Where Do the Washington Wizards Turn Without Bradley Beal?
After another early bounce from October baseball for the Nationals, and a Redskins team with seemingly no hope in sight, it’s no wonder Washington sports fans were banking hard on the Wizards and their upcoming season.
On Saturday, however, the Wizards got in line and delivered some bad news of their own: shooting guard Bradley Beal will likely miss the next 6-8 weeks after suffering a non-displaced fracture in the scaphoid bone of his left wrist during a preseason game with the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night.
For those familiar with the hashtag on social media, this specific situation is in fact #SoWizards. But it’s much more a punch to the gut than anything else. Undoubtedly an uphill climb, but manageable and perhaps even a little intriguing.
Life Without Beal
With such high expectations surrounding Beal entering just his third NBA season, his absence will be an emotional loss for fans who will now have to wait to witness all that growing studliness. And from a basketball standpoint, head coach Randy Wittman will need to deal with a change in scoring ability, and therefore spacing, as well as scheme on both ends of the floor.
While many were critical of Beal regarding his shot selection (and for good reason), he has established himself as one of the rangiest shooters on the team. Finishing just a hair behind Trevor Ariza, Beal was a 40-percent shooter from beyond the arc last year and was usually seen executing those long two-pointers Wittman seems to love.
Still, despite hitting shy of 39 percent from 16-21 feet, defenses respected Beal as a jump shooter. Whether taking advantage of John Wall’s ability to penetrate the lane and hanging out near the three-point line, or coming off a screen in order to spot up, Beal’s ability to score from virtually anywhere provided the offense with not only scoring potential, but space.
There was also some excitement heading into this season regarding Beal’s development as a slashing guard. Not all the time of course, but something that would improve on his less than three trips to the foul line a game last season. For now, that progression remains on standby.
Last year the Wizards drafted Otto Porter with the third-overall pick and immediately saw him vanish. Injuries to begin his career kept him off the floor and stunted his development, while Ariza’s play was sure to keep Porter buried on the bench once he became healthy.
Now, with Ariza lost to free agency over the summer, the recent news of Beal’s injury, and fellow swingman Martell Webster sidelined in his recovery from back surgery, it's Porter’s time to shine.
While Porter's 6’9” frame implies more small forward than shooting guard, there is the possibility of crafting lineups based on roles rather than restricted position labels, in which case Porter could play the two. Say the Wizards were impressed enough with Porter’s summer league performance to trust him off the ball and setting to knock down shots set up by Wall. And say they’d actually like what they get on the defensive end in Porter’s ability to guard with quickness and a long frame.
The other guy to keep a close eye on will be Glen Rice Jr., the reigning summer league MVP (trumpets, please). After taking Vegas by storm with 36-point outings, thrilling three-pointers, and gobs of confidence, the Wizards should look to the 6’6” guard for support in Beal’s absence.
Like Beal, Rice’s shot selection remains a work in progress, but even without a decent regular season workload to forecast from (he only played in 11 games last season), there’s no doubting Rice’s range or readiness to fire.
Even better, Rice shows a willingness to attack the lane and aggression when doing so. At one point over the summer, Rice had 57 attempts from the line in just five games. And best of all, he has the body to absorb contact and finish around the rim.
Assuming the eight-week recovery time is worst case, and then always assuming worst case (right?), Beal would return on December 8th having missed the Wizards’ first 19 games of the season.
Given the injury type and Beal not being locked in the seated position during his rehab, it seems safe to assume he’ll be good to go once he’s medically cleared - meaning no aftershocks, poor fitness levels, etc. If you have the room and can withstand the test of patience, Beal’s upside is well worth the roster spot, as you keep your fingers crossed he’s back somewhere closer to the November 24th mark (missing only 12 games).
As for surrounding parts, Wall’s draft stock shouldn’t be all that affected. His assist numbers didn’t crumble to dust with Beal off the floor last year and guys like Pierce, Porter, and Rice can deliver outside shooting.
Additionally, Porter and Rice should see increased attention come draft time, and hopefully the risk pays off. As a Washington homer, I likely have each guy slotted a bit too high with unwarranted confidence and fond summer league memories, but I’d be comfortable in labeling each a decent flyer or early waiver snag.
Again, it’s never easy to replace a rangy scoring threat giving you better than 17 points a night, but not all is lost. Wizards fans should be thankful it wasn’t Beal’s shooting hand and for the fact that he’s due back this season.
In the meantime, we all get to see what the (other) youngsters can offer, and we may end up pleasantly surprised. Pierce lends a hand in the leadership department, Porter looks to have benefited from a clipboard rookie season, and there’s no concern regarding Rice being the shy type.
Interesting times - one way or another - amidst some preseason chaos.