- The Washington Times
Thursday, December 13, 2012

It’s hard to imagine a 19-year-old NBA rookie, a spark plug of speed and energy, playing better by slowing down. But it’s exactly what Bradley Beal says he’s done in his past few games, at least mentally.

Beal struggled with consistency out of the gate, playing well one night and poorly the next. Like most rookies, Beal simply was experiencing growing pains.

But in the past six games, he has averaged 15.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists.

It’s as though a light clicked on for the Wizards’ shooting guard.

“I’m just getting more comfortable,” Beal said. “The game is slowing down for me. I’m just taking my time and taking what the defense is giving me. I’m really just letting the game come to me.”

It’s safe to say Washington (3-16) is struggling without its floor leader, point guard John Wall, who is sidelined with a stress injury to his left knee.

Ironically, it could be Beal who misses Wall the most, even though the two haven’t played together.

Both were looking forward to running up and down the court together and playing an up-tempo style.

In his first few games, Beal would head straight toward Wall nearly every time he came off the court to ask his future backcourt mate for advice.

But with Wall’s return date up in the air, Beal has had to look elsewhere, and he’s developing a nice rhythm with Jordan Crawford.

Crawford got the nod at point guard when Wall’s backup, A.J. Price, fractured his right hand in a 101-97loss to Golden State last Saturday.

Crawford has noticed Beal’s improvement.

“He’s more aggressive, that’s the main thing,” Crawford said. “He’s not passing up as many shots as he was early on.”

Beal already carries himself with the confidence of a veteran and is taking the Wizards’ troubles in stride. Washington may have the worst record in the NBA, but you’d never know it by listening to Beal.

“I have the mentality that nobody can beat us,” Beal said. “That’s just how I think, and I’m pretty sure that’s how my teammates [think]. There’s not a moment out here where we think we’re going to lose a game.”

Earlier in the season, coach Randy Wittman watched Beal become hesitant whenever he started a game and his shots didn’t fall.

Now he sees Beal continuing to attack the basket regardless of whether the shots are dropping in.

Wittman’s happy with the change.

“He’s got to continue in this direction, staying aggressive,” Wittman said. “Six free throws [in Wednesday’s 99-93 loss to Houston], along with what he’s doing from the floor … that’s what he’s got to continue to do. I am pleased with where he’s headed.”

Beal, a spiritual young man who is close to his parents and four brothers, counted on their help to push past his early jitters.

Relying on his family was second nature.

Beal has an intricate tattoo of a tree on his right arm with the names of his parents and four brothers inside the branches.

“My family helped me out — mom, dad, my brothers and coaches as well as my teammates,” Beal said. “It’s nothing I really started doing, it’s just my mentality changed and how I approach the game more seriously. I’m not saying I didn’t take it serious before, but now, there’s just more of a focus on where I needed to be.”

• Carla Peay can be reached at cpeay@washingtontimes.com.

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