beal's growing minutes total could be avoided

BY BEN STANDIG | MARCH 5, 2018

CAPITAL ONE ARENA — Scott Brooks answered questions from the Wizards media for over 10 minutes on Monday afternoon. Most of the session focused on the 43 minutes played by Bradley Beal in Sunday’s home loss to Indiana. Another chunk centered on the organizational decision for a second helping of Ramon Sessions. One portion involved Kelly Oubre Jr. likely clocking back in Tuesday against Miami.

These three random topics connected in Washington’s third consecutive loss. This was no one-off either.

The 43 minutes, while high, are not completely out of whack for Beal, who is sixth in the NBA at 36.6 minutes per game on the season. Since Jan. 27, the day Washington played its first game after losing John Wall with another knee issue, Beal and the indestructible LeBron James top all players with 37.9 minutes.

Whether extra work pushed fuel levels into the red or not, Beal missed several crucial shots late and committed poorly timed turnovers.

“I have to do a better job of managing it,” Brooks said Monday of Beal’s minutes. “Forty-three minutes is a big number especially if it’s not a nationally televised game. Those games are different because it feels like 10-minute timeouts. I think he’s comfortable with 37-38 (minutes).“

The mistake some make in this discussion involves focusing on the minutes when really, it’s about the miles. Beal takes on primary scoring duties, often handles the point guard role and relentlessly defends. His constant off-ball movement frustrates defenders and creates scoring chances.

“We’re only talking a few minutes,” Brooks said. “Everybody is tired. If you play hard you should be tired. … It’s just part of playing hard. It’s part of being on a good team. It’s part of being in a winning environment.”

Since Jan. 27, only the Pelicans’ Jrue Holiday covers more ground per game than Beal’s 2.66 miles, according to NBA.com. He ranks fifth in touches during that span. The dude is busy – and even more than usual Sunday without Oubre, who sat with a lingering sore left foot and knee issue. MRI results were negative, Brooks said.

“That all factors in,” Brooks said of Beal’s workload. “To be great in this league, that’s what made him an All-Star, to be able to do those things.”

There is truth in those words. Yet, Beal became an All-Star for his off-guard duties. He is increasingly taking on lead guard work with Wall out. Beal ran point for the final 8:22 against Indiana. Forget that he can handle the role in spots or that two of his five turnovers came inside the final four minutes. It’s not the role that made him an All-Star.

“I’m not going to over think one game,” Brooks said. I’m going to try to do my best to spread it out a little better and spread out his ball-handling abilities a little better.”

Dealing with Beal’s ball-handling touches should be easy with three point guards on the roster. Washington announced Monday that Sessions would remain on a second 10-day contract. The veteran played zero seconds in his second tour of duty with the Wizards.

“Gives us an insurance policy, some coverage,” Brooks said of the rationale behind keeping Sessions. “He hasn’t played, but he gives ability if we need an extra point guard or a playmaker, ball-handler, on the floor we will have him. We’ve got him for 10 more days. My job is to try to find some minutes. See if he’s a guy that can help the rest of the way.”

Sunday night seemed like a good night for a test spin yet Sessions remained idle. Oubre missed his first game of the season. The Wizards do not have a third-string small forward. That is why Brooks went with a nine-man rotation. That and Washington rallying back from a 17-point deficit in the fourth led to Beal’s 43 minutes.

Despite three point guards on the bench, Beal ran the offense late with Jodie Meeks alongside. They were part of the rally that moved it to a one-possession game several times in the final minutes. When Beal’s back-to-back turnovers ended the surge, Brooks stayed with the same five.

“I think there is going to be some nights where (Beal) gets five or six minutes at the point,” Brooks said. “We needed an extra shooter out there. Jodie did not make his 3’s. … He creates a lot of attention. You have to be in his space because you know he’s a 3-point shooter. Last night’s game I felt we needed an extra 3-pointer shooter out there.”

Meeks finished 1-for-6 from the field. He is shooting 31.1 percent on 3-pointers. Watching the decision down the stretch was Tomas Satoransky, who could have been used as a backup wing option with Oubre out and two other backup point guards on the roster. He is shooting 47.4 percent from behind the 3-point line this season.

The Wizards do not have an extra “shooter” on the bench because they signed the slashing Sessions rather than add wing depth, despite Beal receiving consistent run at point guard. They signed Sessions originally 10 days ago, which was around the time Oubre said the soreness in his left foot developed. His absence helped lead to Beal’s extra minutes because other options at Oubre’s position are limited.

Washington played with an open roster spot all season. Two if you count the injured Sheldon Mac, who was traded to Atlanta at the trade deadline. They still have a spot open. They likely will for the final 18 games. This alone does not mean doom. It’s just one of several ways the team could add depth, address the current depth chart imbalance, and play to Beal’s strengths all while keeping his minutes in check until Wall returns. Whenever that is.

Unless a change of plan occurs, the same questions remain. Minutes and usage talk is not over. Depending on how the season unfolds, it might just get louder.

Photo by Keith Allison, Flickr

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