By DERON SNYDER
Bradley Beal has always been one of the NBA’s best shooting guards … if you asked him.
Most observers haven’t thought of him quite as highly, especially as he battled injuries after Washington picked him third overall in 2012.
He had a smooth and sweet stroke but nothing else stood out besides his confidence-bordering-on-cockiness. The Wizards gave him a max contract in 2016 anyway, partially because they had no choice, and he repaid them with a career year, setting personal-bests last season in games, scoring, assists and field-goal percentage.
The performance made him a near-consensus pick for the Eastern Conference’s biggest All-Star snub.
After his outing Tuesday, Beal can safely book a trip to Los Angeles for the festivities this season.
He scored a career-high 51 points at Portland, hitting 21 of 37 shots, as the Wizards rebounded from the second-worst loss in franchise history the night before. No one has ever scored more points against the Trail Blazers as a visiting player.
“I kind of came into the game with the mindset of being aggressive from start to finish, especially coming off the game [Monday] night and the way I’ve played over the previous four or five games,” he told reporters Tuesday.
He scored more points against Portland than he scored the previous four games combined (50). His struggles could be attributed in part to an eye injury that forced him to wear protective googles, and in part to injured point guard John Wall’s absence. But Beal ditched the eyewear in Portland and stopped overthinking.
The strides he made last season have carried over. Improved ballhandling makes him a bigger threat when he attacks the basket. No longer “just” a shooter, Beal’s all-around game has grown tremendously, from isolations, to reading pick-and-rolls, and finishing through contact.
He followed his career-high with a 34-point effort Thursday at Phoenix. “I don’t come into a game thinking that I’m going to score 50 or 40,” he told reporters. “I play within the flow of the game. Whatever the number is, that’s what the number is.”
The numbers are talking.
His mouth can take a break.