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When will Bradley Beal break through?

Whatever the qualities are that make a jump shot beautiful, Bradley Beal's has them.

All of them.

The ease and consistency of the release. The perfect arc as it floats. The pace and perfection of the backspin. The smack and splash of the net as the shot rips the cords.

Watching the third-year Washington Wizards guard launch parabolic bombs is a pleasure.

It's an art he has perfected as far back as he can remember, with his basketball-playing mom, Besta Beal, doing most of the instructing.

"I can remember sitting in her room and shooting on a little Nerf hoop we used to have," Bradley Beal says. "She was on me then. And to this day, I could show you text messages where she's like, 'You gotta get your elbow up. You gotta follow through. You're not seeing the basket.'"

The mesmerizing jumper fits a larger portrait, perhaps unfair, of a young man who has things together. He has long been compared to the tidily flawless Ray Allen -- Beal says he has been told many times that they not only play the same position and have similar games, but also look alike.

His personal life appears, from a distance at least, to be storybook. The mom who taught him to shoot. The dad who taught him to keep a cool head. Four athletic brothers and a girlfriend who plays basketball at nearby George Mason. The appearance is of perfection.

Beal, who was drafted third overall in 2012, talks like someone who expects to perform that way. "I just want to continue to be better and better and better," he says. "And hopefully, by the end of the year be one of the best 2-guards in the league. Hopefully, I'll be top-five, top-10 in my position to ever play."


In his third year, at the tender age of 21, Beal has encountered a moment in his career when his potential remains near infinite but where his continued ascent no longer seems so perfectly inevitable.

For one of the tidiest players in the NBA, the trajectory of things is starting to get a little messy.

He isn't quite an all-purpose scorer like Monta Ellis. He didn't just expand his game at both ends like Klay Thompson. There are a lot of things James Harden does with the ball that Beal does not.

Beal just missed the 2014 Team USA team that went to the World Cup in Spain. Three years into his career, he has yet to crack the league average -- 15 -- in player efficiency rating.

Beal scored 15.3 points a game this season, down from 17.1 last season, taking 2.2 less shots per game in the process.

His true shooting percentage saw an increase from 50.7 percent last season to 52.1 this season, and his real plus-minus enjoyed a nice uptick, from a minus-0.53 last season to 2.14 this one.

But he remains a potential star in need of a breakout season.

Some of that might be circumstance.

It seems every time he's on the verge of playing consistent, All-Star level basketball, he suffers an injury. He's had three stress reactions in his right leg and broke his left wrist before the start of this season.

Coach Randy Wittman's offense doesn't rely much on Beal's strength, which is shooting 3-pointers. The Wizards finished the regular season 27th in 3s attempted.

Beal ends up shooting, the statistics say, five midrange jumpers per game -- and that's not a sweet spot for him. Of players who average at least five such jumpers a game, only rookie Andrew Wiggins (31.8 percent) shot it worse than Beal (33.9).

Meanwhile, Beal shoots 41 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s but manages only 3.3 such attempts per game. Players similar to Beal in either style or shooting ability tend to manage significantly more than that: Wesley Matthews shot 5.7 catch-and-shoot 3s per game, Kyle Korver 5.2, Klay Thompson 4.9, J.J. Redick 4.6 and even Ben McLemore shot four a game.

You'd assume Wittman and the Wizards would want to get Beal, a career 40 percent 3-point shooter, more looks from downtown, if nothing else to open up the floor for his teammates around the rim. But alas, Beal's 3-point attempts dropped from 4.7 last year to 4.1 this season, in a time when 3-point shooting is more critical than ever to most teams.

Even Beal's isolations, of which he had a few down the stretch of the Wizards' playoff opener against the Toronto Raptors, tend to end up in midrange pull-ups.

Beal says he doesn't stress much about shooting too many inefficient 2-pointers, but he has heard the complaint, largely through the media.

"I'm conscious of it a little bit," he says. "Even Paul [Pierce] said it a few times, 'Sometimes you take long 2s. I'd rather you just shoot a 3.'"

Beal's brother Bruce, one of five Beal boys, lives with Bradley in Washington, D.C. After home games, he'll head home and watch the game again, preparing notes to discuss with Bradley in the morning.

Bruce thinks Bradley could do more. He has seen him dominate at the high school and collegiate levels and remains confident his little brother can dominate regularly in the NBA. He says Bradley is respectful of his teammates and his coach, but he also knows the offensive workload can stand to increase.

"He could probably have more set plays going towards him," Bruce says. "Because he's not a selfish player, he won't force the shot. He'll definitely try to make the correct play.

"But I think for the most part, he's got the green light to shoot. And we were always taught plays were made to be broken. So if you see an opportunity to go score or make a good play, then make that play or go score, by all means."


There's also the idea that playing with an All-Star point guard as ball-dominant as John Wall takes away from Beal's ability to shine.

It's rare to find great backcourts. The best pairings tend not to have overlapping skills, but to complement each other rather. The great pairing that comes to mind prior to the Stephen Curry-Klay Thompson Warriors backcourt is often Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars, who played together 20 years ago -- and had very different games.

