a thing of the past and he's now developed himself into one of the best scorers in the league. 

He completed 77 games in the regular season last year and averaged career highs in points (23.1) and field goal percentage (48.2 percent). In a sign of his consistency, he's putting up 23.3 points per game on 46 percent shooting so far this year. 

The St. Louis native is Washington's leading scorer and can make a legitimate case to now be considered as the best player on the team.

Los Angeles Lakers v Washington Wizards

He regularly steps up in the big moments and his performance against the Boston Celtics in game seven of the playoff semifinals was certainly a breakout moment for him as Wall wilted under the pressure. 

Beal put up 38 points and almost willed the Wizards to the Eastern Conference Finals whereas his All-Star was 8-of 23 and went cold. 

The two-guard has evolved his game this year to become the most important player on the team. He's always been a lethal shooter from the three-point line but he was tired of being pigeon-holed and decided to become a more rounded player. 

He's now a more diverse scorer and looks to drive and finish at the rim as well as shoot the three and pull up from mid-range. This makes him more of a threat all over the court and sees him draw double-teams where he can then create for others. 

“I kind of hate the label of just being known as a shooter because that’s one-dimensional,” Beal said, per the Washington Post. “That’s all you’re known for. I want to be considered as a playmaker, a guy who can put the ball on the floor and create shots for himself as well as for his teammates.”

With Wall out, he has had to assume the responsibility of scoring and playmaking and his teammates are seeing his improvement first hand. 

Detroit Pistons v Washington Wizards

“To be honest with you, I don’t think there’s anybody in the league who’s got his game right now,” Marcin Gortat said. “It’s unbelievable. He’s so freaking talented. We have a nickname for him: He’s a walking bucket. We call him a walking bucket. It’s scary.

"That guy can get you a bucket whenever he wants to. Unless they double him and he has to make a pass, and that’s another step for him where he’s improving. He’s making better decisions this year, and that’s the learning process for him.”

With the way he's playing, he's almost guaranteed his first All-Star appearance this year. It's been a long time coming, but he has finally proven he deserves to rub shoulders with the elite players in this league. 

Topics:
NBA
John Wall
Washington Wizards
Southeast Division
Eastern Conference
Bradley Beal

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