The Washington Wizards haven’t had expectations this heavy since the Gilbert Arenas era. After five straight years without a postseason appearance and playing sub-.400 basketball, the Wizards enter the 2013-14 season with one thing on their mind: playoffs.
Vacancies have been made in the bottom seeds of the Eastern Conference and the Wizards are looking to set up residence. They are looking to ride the momentum they had in the second half of the season where an injection of healthy players and confidence turned Washington into a respectable club.
Heralding the Wizards this year will be their dynamic, track-meet of a backcourt equipped with four-year point guard John Wall and second-year shooting guard Bradley Beal, who took time recently to speak with Dime Magazine about his love for the Call of Duty franchise prior to their release of Ghosts, the latest installment in the series.
Bradley and I spoke of his interest in the CoD franchise, as well as his expectations for the Wizards this year, how he improved over the offseason, who he thought was the toughest player to guard last year, and a difficult choice between a pair of his favorite artists.
*** *** ***
Dime: How long have you been a fan of the Call of Duty franchise?
Bradley Beal: I’ve played the past two, Modern Warfare and Black Ops. I’m looking forward to getting on the next one.
Dime: What’s your playing style? Are you a fan of the multiplayer?
BB: Not really. I usually play around on the campaign mode. But I’ll play with teammates and friends when I get the chance.
Dime: How long have you been into gaming?
BB: Since I was a kid. I’ve always been playing whenever I wasn’t working on my game. Now I’m on my Xbox 360 and I’ll turn it on after a hard day.
Dime: Transitioning to your line of work, were there any particular facets of your game that you focused on this summer?
BB: Ballhandling and creating off the dribble for myself, as well as my teammates. Also, my defense more than anything and my quickness. Improving my strength, as well.
Dime: You’re coming off a rookie year where you took home a pair of Rookie of the Month awards and a spot on the All-NBA Rookie First Team. How would you evaluate your first year in the league?
BB: It was pretty good. Even with the injuries I went through, it went pretty well. I always can get better. I felt like I got healthy pretty well towards the end of the season, midway through the season, and I showed the heart and passion I have for the team and the game. It goes a long way in this business, so I can’t really complain with the way I played last year.
Dime: Were there any phases of the NBA you struggled to adjust to at first?
BB: The biggest thing was the three-point line. It’s a lot further than what people really think it is. That was probably the biggest adjustment for me. Also, it (the Wizards) wasn’t a winning team. You have to deal with losing a lot and being able to adjust to that mentally. You have to be mentally tough and move on to the next game.
Dime: I was going to ask you about your three-point shooting. You shot a lot better from the NBA three-point line (39 percent) than from the college three-point line (34 percent). Was this something you worked on at all or did it suddenly come to you that you could start shooting from 25 feet out?
BB: It was a little bit of both. It was my adjustment mentally to say that, “Well I’m shooting here now” in the meantime standing in the gym and be willing and wanting to do it. My coaches and teammates did a great job of pushing me to get better, and just to stay confident. To me, it’s always mind over body, so as long as I was confident, I would make the shots.
Dime: You were speaking about being on a losing Wizards team last year. How exactly does it affect a player of your stature’s mentality? You come from high school and you’re the top dog there and then the University of Florida and you win there, so what’s it like after years of winning to get into the NBA and you’re suddenly losing more games than you’re winning?
BB: It was definitely tough because, like you said, coming from a winning situation and winning programs growing up, you’re not used to losing and you hate losing, and everyone else on the team hates losing. But it’s the NBA and these guys are really good, and you have to really face what your team is made of. You have to be mentally tough and strong enough to be able to say, “Hey, we can compete with these guys, we can beat them,” but it’s definitely tough. We started the season winning two games and then losing 18 and it’s not a great feeling. It definitely humbles you. It pushes you to want to get better.
Dime: Did the level of competition surprise you at all?
BB: Not at all. It was everything I expected it to be. I think what surprised me the most was the amount of respect I’ve gained in the league with my one year; how I knew who I was and what I was capable of doing. It wasn’t anything I was really shell-shocked about. It was everything I expected it to be.
Dime: How did your coaches at the University of Florida prepare you for the NBA? Because they knew you were going to be a top five pick, so did Billy Donovan pull you aside and give you a rundown of how to acclimate to the league?
BB: He did. He played in the league a little bit, so he knows what it takes to get there. He’s put plenty of guys in the league who are still in the league now. He really pushed me to compete and get better, that’s one thing I always admired about him. One thing he always told me was “If you’re not getting better everyday, then there’s something wrong.” The way he coaches and the style of play he has at Florida is similar to the NBA. It’s nothing but pick-and-rolls and guys knocking down threes and shots and creating off the dribble.
