By DERON SNYDER
Bradley Beal is having a great season for the Washington Wizards, which has led teammates, fans and local media to lobby for his first All-Star berth.
But to the chagrin of his supporters, Beal ranked just ninth among Eastern Conference guards when the first round of fan voting was released last week. The indignity was amplified by Dwyane Wade (a shell of his former self) and Isiah Thomas (who had played one game at the time) being ahead of Beal.
Wade and Thomas clearly have no business in the sixth and seventh positions, respectively, based on performance. By that measure, John Wall (fifth), who has missed 11 games due to injury, should trail his smooth-shooting backcourt mate, too.
However, All-Star ballots are about popularity more than production.
Wade had been a Top 3-vote getter from 2005 until last season, when he was knocked to fourth place by Thomas’ MVP campaign. There’s also an advantage when you play on a national-darling franchise with LeBron James, which could be worth a quarter of Wade’s 165,000 votes.
Beal’s supporters are right to argue for his inclusion at this season’s glorified pickup game. He has been the Wizards’ best and most consistent player, leading them to the No. 4 seed in the East. His averages in scoring (23.6), rebounds (4.4), assists (3.6) and steals (1.2) are career highs.
Wall’s position ahead of Beal is a function of the four-time all-Star’s national profile and steady progress in building his credibility. He was voted as a starter in 2015, making him the franchise’s first draftee to receive that honor since Earl Monroe in 1971, when the team still played in Baltimore.
The Wizards’ previous All-Star voted as a starter was Gilbert Arenas in 2007.
Subtract Wall, Wade and Thomas (the Little Big Man who’s a fan favorite) from the guards in front of Beal. He still trails five other players: Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, Victor Oladipo, Ben Simmons and Kyle Lowry.
Beal certainly should top the latter, who benefits from playing in hoops-crazed Toronto.
But as much as we love Beal and the growth in his game, his increased ability to drive and finish or be a playmaker, there are legitimate arguments that Irving, DeRozan, Oladipo and Simmons deserve Top 4 status.
DeRozan (25.0), Oladipo (24.8) and Irving (24.1) have higher scoring averages. Simmons’ average is five points lower than Beal’s, but he leads the aforementioned in rebounds (8.4), assists (7.5) and field goal percentage (.510).
Everyone knows that Simmons can’t shoot from outside. He’s only .557 from the free throw line and 0-for-10 from behind the arc. But he’s a former No. 1 pick and a 6-foot-10 point guard blessed with speed, strength, athleticism and uncanny passing ability. Along with Joel “The Process” Embiid, he has made Philadelphia one of the league’s more interesting teams, even though the Sixers were only .500 and ninth in the conference entering Monday.
Simmons has the shakiest case for keeping Beal from the Top 4. But the second-year rookie is arguably a bigger star and more fascinating player,
None of this is to suggest that Beal is unworthy of an All-Star nod.
I suspect he’ll make it as a coaches’ pick and his selection will be warranted, just like he should’ve been chosen last season. We know he deserves it because we see him all the time.
But he has work to do. His overall shooting percentage AND his three-point shooting percentage is dead last compared to Irving, DeRozan and Oladipo. For that matter, his percentage on two-point field goals brings up the rear, too. Ditto for his assists per game.
Coach Scott Brooks has been one of Beal’s main cheerleaders, rightfully so.
“We all know he can score the ball,” Brooks told NBA.com. “He’s sneaky athletic and I still think he another level or two he can go to, which is a good thing. It’s the same thing for all good players, going from good to great is a challenge. But you can see it happening from last year on.”
Beal has always been one of the NBA’s best shooting guards if you asked him. His confidence borders on cockiness but he has toned down the talking and let his game take over. He closed 2017 with his first-ever Eastern Conference Player of the Week award.
“I don’t consume myself with trying to be an All-Star and trying to prove to people that I’m capable of being one,” he told NBA.com. “If I am one, I am one, and that’s great. But people who are more deserving get snubbed every year. So there’s really nothing you can do about it.”
All he can do is continue to play well and improve.
But that should be enough for an Eastern Conference roster spot next month in Los Angeles.