Early returns promising for Wizards’ Beal

WASHINGTON — Wizards point guard John Wall has already established himself as a star in the NBA, making the All-Star Game each of the past two seasons. This year, his backcourt mate is making an early case that he’s rising into the same echelon.

Bradley Beal had a tough start to the 2014-15 campaign, missing the first nine games due to injury. When he returned, he was solid but not spectacular, averaging 13.8 points and 2 rebounds per game in his first half-dozen contests, breaking the 15 point mark just once. But he’s come out on fire this year, scoring 24 or more points in each of his first five games, during which he shot 50 percent from the three-point range, including a game-winner at home over the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 4.

Beal, like the rest of the Wizards, talked about changing his approach in the offseason to reduce his inefficient shots, like long two-pointers that only go down at roughly the same rate at threes. In fact, Beal shot just 33.1 percent on shots between 16 feet out and the three-point arc last season, as opposed to 40.9 percent on threes.

“I did evaluate it after the season,” Beal told CSN Mid-Atlantic before the season. “Sat down, looked at film, looked at statistics on paper. It just made sense to eliminate those shots. Those are bad shots and as a team that’s what we’re doing now. We want to eliminate those long 2s as much as possible.”

But it’s one thing to talk about making a fundamental change. It’s another to actually enact it and succeed. If the first six games are any indication of the season to come, his focus on taking better looks is already paying off.

More than a quarter of Beal’s shots last year (27.7 percent) came from that dead zone outside 16 feet but inside the arc. He’s reduced that figure to 16.8 percent in the early-going, while increasing his shot percentage inside of 10 feet from 29.1 percent to 37.4 percent. By getting better looks closer to the basket and not settling for inefficient hoists, he’s shooting a career-best 49.3 percent from inside the arc to go along with 47.1 percent from deep.

No three-pointer has been bigger than the one he knocked down with just 0.3 seconds remaining to break a 99-99 tie and beat the Spurs at Verizon Center last week.

“It’s just me coming into my own, I guess,” said Beal after his game-winner.

He’s done that not by magically getting better, but by playing a smarter version of the game he already knew and excelled at.

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