Fractured Stress: Where the Bradley Beal Injury Leaves the Wizards
Bradley Beal was having a damn fine sophomore season. In fact, out of the 54 NBA players who have averaged 20 or more points per game in their second NBA season, Beal was putting up the best 3-point percentage, 43.9 percent. The Wizards have long needed shooters, and having a guy shooting better from deep than Kevin Durant did in his sophomore season (42.2%) helped team brass rest easier at night.
That has come to a screeching halt. No rest for the weary. First, the bad news you know. The Wizards have announced that Beal will miss two weeks due to a “a stress injury to his proximal right fibula.” After those two weeks Beal will be evaluated—he could certainly miss more time. With Beal out, the Wizards are left with Martell Webster, the inconsistent Trevor Ariza, and the increasingly (and currently) injured Al Harrington for long distance buckets. One player makes a big difference, and the man responsible for over 30 percent of Washington’s 3-point makes this season is suddenly unavailable.
Flash back to around eight months ago, April 3, 2013, via team press release: “The Washington Wizards announced today that guard Bradley Beal will miss the remainder of the season with a stress injury in his right fibula. He is expected to resume basketball-related activities in approximately six weeks.”
But Beal didn’t resume basketball activities in approximately six weeks. It took about twice that time, leading Beal to sit for a good chunk of the summer, missing the NBA Summer League and training camp with Team USA in Las Vegas.
Flash back to a month before Beal’s original stress fracture, March 3, 2013… Beal sprained his left ankle with two minutes left in a win against the Philadelphia 76ers. He was designated as “day-to-day” but would miss the next six games (just under two weeks). Beal returned to the court for three games between it mid-March, but it looked to be premature. That ankle didn’t appear to be fully healthy. Beal then tweaked the same left ankle in Phoenix on March 20 and would go on to miss five more games under day-to-day mysteriousness. He made one last return to the court—this time for just two games—before being declared out for the remainder his rookie season with the initial stress injury on April 3.
Lessons were presumably learned, by both Beal and the Wizards organization. You see, the stress injury to his right leg was caused when Beal was allowed (by himself and Washington’s medical staff) to return to the court before the left ankle injury fully healed.
Fast-forward to this season when Beal, out of necessity, was seeing shit-ton of time on the basketball court. To recap:
- Beal was averaging 40.2 minutes per game this season, tops in the NBA (Carmelo Anthony is the only other NBA player averaging 40-plus minutes).
- Wizards/Bullets who have averaged 40-plus minutes per game since 1980: Jeff Ruland (41.1, 1983-84); Juwan Howard (40.7 in 1995-96 and 40.5 in 1996-97); Gilbert Arenas (40.9 in 2004-05 and 42.3 in 2005-06); Antawn Jamison (40.1 in 2005-06); and Bradley Beal.
- According to NBA.com’s player tracking data, Beal leads the league in distance travelled per game, 2.9 miles, and has moved 37.2 total miles around the court through 13 games.
Don’t blame Randy Wittman.
The coach, in the final year of his contact, has been handcuffed by Washington’s basketball ‘oh my gawd’ Ernie Grunfeld. Wittman had to play Beal, just a 20-year-old kid, FCOL, an overabundance of minutes due to roster inefficiencies. (Also worth noting that John Wall is sixth in the NBA in minutes per game.) If Wittman doesn’t heavily rely on his horses, the Wizards easily go 1-3 or 0-4 last week and not 3-1.
After Wall, not a single member of Washington’s backcourt outside of Beal is capable of making a positive impact with the ball in their hands. Not Eric Maynor, not Garrett Temple, not Trevor Ariza (despite his best efforts), not Martell Webster, not Otto Porter, and not Chris Singleton—this is a major flaw in the team construct. Having seen what happens to the team without a playmaker like Wall for a large chunk of time (do five wins 28 losses ring a bell?) seemingly did little to create a sense of urgency or awareness amongst Washington’s brass (i.e., Maynor is not an answer). Well, surely someone was aware, but they are beset by their own establishment and a staunch commitment to ditching the ritual of the NBA’s Draft Lottery. Perhaps in this case, the playoff cart was put before the horse of process. Thus, the basketball culture surrounding the Wizards is day-to-day … something always looms.
Grunfeld, normally between cucumber cool and interrogation room coy in his dealings with the media, appeared to want to get away, desperately, in his post-Beal injury media session while gnawing at chewing gum in his mouth (we assume it was gum; you can watch here via the Monumental Network).
“It’s in a completely different spot—same bone, but it’s up high when the last one was down low,” Grunfeld said. So, great, it’s not just one part of Beal’s fibula that’s brittle, it could be the whole thing. This is, of course, no one’s fault and part of sports—if you buy the house, you are responsible for fixing the leaks. Beal, for what it’s worth, insists that this isn’t a “re-injury.”
Grunfeld was also asked about long-term concern in consideration of Beal’s injury history. “We’re hopeful that it won’t be [a concern long-term]. He’s 20 years old,” Grunfeld retorted with a slight, ‘please stay calm’ smile, “so he’s got a lot of minutes left in him.” But that is a large part of the underlying concern: Beal is only 20 years old, and his bones are now succumbing to the stress of a normal NBA schedule 13 games into the season.
Meanwhile, the Wizards once again pat themselves on the back for catching an injury early (they are getting good at such). But what else is a team to do? Learn more lessons… Be more cautious… Do better at preventative medical treatment, much better.
Otherwise, prepare for more Garrett Temple (Martell Webster will start in Beal’s place). Buckle up your shoes for #MaynorTime. And by all means, pray for Nene, as the Wizards need him to be more consistent than ever, especially in terms of the offense running through him. Time for Randy Wittman to do the coaching job of his life (and please refrain from making your own #WittmanFaces at that remark). The coach has been running Washington’s starters into the ground with only a 5-8 record to show for it. Now his assignment: do even more with even less. Go get ‘em, Coach.