Wizards believe Beal's 2021-22 season was an anomaly


WASHINGTON -- For a player without his track record and history with his team, Bradley Beal's 2021-22 season could have been really bad timing. In what was essentially the final year of his contract, he had a down season and played the fewest games of his career by a good margin.

The Wizards, though, remain intent on re-signing him and seem to view his year as an aberration rather than the beginning of a decline or indicative of a larger trend. He only played in 40 games and saw his numbers drop from 31.3 points per game on 48.5% shooting and 34.9% from three in 2020-21 to 23.2 points per game on 45.1% from the field and 30% from three.

But the 40-game sample size was not even half of a season and there was a lot of context to consider. Beal dealt with a right hip injury early in the season, then the death of his grandmother and then two stints in COVID-19 health and safety protocol before a left wrist injury ended his year entirely. 

"Things didn't go as we planned and a lot of that is unforeseen circumstances," head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said.

The passing of Beal's grandmother weighed on him well beyond his return to action on Nov. 17 and his second time in protocol came right when he was playing his best basketball of the season. Beal was averaging 27.4 points and shooting 49.6% from the field and 36.5% from three across 13 games when he left the lineup. He came back to post just 18.7 points on 42.4% shooting and 31.8% from three in six games before his season was ended due to wrist surgery.

All of that left Beal feeling conflicted. When he summed up his season in early March, he said he didn't want to harp on the negative and kick himself while he was already down. But he also felt that, if given more time on the court, he could have written a much different narrative.

"I definitely know I could have finished out the year on a strong note... I know for sure if I played, we would be in the position we want to be in," he said.

By that, he seemed to mean the Wizards would be firmly in the postseason picture. They ended up finishing 12th in the Eastern Conference, out of the play-in tournament and in the lottery, which is set for May 17. 

Beal having a down season and his team taking a step back from their playoff appearance the year before may lead to him experiencing the wrong end of recency bias in the coming months. NBA player ranking lists will come out and he may be lower on them than he would like. For example, in May of 2021 Beal was listed as the 19th-best player in the league by The Ringer. The same outlet dropped him from the top-25 altogether in March of 2022.

Whether it was that ranking or not, team president Tommy Sheppard has already seen what he feels are unfair assessments of the player Beal is.

"I see stuff about Bradley and I kind of wonder, my goodness, are we talking about the same player? He's a special player, one of the best at his position in the NBA," Sheppard said.

That should be good news to Beal, as Sheppard will lead negotiations for the Wizards this summer with Beal in line to potentially sign a supermax contract worth roughly $245 million over five years. Sheppard appears to be putting more stock in Beal's production from prior seasons.

To be fair, the sample size of Beal being an elite scorer is much larger than that of this past season. He led the East two straight years, averaging 30-plus points per game in 2019-20 and 2020-21. He did so while shooting a solid 47% from the field and 35.1% from three. Beal was an All-NBA selection and All-Star starter for 2020-21.

Beal is also 28 going on 29, so not at the point where a steep drop-off is expected to happen. And his injury is to the wrist on his non-shooting hand. It's not something that should present long-term concerns.

If Beal does stay with the Wizards on a new and lucrative long-term contract, they will be banking on him returning to the player he was just one season ago. Given Sheppard and Unseld Jr.'s comments, they seem confident that will be the case.

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