WASHINGTON — One year after he was left out of the NBA All-Star Game, Bradley Beal’s inclusion in the league’s midseason showcase was so certain even before starters were officially announced Thursday night that Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks felt comfortable enough to crack a joke about it.
“He’s an all-star. I’m actually surprised this is not his fifth year in a row. ... They just announced it. He’s a starter. I don’t know if you guys saw that. That’s good news,” Brooks deadpanned on a videoconference Wednesday.
Brooks’ line landed to the silence of a dozen or so journalists muted on the video call, but he couldn’t be blamed for his confidence.
So impressive are Beal’s numbers, so unarguable is his status as a must-watch player, that the idea that the 27-year-old guard would be snubbed this time around was laughable.
Brooks’ assurance was rewarded.
Beal was named an all-star starter for the first time in his career Thursday, becoming the first Wizards player to earn a starting nod since John Wall in 2015. Beal will make his third career all-star appearance when the league holds the showcase in Atlanta on March 7 — he was named as a reserve in 2018 and 2019, one of seven players from each conference as voted by coaches, before being left out completely in 2020.
He joins Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid as starters from the Eastern Conference. Durant will serve as a team captain and pick his squad during the all-star draft March 4.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James, Denver’s Nikola Jokic, Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard, Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Dallas’ Luka Doncic are the starters from the Western Conference, with James serving as the other team captain.
“I ain’t going to say I don’t care, but you know what I mean. I don’t put really too much focus on it. Like, my ultimate thing is just trying to help my team win,” Beal said Wednesday when asked about the prospect of returning to the game. “It’s definitely a blessing and an honor to be in that position because there are so many guys who are deserving to, one, be in the game and, two, there’s definitely enough guys who deserve to start. To be able to have that recognition is an honor. I don’t take it for granted. It just motivates me to continue to work on my craft.”
Beal’s continual growth in his ninth year in the league is part of what makes him such a fascination among fans and a headache among opposing coaches.
The guard’s scoring numbers have been on an upward trend for four straight seasons. Through 24 games this year, Beal is averaging a league-best 32.8 points — a career high — as well as 4.7 assists and 5.2 rebounds.
In his position as franchise cornerstone, he has made the extraordinary look routine. Beal had at least 25 points in each of his first 17 games this season, a stretch that eclipsed Michael Jordan’s record for the longest such streak to start a campaign since the NBA and ABA merged in 1976. In January, Beal dropped 60 points in Philadelphia to tie the Wizards’ single-game franchise scoring record Gilbert Arenas set in 2006.
He had a pair of 40-point games later that month.
Though Beal said he was honored to be named an all-star, he also expressed some confusion earlier this season as to why his résumé this year earned him a nod when similarly impressive numbers last year did not. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Beal was the first player in 41 years to average at least 28.6 points and not make the all-star team.
The presumed reason was that Washington was holding Beal back with its 16-31 record at the time all-star reserves were announced. The Wizards aren’t much more polished this time around at 9-17, and the debate about individual prowess vs. team success was renewed, halfheartedly, when the starters were announced on TNT.
“A lot of people will probably focus on Bradley Beal’s team not playing well,” analyst Shaquille O’Neal said, “but listen, Bradley is ballin’, leading the league in scoring and having fun out there.”
“You’re leading the league in scoring, you are doing something,” analyst Charles Barkley added. “It’s not easy to get 32 points a night. I mean, come on, 32 a night? ... I think it’s easy to get between 20 and 25, but when you can get 32 a night, that’s a little bit different.”
Beal acknowledged Wednesday that last year’s snub may have played a part in raising his profile for this year’s All-Star Game, though it’s hard to discount his nightly performances.
One surefire positive thing to have come out of last year’s rebuff was that it reinforced Beal’s intrinsic love of the game.
“When I first picked up a basketball, it wasn’t to win a trophy,” Beal said. “It wasn’t to win someone’s approval. It wasn’t to win someone’s vote. ... Accolades is not what I want to be remembered by, I want to be remembered by the impact I leave on people. However that looks, however many all-stars, All-NBA’s, whatever, I could care less. I just want to be a dominant player and leave a lasting impact on people.”