The Washington Wizards haven't won more than 45 games in the last 35 years. They haven't made the playoffs in five seasons. Over that time period, Washington's 277 losses are the third-most in the NBA.
It's been a rough stretch to be a Wizards fan, to be sure. But the high draft picks that come as a consolation prize for so many losing seasons have optimism in Washington higher than it's been in some time. John Wall, the team's best player and newly maxed out point guard, has stated the goal for this season is a playoff berth. The Wizards will mostly have to stay healthy to make it become a reality, but they'll also need growth from a number of their young players.
That's a sentiment that extends to shooting guard Bradley Beal more than any other player on the team. Beal showed promise as a teenaged rookie last season, and represents Washington's best chance to give Wall the co-star he needs.
Beal's raw numbers weren't overly impressive last season, but the fact that he held his own and got better throughout the year as a 19-year-old rookie is an encouraging sign. There are no sure things in the NBA, but Beal has the look of a player set to fulfill the potential the Wizards saw when they selected him No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 draft.
Beal's points per game average jumped by two points each month last season before he missed 20 of the final 24 games with a stress fracture in his right fibula. He made the second-most threes ever by someone under 20 years old, and did it at a 38.6 percent clip. As Bullets Forever notes, his scoring average (13.9) was the seventh-highest in league history for a teenager. Beal also showed signs he could act as a secondary ball-handler and playmaker, which is a necessary component for any top-flight offense.
The Wizards already have one side of the ball figured out. Washington ranked No. 5 overall in defensive efficiency last season, but were dead last in offense. Much of that was because Wall missed the first 33 games of the season with a knee injury while Beal initially struggled to make the adjustment to the pro game, so another year of improvement from Beal and clean bill of health from Wall should be enough to vault Washington's offense up the rankings.
Admittedly, there are many unknown factors in the equation. By the time Wall started to take off in March and April, Beal was sidelined by his own injuries, so Wall and Beal as a tandem only played 25 games together.
But their skill sets seems to complement each other well. Wall is an athletic fury capable of beating anyone off the dribble thanks to his natural speed and quickness. Beal drew comparisons to Ray Allen coming out of college and is known as a knock-down jump shooter. Beal will be a critical floor spacer for Washington when Wall drives to the paint, and he's talented enough to put the ball on the floor and make teams pay when they rush him with aggressive closeouts.
Where Beal shines is from the corners and in the paint. He hit 50 percent of the 92 corner threes he attempted last season, and finished 56 percent of his shots at the rim, according to the NBA's media-only stats page, a mark extra impressive for someone so young. There's still a reason Beal finished the year as a 41 percent shooter from the field, and it's because he struggled immensely from mid-range. It's an area of the floor he should be able to maximize given his stellar shooting stroke, but might be better served to cut back on altogether. The mid-range is the least efficient part of the floor for most players, a lesson Beal should only become more aware of with added experience.
Even if Beal one day turns into an All-Star, the fact that Washington reportedly opted against trading him in a package for James Harden is something fans are going to have to get past. No one is asking him to be as good Harden just yet, though. The Wizards are just trying to go from C-to-B, and the growth of Beal is major reason to believe they will get there before long.