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Hochman: The St. Louis Wizard — Bradley Beal flips the script, becomes tenacious NBA All-Star starter

Hochman: The St. Louis Wizard — Bradley Beal flips the script, becomes tenacious NBA All-Star starter

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Beal hits late free throws, Wizards edge Nuggets 130-128

Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) goes to the basket against Denver Nuggets guard Facundo Campazzo (7) and forward JaMychal Green (0) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

There’s an old Steve Martin line. This one’s not funny. It’s just a good line about show business, or any business, and making success your business.

“Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

Which leads us to one of St. Louis’ native sons and greatest sons, Bradley Emmanuel Beal, of University City, who wasn’t named to the NBA All-Star Game a year ago.

“I was going to make sure that they couldn’t mess up this year, I had to make sure of that,” the Wizards guard told NBC Sports Washington. “When I got snubbed, I was going to use it as motivation.”

Beal’s so good they couldn’t ignore him.

He isn’t just an All-Star this season — he’s an All-Star starter. And he led the fan voting. And the former Chaminade standout leads the NBA in scoring. He entered Monday averaging 32.9 points per game. That is an astounding amount. Consider this. The guy in second averages 30.3 points. So there’s a 2.6 points per game difference between No. 1 and No. 2 — that’s the largest gap between any two players next to each other in the Top-25 in scoring.

Watching Bradley Beal play basketball is a privilege, because he plays the game like it’s a privilege. And he plays unafraid. He’s like a chameleon out there, because he morphs from shooting guard to power forward to point guard, depending on a defensive challenge. He’s one of those guys who you think is taller than he is (6-foot-3).

“Brad is the consummate professional,” Frank Bennett, the current coach at Chaminade, said on Monday. “From a young age he has always taken his craft serious. As a result, we are witnessing years of meticulous and unseen work by him to become the All-Star he is today. He can score at all three levels, but plays to win every night.”

There are plenty of stats to show Beal’s offensive dominance, but check out this stat about stats.

So, last season, Beal averaged a career-high 30.5 points per game. This season, he’s at the 32.9. If he finishes above 30 this season, Beal will be just the sixth player since the NBA-ABA merger to averaged 30 points in back-to-back seasons.

Think about that.

Only five other players did it.

Kobe Bryant. Allen Iverson. James Harden. Adrian Dantley. And Michael Jordan, who did it seven straight times.

Now, some people might scoff at Beal’s scoring because it sometimes comes in losing efforts. But consider that Beal is ninth among NBA starters in ESPN’s player efficiency rating, which captures a player’s productivity and is adjusted for pace. So it’s not like he’s just throwing up a bunch of shots. He still shoots close to 50% from the field and contributes with hustle plays, too.

Oh, and to start the season, Beal scored 25 or more points in the first 17 games. An NBA player hasn’t done that to start a season in a half-century. Fifty seasons, he’s the only guy.

And an optimist wonders if the Wizards might actually be better than their record indicates. The Washington basketball team entered Monday at 10-17 … but! … the Wizards began the season 0-5. Part of that is due to the blockbuster trade of John Wall for Russell Westbrook. Even superstars have to get adjusted to systems. So, yeah, maybe they’re closer to a .500-type team, which would get them in the playoffs. And did you hear about the modified NBA playoff setup? There will be a mini-tournament with teams Nos. 7-10 to determine which teams get the seventh and eighth postseason seed. So just finishing 10th gives them a shot.

No, the Wizards are not the Nets just yet. But they could play them in the first round.

As we approach the March 25 trade deadline, surely Beal’s name will surface in trade rumors. To Beal’s credit, he’s been steadfast that he wants to remain with Washington. He’s been very involved in the community from a charity standpoint. And he wants to see this thing through — Westbrook is a heck of a running-mate in a city known for them.

And entering Monday, the Wizards had won four consecutive games — their most in three years.

“At the end of the day, I just want to have a killer mindset and come out here and be aggressive with the best of them,” the 27-year-old Beal told NBC Sports Washington. “With that mindset, man, the game is just slowing down, I’m more confident in my game and my teammates are putting me in great positions to succeed.”

The epitome of that was the Jan. 6 five-point loss at Philadelphia, currently the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference. Beal scored 60. Yes, 60. And he did so rather efficiently, making 7 of his 10 3-point attempts and shooting 57.1% from the field during the game. And he tallied seven rebounds and five assists.

Hard to ignore.

Benjamin Hochman

@hochman on Twitter

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