- The Washington Times
Monday, January 4, 2021

Bradley Beal approached Thomas Bryant with under a minute remaining in Sunday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets. A few moments earlier, Beal had looked for Bryant on the pick-and-roll, but the Wizards center hadn’t charged the rim to offer Beal an open target.

Instead, the ball found its way to Russell Westbrook, who missed a long-distance 3-pointer as the shot clock wound down, setting up a quick transition for the Nets. In the subsequent timeout, trailing by one point, Beal told Bryant to roll toward the rim more aggressively if the opportunity arose.

“And literally he came back the next possession and did it,” Beal said, “and got the game-winning dunk.”

Facing another double-team, Beal dished to Bryant under the rim and the Indiana product slammed home a two-handed jam, sealing Washington’s 123-122 win. The sequence illustrates Bryant’s coachability, his readiness to receive and apply feedback.

And it’s a large part of why Bryant, in his third season with Washingotn, is blossoming into a consistently high-scoring big man, making the most of the opportunities Beal and Westbrook provide him. In seven games, Bryant has scored in double figures in each. Sunday’s performance was perhaps his best of the season, finishing with 14 rebounds and 21 points.

None were bigger than the offensive board and the two points that came on the Wizards’ last possession, as Bryant followed up a critical, possession-extending rebound with his thunderous dunk off Beal’s assist.

“TB’s been awesome. I told him after the game, I said, ‘Growth,’” Beal said. “That was the word I said to him. He’s been growing every single game this year. … He’s just been playing dominating basketball. and the thing I love about is, he’s always willing to learn.”

Bryant has shown flashes of his scoring potential early in his career, particularly last season. In 46 games, he averaged 13.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, a rise from 10.5 points and 6.3 rebounds he averaged as a rookie.

Still, he battled inconsistencies and injuries, such as a stress fracture in his foot that held him out six weeks. And for a player who relies on his high energy to change games, there have been times those emotions have become detriments.

Coach Scott Brooks said they’ve worked on managing Bryant’s emotions, moving on from calls outside of his control. That’s mostly involved Bryant checking himself, the 6-foot-10 center said, channeling his energy toward positive contributions.

“He’s just growing up, and it’s fun to coach him cause he’s emotional,” Brooks said. “Sometimes last year it’s not to our advantage. This year he’s controlling it. … I think his growth in that area is helping us, and I think it’s going to help us win a lot of games this year.”

Washington began the season with five straight losses, but Bryant has been a standout player even in those defeats. He scored 28 points on 10-for-11 shooting in last week’s three-point loss to the Chicago Bulls. He added 18 points on 7-for-7 shooting in Friday’s win against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

And Sunday, when his team needed an additional boost, he supplemented Westbrook’s 24 points and Beal’s 27 points to overcome the Nets.

“I try to help them as much as possible out there on the court,” Bryant said. “I try to talk to them, whether it’s Brad, Russ, Rui, Deni, anybody who’s out there with me, to try to see what they see or how I can get them open. And if I get them open, it’s going to open up lanes and easy buckets for me as well, cause they draw a lot of attention.”

That’s what worked late in Sunday’s win in Brooklyn. Bryant’s game-winner came after two players collapsed on a driving Beal, leaving the big man open in the lane.

The opportunities should be rife for Bryant throughout the campaign, with playmakers such as Beal and Westbrook acting as facilitators.

“I told TB when we made the trade [for Westbrook], ‘Get ready. You’re going to have the best year of your career,’” Brooks said. “It’s a young career, you should get better every year, but you’re going to get a lot of easy looks.”

And through seven games, that’s how Bryant’s year is shaping up.

• Andy Kostka can be reached at akostka@washingtontimes.com.

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