There doesn't appear to be a clash between Wall and Beal -- at least not in approach, at least not anymore.

There was a brief period, early last season, when Beal and Wall seemed to have overlapping goals. Wall had signed his five-year, $80 million extension the summer before.

"PierceAnd we just weren't on the same page. It got us out of what we needed to do to help each other collectively, because the team starts with us. If we're not together, it's just going to crumble down." Bradley Beal, on playing with John Wall

"I don't remember when exactly it was, but we had to sit down and get on the same page," Beal said. "I felt like sometimes we would just overlook each other. I think we both wanted our individual goals to exceed what we needed to do together. Because we both wanted to be All-Stars, we both wanted to average this amount of points, we both wanted this amount of assists and everything like that. And we just weren't on the same page. It got us out of what we needed to do to help each other collectively, because the team starts with us. If we're not together, it's just going to crumble down.

"We were mature about it. We said we both need to get on the same page, and play with the mindset that we're the best backcourt and we're not battling against each other. We're battling against these other teams."

There hasn't been much, if any, conflict since, and any party you ask will say the two not only enjoy playing together, but have big plans for the long term.

"I just think we read off each other very well," Wall says. "He knows I'm a guy that's always looking for my teammates, trying to get them going. And he's always in the right spot, he's one of my main targets."

Bruce Beal went a step further, saying his brother should be among the league's leading scorers, if not the leading scorer, within "a few years" because of the dynamic with Wall.

"If they run together, John looks for Brad," Bruce says. "If Brad's running with John, he'll look for John. The fact that they can both score the ball is going to hinder the defense. There's no way you can defend them both, I think.

"From my perspective, they both love playing with each other."

Wall adds that Beal is "doing it the right way, letting it come up and staying under the radar."


But at what point should Beal force us to notice?

The postseason is a special opportunity for Beal, and one that has been effective for him in the past.

For instance, in the only regular season of his college life, Beal was one of the better freshmen in the country but rarely displayed the urge or ability to take over games.

That was until the one-and-done portion of his schedule began. In his six postseason games at Florida (two SEC tournament games and four NCAA tournament games), Beal averaged 16.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and shot 53 percent from the field and 43 percent from 3-point range -- a stretch of basketball that vaulted him to No. 3 in the 2012 draft (behind the Kentucky national-championship duo of Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist).

After the regular season, Gators coach Billy Donovan encouraged Beal to play more aggressively, regardless of his experience.

"Ever since then, it kind of snapped for me," Beal says. "Like, 'Wow, he really put me in position to try to take over the team a little bit.' It was exciting and meant a lot for me, being a freshman.

"When the season is on the line, it forces you to play your best basketball."

Fast forward two years, and Beal found himself in his first NBA postseason, reaching the playoffs as a No. 5 seed. After a regular season in which he averaged 17.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists, Beal raised his averages to 19.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists, all of it against the Bulls and Pacers, the top two teams in defensive efficiency last season.

"PierceWe're not based on a guy going out there and averaging 30 a game." Bradley Beal

"I actually viewed it the exact same way [as the NCAA tournament], like this is a big stage and you have to show up," Beal says of his first playoff experience. "Coaches, it was like the same speeches: 'It's going to be the most fun basketball you'll play, it's going to be competitive, guys are going to escalate their games, you have to be ready.' It was exactly that. It was just like the tournament. I just had to really step up in all aspects.

"It's a new style of basketball. It's not the same as the regular season. Guys really do get better as the playoffs go along."

Beal looked to have that same mentality in Tuesday's Game 2 against the Raptors, leading the victorious Wizards with 28 points on 12-of-21 shooting.

It's a delicate balance for Beal, who has only known Wittman's "take what the defensive gives you" approach to NBA offense.

"We're not based on a guy going out there and averaging 30 a game," Beal says.

"With the way this team is shaped, everybody has to get involved and everybody has to touch the ball, because it keeps the defense off balance. It'd be different if we had guys like Melo [Carmelo Anthony] and guys like Kobe [Bryant], who are primary scorers with their team. You just focus in on them so much. The way we're shaped, we have so many guys that can give you 30. It just keeps teams off balance.

"I would say that my isolation game and things I do one-on-one are kind of put to the side. I still work on them and improve on them, just in case. But at the same time, we don't even focus on that."

And yet, it would appear Beal has prepared for more responsibility in these playoffs.

He played in 21 games after returning from his latest stress reaction, and in his seven April games averaged 18 field goal attempts per game. His previous high for any month was 13.5 attempts in December.

So maybe we'll continue to see the Beal we expect once again this postseason. And maybe this time it'll transfer to the following season. And maybe we'll start to see the All-Star appearances pile up for a sweet-shooting 2-guard who says and does all the right things.

"Ultimately, as a team, we want to get to the Eastern Conference finals," Beal says. "That's just my opinion. We felt like we could've gotten there last year, we just lost to a tough Indiana team in Game 6. We were right there. Just a game and a half away.

"We definitely got the right pieces, the right guys."