Dime: What do you expect out of Gators this year?
BB: We should be pretty good. We have a few transfers coming in, hopefully they’ll be eligible this year. But we still have guys who are juniors and seniors, as well. We definitely have a great opportunity at making a run.
Dime: In your first year in the league, you didn’t expect to immediately be the number one option for the Wizards since John Wall was out with his injury. Were you nervous or excited about the opportunity to prove yourself so early in your career?
BB: It was a little bit of both. I was definitely nervous being 19 years old and being the so-called face (of the franchise). I was putting pressure on myself, being nervous, but I was excited at the same time because I could be the face of the team and I could be the go-to guy. I could be the leader of the team at such a young age, and get established in the league pretty early. That was definitely the great part about it. But I was more nervous than anything.
Dime: I noticed your numbers significantly improved once the second half of the season ramped up. What was it that prompted the turnaround?
BB: Our swag and our confidence. Just the fact that we knew we could compete with anybody and if we played the right way and played the way coach Witt wanted us to play. We beat the majority of the top teams in the league, all the playoff teams, but all the teams under .500, for some reason, we would lose to. We had to have the mindset to stay consistent and one day, I’m not sure what day it was, but we just turned it around. Guys were getting back healthy and were were playing together more and getting our chemistry down. You really had to focus and sacrifice for the good of the team.
Dime: With your injury and John Wall’s injury, you didn’t get as much time playing together as you wanted to last year. Did you two workout together over the summer to make up for lost time?
BB: We did a little bit. I was out way longer than him, so I was dealing with my injuries for a long time. We only had a month or two before training camp to actually workout. Whenever I had the opportunity to on weekends we did. We both came back to D.C. and worked out a little bit. We competed against each other because I think that’s what makes both of us good and appreciate where we’re at now. We know the fact that we have to get better, but we push each other and try and improve each other.
Dime: Were you at all surprised just how fast he really is?
BB: Oh, yeah. I was surprised. He’s probably faster than he is with the ball than he is without it which is kind of weird. He’s definitely lightning quick and probably the fastest player in the league with the ball.
Dime: Anybody challenge him to races?
BB: We do a few things in practices sometimes like sprints, but we challenge him. I get him a few times here and there, but I don’t know if he’s actually even running or giving away the race. Whenever I get the chance to beat him, I definitely get bragging rights.
Dime: What advantages does the backcourt you create with him gives you over your opponents?
BB: It makes the floor so much more spaced. When we’re both out there, it’s like, “Are you going to help off of me and give me an open shot or are you going to stay on me and give John a lane to create for himself or for his team?” I love being out there with him because we create so many problems for the defense. He makes life so much easier.
Dime: Has there been anything in the opening weeks of preseason that have been different from what the team was running last year?
BB: Nothing’s really new. I think the biggest thing we really focused on is our defensive intensity and being able to pick up full-court and pressure guys more and get more stops. We’re definitely taking more pride in our defense than we did last year. We were a top 10 team defensively last year, but now we’re trying to compete and get better because teams woke up. Guys are shooting the ball a lot better, too.
Dime: I know it’s early, but what differences have you noticed between last year’s and this one? Is there any sort of different feeling amongst the team?
BB: We have more confidence and swagger about ourselves. We know we can compete and beat anyone in the league on any given night. It’s really up to us. Since day one from training camp, our chemistry has been great. We know each other’s strengths, we know where we’re going to be on the court, we’re talking and communicating. Guys are really taking more leadership and probably the biggest thing is we’re holding each other accountable for our mistakes. We’re not afraid to tell a teammate, “OK, let’s pick it up” and I think that’s the biggest thing we need as a team.
Dime: Does coach Wittman try to instill a feeling of unity and family in the locker room?
BB: Yes. We had a lot of bonding time this offseason and during the preseason when we went to Brazil. We had a lot of team meetings, team dinners, meetings-and-greetings with the front office and different people as well. It’s a young team so a lot of us just play video games or hang out and play cards, just have fun with each other. We continue to bond because we know it helps on the court.
Dime: What was it like being in Brazil?
BB: It was awesome. It was definitely a humbling experience because you see people that aren’t as fortunate as you are. You respect where you’re from and you respect where other people are from. It was one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever been to. Great people, great views, and it’s definitely a vacation spot I’d recommend to anybody.
Dime: You sound hopeful about the team this year and I know the roster’s finally healthy, so are there expectations for the Wizards?
