Bradley Beal's not worried about hard falls: 'If it ain't broke, I'm playing'

Chase Hughes
NBC Sports Washington

Bradley Beal's not worried about hard falls: 'If it ain't broke, I'm playing' originally appeared on nbcsportswashington.com

Every Wizards fan knows the feeling. Bradley Beal drives past the first line of defense, rises up to attack the rim, bounces off a towering defender and hits the deck, falling in a heap. Silence sweeps over the crowd as he lays there, motionless, appearing at first to be seriously hurt.

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Somehow, and perhaps this is when Wizards fans should knock on wood, Beal always gets up. He often stays in the game and soon after veers right back into traffic, looking for more.

It can be gut-wrenching to watch for fans and probably some in the organization as well, knowing the investment they have made in Beal. But those who know him best have long been used to it.

"I come from a football family. I don't think that [expletive] bothers them," Beal told NBC Sports Washington. "It doesn't bother them at all every time I fall. They expect me to get up. Fans might be scared, but if it ain't broke, I'm playing."

His brother, Brandon, can confirm.

"I expect him to get up," Brandon said. "I know for a fact on any given night he's playing with at least two or three injuries that the public knows nothing about. He plays through it."

The NBA has tracking technology that can record average speed and distance among many things. One blind spot, however, may be time spent on the floor. If they tracked that, Beal might lead the league in the category.

For the past three seasons, Beal has managed to become one of the most durable players in the NBA, missing only five games going back to the 2016-17 season and some of those were due to rest. But it wasn't always that way for Beal, who early in his career had a reputation of being injury prone.

Beal missed 26 games as a rookie, 19 games in 2014-15 and 27 in the 2015-16 season. His absence in 2015-16 was so costly, the Wizards missed the playoffs and head coach Randy Wittman lost his job.

But with those days moving further and further into the distant past, Beal's confidence is growing when it comes to what his body can handle. His pain tolerance is high and he has no problem banging around the rim with the giants of the game.

There are numbers that back it up. This year, Beal is averaging career-bests in both field goal attempts within 0-3 feet (26.9% of his FGA) and field goal percentage in that range (70.1). That means he's getting to the rim and finishing there more often than ever.

Beal is averaging a career-high 4.6 free throws a game this season. That's a modest number for an NBA All-Star, but it is moving in the right direction.

Attacking the rim has become a habit for Beal and when he arrives, he has a new goal in mind. Beal wants to dunk more.

It's partly because dunks are cool and everyone loves them. But also because dunks can't be swatted off the glass as easily by the freak athletes he goes up against.

"Dunking the ball is something that I don't do a lot. I've kind of made an effort to do it more," he said. "I try to get to the basket because I know I can finish. Sometimes it requires me to turn it over and throw one down."

Beal, in fact, is dunking more than he ever has previously. He already has 27 dunks through 42 games, which puts him on pace for a career-high 53 this season. He already has a career-high in alley-oops with 13, besting his previous high of 10 set in 2016-17. For comparison, he had nine total alley-oops in his first three seasons combined.

"I didn't dunk before because I would [expletive] fall all the time. It's about getting to the basket and landing under control," he said.

Beal has learned how to play through contact and in doing so has over the years brought out a side of him that may not have been visible all along. The All-Star guard may be more of a blue collar player than some of his surface-level characteristics would suggest.

Beal has a jumpshot so smooth it looks like it was engineered by NASA. He is telegenic with a public speaking maturity beyond his years. He looks and acts like a prototypical franchise player, the type of squeaky clean image any team would want representing them.

But, as Beal said, football is in his blood. All four of his brothers played the sport collegiately. In some ways, Beal is a gritty, tough football player who just happens to make a living on the basketball court.

His teammate John Wall likes to say Beal is built like a wide receiver, and he does glide through the open court like he's running an uninterrupted route. But he can also mix it up in the trenches and hit like a strong safety willing to initiate contact with men much bigger than him.

One stat may show that best. Beal this season is top-10 among NBA players in charges drawn. He has taken 10 this season, nearly double the next Wizards player on the list, Jeff Green, who has six.

On Wednesday against the Sixers, Beal took a charge early in the third quarter on Joel Embiid, one of the most physically imposing players in basketball. Embiid is a 7-foot, 260-pound titan and he turned the corner at the free throw line, gaining steam. 

Beal set his feet outside of the restricted area and braced for contact. Embiid barreled over him, but Beal earned the foul and thus a turnover. It just took him a few seconds to get up afterwards.

"I was just making sure everything was intact," Beal said. "I don't mind taking charges. I'm a physical player. But with JoJo, it's a little bit of a different story. He's a big fella."

Those are the type of plays that send a message to his teammates. Beal may be an All-Star known most for his scoring, and he may have a max contract, but he is willing to get his hands dirty when required.

"I would be afraid to take a charge on him. He's a big dude," guard Tomas Satoransky said. "That's great, just seeing a guy who has so much responsibility on offense is able to give us a push on defense as well. It just tells you something about his leadership."

"When he's doing stuff like that, playing on both ends of the floor, it's contagious," forward Trevor Ariza said. "It just says he's willing to do whatever it takes to win. We all see that, him being one of the leaders on this team."

Beal stood up to one of the NBA's apex predators and he lived to tell about it. Perhaps some who witnessed that will be a little less surprised the next time he gets up after a similar encounter.

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