BRADLEY BEAL CONTINUES TO PROVE WORTHY OF $128 MILLION MAX CONTRACT

Dec 18, 2016 | by J. Michael, csnmidatlantic.com

In NBA free agency, as such was the case with Bradley Beal last summer, it's a futures market more than about the present. A 23-year-old shooting guard with his size, shooting/scoring potential and defensive ability may have yet to come to full bloom, but if he does the dividends can be endless. On a Sunday, 26 games into a season that began awkwardly, the Wizards are counting those blessings.

Beal had 41 points, one short of his career high set Nov. 21 vs. the Phoenix Suns, in a 117-110 comeback win over the L.A. Clippers at Verizon Center. It's his fifth game of 30-plus points this season, more than he'd amassed in his four previous injury-riddled campaigns.

"The basket was like an ocean, after the first half," Beal said, who had 17 points in the first two quarters. "Guys stayed confident. A game like this, you're always gassed up. ... I was fortunate to get some open looks and knock them down."

After a right hamstring strain kept Beal out for three games, he has returned with a vengeance and the Clippers were torched by the shooting guard who alone scored 18 points in the third quarter. It set a new high for him in any quarter, surpassing his previous high of 15. Beal shot 13-for-23 overall, 6 of 10 on threes, and was 9-for-11 on free throws. J.J. Redick was helpless chasing Beal and Austin Rivers, the coach's son and one of the Clippers' better perimeter defenders, couldn't do it either.

"I told him to go and shut Beal off," said Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who was ejected late in the fourth. "And he jokingly said, 'He's on fire.' It's tough to put out a fire once a guy is on fire. Give Beal credit, he made big shots."

With the Wizards shorthanded because of injuries to Kelly Oubre (concussion), Ian Mahinmi (right knee) and Jason Smith (right hamstring), Beal and backcourt mate John Wall had to do more than usual which is saying something. Wall locked down defensively and his ball pressure forced Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford into a combined seven turnovers. While DeAndre Jordan had his share of dunks rolling to the basket on lobs, the easy baskets were limited because of Wall's ball pressure.

The Wizards (12-14) had a spirited effort in the first half but trailed 55-52 at the break. Markieff Morris, who was key to any chances they had of winning, already had three fouls. He picked up his fourth at 8:49 but coach Scott Brooks stuck with him.

What quickly became a 65-54 deficit was all but erased by Beal in two minutes. He had a drive for the and-one three-point play, made consecutive three-point shots, made 2 of 3 free throws, a 26-foot three-pointer and then a bank shot. His steal led to Wall having a layup.

A three-pointer for Beal tied the score at 102 with 5:01 left. Wall (18 points, 11 assists, five rebounds) and Morris (23 points, nine rebounds, three assists, three steals) put the finishing touches as a 9-2 run created the separation needed for the Wizards' third win in a row.

"Brad looked like a totally different person," Paul said. "A lot more aggressive. This is the Bradley Beal he should be all the time. ... For this team to be as good as they want to be, he has to be like that."

When Wall signed what was then a max contract at $80 million in the summer of 2013, he hadn't even become an All-Star. The Wizards, however, were banking on his progress and being healthy after having knee issues that he'd grow into it. They were correct because Wall made his first All-Star game as a reserve before being voted in as a starter.

Beal has an extensive injury history with his lower right leg that has never required surgery, but he has yet to reach All-Star status. The Wizards played the long game with him, too. He's 23 and was a restricted free agent when there weren't many quality shooters available. Plus, there were no young players among that group. Dwyane Wade, who soon will be 35, was among the other options.

When a player such as Beal hits the market, it's not just about what he's worth at that moment. It's what he'll be worth over the life of what became a five-year deal. A player can be a superstar, such as Kobe Bryant with lots of accomplishments, but at the time of he was being paid $25 million per the returns were diminishing. With Beal, the returns are steadily increasing with not just his shot-making but his creation. He had a career-high nine assists last week when the defense loaded up on him to take him away.

Wall's defense is getting better as he has gotten in better shape since two knee surgeries May 5. Beal has been playing at a high level defensively for most of the season which adds to his value.

"We showed our hand so now there's no excuses for us moving forward," Beal said. "We showed that we can be an elite team and that we can compete at a high level, and that we can win games in close situations at the end of a game. It's up to us to just continue to stay humble and keep the same mentality going forward."