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NBA PM: John Wall, Bradley Beal Prepared to Lead Wizards

John Wall and Bradley Beal are ready to embrace leadership roles for the Washington Wizards.

Cody Taylor profile picture
Updated 10 months ago on
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Ask anyone around the NBA which backcourt presents the most problems for teams and it likely won’t take long before John Wall and Bradley Beal are mentioned.

It’s easy to see why the two are among the best in the league. Wall is a former No. 1 overall pick from the 2010 draft, and Beal was the third overall pick two years later and is still just 22 years old. Combined together, they represent a huge amount of production for the Washington Wizards.

While the two have become a formidable duo since Beal came into the league, it still seems the team has yet to fully take advantage of their skills largely due to injuries. Since coming into the league in 2012, Beal has missed over 50 regular season games. He missed the first nine games of last season due to injury, and didn’t quite return to form until later in March.

However, this season feels much different than past years. Both players are healthy entering this season, and are saying all of the right things. With the team looking to become one of the elite teams in the league, they fully believe all of the pieces are in place with Wall and Beal leading the charge.

The team understands now what it takes to win in this league. They still have a bitter taste in their mouths this season after suffering a heartbreaking defeat at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks in the second-round of the playoffs last season.

Wall suffered a hand injury in Game 1 of that series that ultimately kept him out of the next three games. He led the Wizards to a 104-98 win by contributing 18 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds. The team would eke out another win early in the series to take a 2-1 lead, but Wall’s absence proved to be too much to overcome. Had Wall not been injured, that entire series could have changed drastically. But, the team has moved on and is ready for a new challenge in 2016.

Specifically, Wall is ready to take over this team and be the leader it needs. Paul Pierce opted for a change of scenery and signed with the Los Angeles Clippers to reunite with former head coach Doc Rivers. There is no replacing what someone like Pierce brings to a team, but Wall is ready to fill his shoes and play like a top-five player in this league.

“Since last year, at the end of the season I got very comfortable,” Wall said. “I know these guys trust me with the ball. They look up to me. I have to be a leader for these guys. If it’s me taking the last shot or me making the right play for somebody that’s wide open, I can deal with it. That’s the situation where I’m your franchise guy and it’s my time in my sixth season to step up and take the pressure.”

There was a point during Wednesday’s 88-87 win over the Magic that Wall and Beal flashed that leadership every team needs. Orlando led by as many as eight points in the fourth quarter and seemed poised to pull off an upset over the Wizards. Then, Wall and Beal said enough was enough, and carried the team.

“We were walking out of the time out and I said, ‘Okay, it’s time to go,’” Beal said. “[Wall] said, ‘Alright, let’s go,’ and it just happened. It wasn’t an argument, it wasn’t us pointing fingers at our other teammates blaming them for anything. It was just okay, we know what we’re up against and we know what we need to do. Let’s just go out there and get it done.

We have so much confidence and trust in one another, it’s not even funny. Everybody depends on us; we’re the backbone. We have to step up in the clutch; we have to make the big plays, even if we miss them. We have to be willing to take those shots and be the best on the team.”

The results of that in-game meeting between Wall and Beal ended with a win for the Wizards. The two combined for 19 out of the Wizards’ 23 points in the final quarter, with Wall accounting for 12 of those points (on 5-of-7 shooting from the field), while adding three blocked shots and two steals. In all, Wall finished the game with 22 points, seven rebounds, six assists, five blocks and three steals.

“I had an opportunity to make some good plays, and those were the big plays that we needed to give ourselves an opportunity to make shots and not let those guys get a bigger lead,” Wall said.

Teams that have sustained success in the NBA have proven that chemistry plays a huge part in a winning culture. The San Antonio Spurs are perhaps the first team that comes to mind when talking about chemistry. Their core players have been playing together for several years and are all comfortable with each other. The Miami HEAT proved when the Big Three joined together that it’s not just showing up to the gym and playing basketball. Players need to learn each other’s tendencies and get a feel for each other. The Wizards have that chemistry with Wall and Beal, and it will only continue to improve.

“It’s going to get better,” Wall said of his chemistry with Beal. “I can say that he’s improved when he gets double-teamed with guys and he’s kicking it more. On the same thing, when I’m driving in and some guys are collapsing in, I can find him a lot easier. We just talk. We’re going to have our altercations from time to time, but we put everything aside. When we step in between those lines we are brothers and we compete. We want one main goal and that’s to try to win.”

Fueled by the expectation to win, the team opted to adapt to an up-tempo offense, which has been proven to be successful in the league. The idea is to run more with plenty of ball movement. That style seems perfect for Wall, with his quickness and athleticism among the best in the league. After averaging a league-high 112 points per game during the preseason, the team’s 88 points on Wednesday was far-below their preseason standard. The team is clearly still adjusting to the faster pace, and the running that comes with it.

“The more experience you can get, the better you’re going to play in tight situations,” head coach Randy Wittman said. “We’ve got a ways to go still. We got to continue to build our stamina, and play a faster pace. It’s a process that we’ve said all along to maintain that for four quarters. We’ve got work to do. … We’ve got to get in better shape to play at that pace. This [was] Game 1; we just got to keep working at it.”

The race for the second seed in the Eastern Conference is seemingly wide open. Many expect the Cleveland Cavaliers will run away with the conference, leaving a hole for the conference’s second-best team. The Wizards believe they can be that team at the end of the season to grab that spot. The conference is much improved from where it’s been in recent years, so the Wizards will face a tough challenge ahead this season. But, if Wall and Beal can remain healthy, their quest to become one of the league’s elite teams could prove to be successful.

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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