The rest of the NBA is protecting its stars with healthy scratches and load management games. Is it time for the Washington Wizards to do the same with Bradley Beal?
During a grueling 82-game season, the objective is not to burn out your star players in meaningless games. When teams know where the season’s headed and know that second game of a back-to-back won’t affect that future, it makes sense to rest your top gun.
For the Washington Wizards, there’s an argument to be made that Bradley Beal should be on the load management plan.
Not only is he coming off of two consecutive 82-game seasons, but he’s now played all 16 of the Wizards’ games this year in a season known widely to have limited expectations. He’s currently playing 36.6 minutes per game. Per Basketball-Reference, that’s the sixth-highest minutes per game average in the NBA.
A look at Beal’s endurance, and just why Washington should look into load management.
Iron Man, the Only Man
Bradley Beal spent a majority of last season without backcourt partner John Wall. And this year, he’ll do the same. The latest update on the Wizards’ point guard from earlier November was from head coach Scott Brooks, who spoke with a local radio station:
“Still lots of work to be done, but he has the right mindset. I anticipate him coming back and being as good as ever.”
That’s not the best news for fans hoping to see him play the 2019-2020 campaign.
But similar to Kevin Durant, there’s an aura of possibility regarding a return this season for Wall. Part of that hope stems from the NBA denying the Wizards the Disabled Player Exception, which would have granted Washington $9.2 million in cap relief for the season. The other part comes from what we’ve seen Wall do during his rehab process.
Does the league think he’s closer to a return than is let on? Maybe, maybe not. By denying the DPE, they’re certainly indicating that his return is possible.
But where does that leave Beal? Well, it leaves him alone in the spotlight. Regardless, he’s playing some of his best basketball for a team projected to finish as one of the worst in the Eastern Conference.
Right now, they seem to be slightly exceeding expectations. But at what cost? Is it worth it to keep playing Beal over 35 minutes per game for each of Washington’s 82-games if it’s all going towards a near-meaningless cause?
Risk and Reward
Injury no doubt tops the cons list when it comes to playing Beal a whole 82-game season. Any long-term injury to Beal could derail the franchise as a whole.
Right now, General Manager Tommy Sheppard is banking on the Wall-Beal backcourt returning to their previous success. And successful they’ve been.
Prior to Wall’s injury, the Wizards were coming off consecutive playoff appearances that saw the team make it as far as the second round. While that’s not title contention by any means, it’s a healthy stack of victories nonetheless.
Even in the new draft lottery format, Washington doesn’t stand to get a better pick through winning more games. While tanking is certainly unpopular among top talents, the Wizards have got to prepare a contingency plan for the off chance that Wall doesn’t return the same, and Beal sours on his extension.
Despite the expectations, the locker room and front office will agree that they still hope to build a contender in Washington. Taking up a near-league wide trend (among other teams with All-Star talent) is a step in that direction.
If other stars see that they can be managed and prepared correctly by the training staff with the Wizards, then that only ups Washington’s chances at adding a third talent next to Wall and Beal.
However, Washington might not have to go looking for their third star. He might be on the roster already. They’ve got two first-round picks in Troy Brown Jr and Rui Hachimura who are both regulars in the starting lineup.
Sharing the floor with Beal and Thomas Bryant, both of whom are higher on the offensive pecking order, limits the number of opportunities Hachimura and Brown get each game. Letting Beal take a breather while the young guys take control could be valuable to their development, too.
As the season wears on, keep an eye on how much Brooks leas on Beal. How many meaningless fourth quarters will he play? Or does he start seeing the bench once the game gets out of reach?
If the season continues at its current trajectory, the Washington Wizards may take a page out of the rest of the league’s journal and exercise some load management with their lone All-Star.