ST. LOUIS — As the NBA Playoffs march on, the basketball world seems to be learning what has been known in St. Louis for quite some time. Bradley Beal can play.
After Beal led the Washington Wizards to victory over Indiana in the opening game of their second-round series, Pacers All-Star Paul George called Beal "a superstar in this league."
"He is poised. He’s a great shot-maker, a great playmaker, and he just plays within the game and himself," George said in postgame remarks after Beal went for 25 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, five steals and a blocked shot. Fourteen of his points came in the fourth quarter as the Wizards held off the hosts, 102-96.
The performance not only impressed the Pacers, it put Beal in the history book. Added to his games of 26 and 25 points in the first round, he became the first player to have three 25-point games in the playoffs before the age of 21. That would be the first ever. Like in NBA history.
Not LeBron, not Kobe, not Jordan, not even Magic Johnson, who led the Lakers to the NBA title as a rookie, can make such a claim.
"He’s growing up right before our eyes on that big stage," said Kelvin Lee, who coached Beal for all four years he played at Chaminade College Preparatory School in St. Louis.
Beal also has joined Magic as the only players under 21 to enjoy such a stuffed line in a playoff box score, with Beal’s 25/7/7/5 not quite matching Magic’s 25/13/11/6 in 1980. Additionally, Beal became the first player of any age to have a 25/7/7/5 line since Baron Davis with the Charlotte Hornets nearly 12 years ago.
In only his second season and less than two years since he was drafted after his freshman year at Florida, Beal has upped his regular-season numbers across the board in his first foray into the playoffs. Including the Wizards’ five-game, first-round victory over the Bulls and their two games against the Pacers, he is averaging 20.1 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists compared to 17.1/3.7/3.3 in the regular season. He also is shooting better across the board — that is, overall (44.4 percent), on 3-pointers (45.5) and free throws (81.1) — than he did in the regular season.
Beal also has been given a few turns at point guard to allow All-Star point guard John Wall a breather and to give Washington a different look offensively. Beal was drafted with the third pick in 2012 largely because of his textbook-form jump shot but is proving to be way more than a spot-up shooter. Of course, his all-round game got plenty of work at Chaminade, where he even played some at the point.
"He flourished in that role," Lee said. "Bradley is very intelligent. His basketball IQ is off the charts. He’s smart about getting other players involved, but he knows when to take the game over. When his team needs scoring, he steps up."
An NBA talent evaluator doesn’t see much point guard in Beal’s future but he sees something else for the 6-foot-4 guard, who turns 21 on June 28. That is, an All-Star Game.
"Granted, there’s not a lot of great two-guards in the league right now, but he already is one of the better ones," he said.
The Wizards exceeded the expectations of many by going 44-38 in the regular season and landing the fourth seed in the East. Then they surprised virtually everyone by knocking out the fourth-seeded Bulls in five games and now, after splitting two games in Indiana, their chances of reaching the conference finals are very much alive. But perhaps their success should not be so stunning, says the evaluator.
With Wall and Beal, they have as fine a young backcourt as any in the league and the Wizards have been patient with their development, which bodes well for their future as well as these playoffs.
"You have to give the organization credit for their patience," the evaluator said. "They let these guys develop and figure some things out. They have a good thing going now."
And Beal is right in the middle of it, just as those who watched him rise in St. Louis always figured he would.
"You talk about him being 20 years old, but Bradley has always been very mature for his age," Lee said. "That goes back to his upbringing. His mom and dad raised him right. Nothing seems to faze Bradley. His maturity is unbelievable for a kid this age."
So is his game, as history now shows.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at email@example.com.