After missing 16 games with a stress reaction in his lower right leg, Bradley Beal returned to the Washington Wizards on Wednesday, scoring 11 points with three rebounds, three assists and a steal in 23 minutes off the bench in a 106-101 win that extended Washington's win streak to three games and got the long-scufflng Wiz within one game of .500 at 18-19. The 22-year-old shooting guard even celebrated with a two-handed throwdown that brought the Wizards bench and the Verizon Center crowd to its feet:
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— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) January 14, 2016
Most importantly, Beal came through his reinsertion into the Wizards lineup unscathed. He's expected to play in Friday's road game against the Indiana Pacers, though he said he'll likely sit out when the Wizards return home to take on the Boston Celtics on Saturday in the second game of a back-to-back. At issue, though, is how much Beal will play ... not only against Indy on Friday or over the next couple of weeks as he gets back to full health and fitness, but thereafter, as well. From J. Michael of CSNMidAtlantic.com:
[Before his return on Wednesday], Beal [was] averaging a career-high 36.5 minutes, which [would be] sixth highest in the league if he qualified for games played, in 17 appearances. Even after he gets back into the starting lineup and playing starter's minutes, Beal's time has to be managed.
"Probably, especially with the way my body works," Beal said about having his minutes capped at a maximum. "It doesn't want to listen to me so I got to as much as I can take care of it, be smart about it moving forward through the rest of my career that's probably something that's going to happen every year."
While Beal's injury history is a long one, a person with knowledge of the situation told CSN a few weeks ago that number will be 35 minutes.
On one hand, "35 minutes a game" doesn't sound like an especially onerous minutes cap — only 19 players are averaging more this season, and only 15 logged that many minutes per night last year. One would think that, even after Beal knocks the rust off and gets back into both his rhythm and the Wizards' starting lineup, keeping him under 35 minutes wouldn't prove too irksome a task. Then again, having a plan and executing a plan are two different things, and sometimes the guy managing the minutes isn't necessarily managing the minutes ... which is a scary proposition when you've got a potential franchise cornerstone dealing with a repetitive stress injury that he's aggravated three times in the last three seasons thanks perhaps in part to handling a heavier-than-advisable workload.
From Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post, prior to Beal's Wednesday return:
[Beal] will be on a tight minutes restriction and likely come off the bench whenever he returns, as he has done in previous years.
"I wouldn't doubt it," Beal said. "Especially if I'm on a minutes restriction. You know how Witt [Coach Randy Wittman] gets. He’ll forget how many minutes I’m out there and leave me out there. But we’ve been rolling with what we have now and I’m not mad at that at all. Whatever’s going to take for us to win.”
Maybe Coach Wittman can tie a string around his finger to remind him to take Beal out when it's time. Or have one of his assistant coaches set an alarm on their phones. Or — and this is, admittedly, a more extreme suggestion — Beal could take matters into his own hands. When he feels like it's time for him to come out, he can deliver the sort of reminder that even someone as locked in as ol' Randy can't ignore.
— Ben M (@BenMehicNBA) December 19, 2013
Regardless of how the Wiz work out the details of keeping Beal below 35 minutes a night, the shooting guard's public acknowledgement that "the way [his] body works" will probably necessitate that he operates under a maximum minutes cap "every year [...] through the rest of [his] career" seems like an awfully noteworthy thing to say when you're about to enter restricted free agency seeking a maximum-salaried contract extension.
Beal's combination of sharpshooting (39.9 percent from 3-point range for his career), off-the-dribble athleticism, advancing ease as a pick-and-roll playmaker, improving shot selection (he's traded in some of those troublesome long 2-point jumpers for more shots at the rim and from beyond the arc), defensive steel when engaged in the task of stopping his man and great size for his position (he stands 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-8 wingspan) make him an ideal shooting guard for today's NBA. He's also shown a capacity to raise his game in the postseason, averaging 21.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.6 steals per game in helping lead Washington to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs in each of the past two springs.
The only other players in Basketball-Reference.com's database to match Beal's per-game averages from last postseason before reaching the age of 22 were 1984-85 Michael Jordan and 2000-01 Magic-era Tracy McGrady. While I'd suggest pumping the brakes before putting Brad in that category full-time, that remains some wild company, and marks Beal as the kind of ascendant wing talent any team would love to lock up and pay handsomely to continue growing into a potential All-Star backcourt partner for its existing All-Star point guard. But that impressive production comes with the significant caveat that Beal has now missed 73 games in less than four pro seasons, many of which have come due to the reinjury of a bone in his right leg that has thus far seemed to recur just about once a year.
Will other suitors be leery about tendering a full max offer sheet for Beal, considering the possibility that the stress reactions could continue to recur or, even worse, both sideline him for longer stretches and sap some of the athleticism or take the legs out of his pristine jumper? Might Wizards brass, using both the medical history and Beal's own words against him, elect to open negotiations at a number lower than the max because they know there's a decent chance they'll be getting 80 percent of Beal every year even if they're paying for 100 percent of him?
We won't know the answers to those questions until July. In the here and now, a Wizards team that has spent most of this season floundering is just excited to have its leading scorer back in the fold, even if it's only for 20 or 25 minutes a night.
“A lot of teams are going to start realizing when we’re healthy, we’re going to be tough to beat,” Beal said after Wednesday's win, according to Castillo of the Post.
That's been true for most of the past couple of years, really. Now we'll have to see if the Wizards — who, by the way are still without injured bigs Marcin Gortat and Kris Humphries, continue to wait for the season debut of offseason addition Alan Anderson, and will play the Pacers without small forward Otto Porter — can actually get healthy enough to make some noise in an improved Eastern Conference, and whether Beal can stay healthy long enough to allay fears that the potential reward of locking him up to the most lucrative contract possible isn't worth the risk that he'll spent a significant portion of it watching from the sideline in a suit.
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