On Thursday, Wizards coach Randy Wittman and team president Ernie Grunfeld were treated to a microcosm of Bradley Beal’s freshman season at Florida.
They watched as Beal performed the 5-4-3-2-1 drill in which a player must make five jumpers at one end of the court, four at the other and so on. It took Beal nine shots to move on to the second round, but he only missed one shot the rest of the way. He went a perfect 4-for-4 in the second and then sank his two jumpers in the fourth round before racing to the other end and finishing the drill the way you’re asked to.
With a dunk.
Beal capped his Gator career much the same way. He became the first Florida player to be named first-team all-SEC and SEC all-freshman in the same season after breaking out in the SEC and NCAA Tournaments. He struggled early on to meet lofty expectations that predicted him to be the next Ray Allen, or at least the best perimeter scorer in his school class. It didn’t take long for Beal to become the best perimeter scorer in his draft class.
He’s also a lock to be a top five overall pick when the NBA Draft rolls around on the same day as his 19th birthday, June 28. But these next few days may determine where his professional career will begin.
Beal, who was exceptional in athletic testing at the NBA Draft Combine last week, is scheduled to work out for Cleveland on Saturday and Charlotte on Monday. Beal’s agent Mark Bartelstein told SI.com that he has no plans for Beal to work out with teams outside the top four. Bartelstein has reportedly denied requests by Sacramento (No. 5), Portland (No. 6) and Golden State (No. 7). One can only assume that’s the case because they know there’s no chance that Washington (No. 3) and Cleveland (No. 4) will both pass on the shooting guard who’s separated himself from the best prospects at his position such as Syracuse’s Dion Waiters, Duke’s Austin Rivers, UConn’s Jeremy Lamb and Washington’s Terrence Ross.
The Wizards and Cavaliers are in dire need of giving their emerging young point guards John Wall and Kyrie Irving, respectively, a smooth-shooting backcourt compliment. The Bobcats at No. 2 are not out of the question as Charlotte is considering Beal along with Kentucky small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kansas power forward Thomas Robinson and Connecticut center Andre Drummond.
However, the Bobcats need more help in the frontcourt than they do in the backcourt. The team drafted 2011 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Kemba Walker last year, and Gerald Henderson has given them a good return on their investment after three years in the league. Among guards, Henderson was 20th in the NBA in shot attempts per game (13.1) and still connected on a respectable 46 percent of those tries.
It’s not even certain if the Bobcats will keep that pick or trade down. Michael Jordan’s team finished with the worst regular season record in NBA history last year, and Charlotte may give it up in exchange for more picks. The Blazers and Rockets have two picks apiece in the top 16 and could make a deal with the Bobcats unless Jordan likes what he sees from Beal on Monday.
Nonetheless, the Cavaliers are next in line to get a look at him on Saturday. The Plain Dealer in Cleveland reported on Thursday that NBA sources confirmed that Beal and North Carolina small forward Harrison Barnes will be in Cleveland to work out for the team. That’s a strong indication that the Cavs will select one of the two. Barnes struggled when Tar Heels point guard Kendall Marshall was injured in the Big Dance. However, Beal seems more capable of creating his own shot. That doesn’t mean Cleveland wouldn’t take a taller sharpshooter in Barnes (6-foot-8) over the shorter Beal (measured 6-foot-4 and three quarters with shoes at the NBA Combine last week). A less-pressing question would be whether Beal would keep the No. 23 worn by LeBron James if he did get drafted by Cleveland.
Although Beal’s ability to put points on the board is alluring, so is his ability to get on the boards. Beal averaged nearly seven rebounds per game, leading the Gators and all guards in the six major conferences. What Beal did on the glass was far and away better than what any SEC guard did last year. Beal had 10 games with at least 10 rebounds while all other guards in the SEC combined for five games with at least 10, and no other SEC guard had more than one game with that much.
For NBA scouts, there’s a third attraction to Beal that has likely played just as big a part in his sky-rocketing draft stock: his basketball IQ and humility. Florida coach Billy Donovan praised Beal for those two things while telling ESPN.com that Beal was the most mature player he’s coached in his long career. After all, it took Donovan almost an entire year of long talks to convince Beal — so accustomed to being the go-to guy — that it was okay to take shots away from upperclassmen Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton and start taking over.
In that regard, Beal isn’t your common shooting guard. Donovan had some parting words for his atypical player.
“The advice he’s given me is just go hard,” Beal told reporters at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. “That’s just the type of person he is. He’s straight forward. He’s like, ‘Go hard and showcase all your abilities. He said, ‘Don’t be nervous or scared of anybody. Just play basketball. Just have fun.’”