BB: Our main goal is to make the playoffs, and we know we’re more than capable of doing that. We have to bear down and fight for each other and sacrifice and do what coach wants us to do. We know what kind of team we can be, we know what our strengths are, we know what we’re capable of doing. It’s really up to us to put all the pieces together and win games and it starts Wednesday.
Dime: You get to play the Heat four times a year since you’re in the same division. When you play them, do you guys use it as a gauge to see where you are? Or do you just treat it like any other team?
BB: Whenever you play the Heat, you’re more pumped up to play them because they’re the back-to-back champs and the best team in the league. You definitely have a chip on your shoulder to want to beat them, specifically play hard. When we play them, we feel that we can beat them and sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t. As long as we’re competing and playing the way we know we’re capable of playing, we know we have a chance against anyone. We play them four times this year, so hopefully we can beat them all four times.
Dime: How was the locker room when you beat them last year?
BB: It was excited. We didn’t get too confident because we still had another game the next night. We definitely see it as an accomplishment and a stepping stone for us and it shows that we can compete and play with anybody. We have to continue to do what we did in that game and incoporate it into the rest of the season.
Dime: Do you have any expectations for yourself this season?
BB: The biggest expectation I have of myself is to continue to get better, staying humble and making sure I’m always improving and making my teammates better, as well. The biggest thing I really want to do this year is be more of a leader vocally and voice my opinion and voice what we need to do as a team to get better and win games.
Dime: Who’s the funniest guy in the locker room?
BB: Glen Rice, Jr. or Martell Webster.
Dime: Glen Rice, Jr. already making an impression?
BB: Yeah, because, one, his accent. He has a real country accent so it’s hard to understand him, but it’s funny when it comes out of his mouth. Martell’s always a character. He can imitate anybody’s voice and when you’re down, he can make you laugh in a heartbeat.
Dime: I’m sure you’ve heard about the ESPN rankings and how they have the whole NBA world in hysterics, especially concerning your position at shooting guard. Do you agree with the rankings of some players at your position, such as Kobe Bryant?
BB: I don’t even pay attention to that. I haven’t even looked at my position specifically. I’ve heard about it, but I haven’t even seen it. I don’t really pay any mind to that. I focus on myself and getting better.
Dime: Would you say he’s the 25th-best player in basketball?
BB: That’s hard. I don’t want to throw anybody on the bus, but Kobe is Kobe. He’s proven himself in the league. He’s getting a little older, but he’s still got that killer mentality. I’m not sure how they’re ranking them, but he’s definitely still one of the best to play. I’m not sure you can name 24 people you could name who Kobe would think is better than him.
Dime: Who was the toughest player to guard last year?
BB: The toughest player to guard last year was J.R. Smith. He plays off his opposite foot so it’s kind of hard to play that way. He’s aggressive on offense and he’s a pretty good defender, he’s athletic and he can shoot the ball. He really puts you in a bind and I think sometimes he doesn’t know what he’s about to do and he kills you.
Dime: When you play against the veteran guards like J.R. or D-Wade or Kobe or Joe Johnson, do they ever give you any sort of advice when you’re trying to defend them?
BB: Yeah. That’s something I definitely appreciate and something I’ll always admire about our league how guys pass on their wisdom to the younger guys. They definitely gave me words here and there and I watch them. If I’m on the bench or if I’m in the game and I see how they’re playing me, I see what they’re doing on offense against me while I’m playing defense. I try to incorporate it into that game.
Dime: Was there anything specific that someone told you that stuck with you?
BB: Probably the change of pace on offense. When I guard Ray Allen, watching him and how he comes off screens and how fast and how he slows it up and how he times everything, it’s picture-perfect. On defense, how Paul George guards people and how he uses his length and athleticism to guard the best offensive player on the other team. Everybody basically almost has the same thing. There’s a few cheap hits here and there, like grabbing shorts and jerseys without the ref helping. It’s just little things like that to gain an advantage.
Dime: Did you emulate your game after anybody when you were growing up?
BB: Growing up I was always a big Allen Iverson guy. I moved to the two-guard and now I watch Ray Allen and a lot of Allan Houston, a few D-Wade clips, too. I tried to emulate their moves and what they do off the dribble and without the ball.
Dime: Last question, one artist you can listen to for the rest of your life. Drake, Kendrick Lamar or Pusha T?
BB: (Sighs) Dang. Either Drake or Kendrick and that’s hard because that’s like 1a and 1b, but I’d go with Drake.
What are you expecting from Beal this season?
Follow John on Twitter at @JohnFtheheatgod.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.