Wizards guard Bradley Beal earns first NBA All-Star Game starting nod

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Brooks’s 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’s 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 its showcase in Atlanta on March 7 — he was named as a reserve in 2018 and 2019 as one of seven players from each conference as voted by coaches before being left out completely in 2020.

“To go from being snubbed to starting this year, it’s a huge honor. I thank the fans. I thank my peers, the media, everybody who had a say in me voting, voting for me,” Beal said on a video conference Thursday. “It’s a huge honor. I don’t take it for granted. It’s definitely motivation for me to continue to be a mentor, to be a better player. There’s so many guys who are more than deserving of being where I am, so please believe I don’t take it for granted.”

Beal 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, the Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard, Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Dallas’s Luka Doncic are the starters from the Western Conference, with James serving as the other team captain.

Beal’s continued growth in his ninth year in the league is part of what makes him so fascinating to fans and such a headache to 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.

Asked what it means to be the first all-star starter in Washington in six years, Beal said he relishes getting to represent the organization, but his goals are bigger than individual honors.

“[Team owner Ted Leonsis’s] famous quote is, ‘To whom much is given, much is required and expected,’” Beal said. “ … He entrusted me with the franchise and building around me, and I have to step into those shoes and be a star every night. I’m blessed to be an all-star this year. At the same time, I wasn’t crazily excited about it, because I just wanna continue to win. Winning is what’s important to me and getting my team to the playoffs.”

Though Beal appreciated the honor of being named an all-star, he also expressed some confusion 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 last season 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 Thursday 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.

“Part of me wants to say it’s all the trade rumors, but I don’t know,” Beal said. “I don’t know. Like, just from me being snubbed last year until now, I think my name is just always kind of been buzzing around. … It’s not like we’re on TV more.”

One surefire positive to come out of last year’s snub was that it helped reframe Beal’s perspective coming into this season.

“It humbled me even more. It brought me back down to earth. I kind of thought I was hot . . . in a way, and it was like, Okay, no, you’re not. So it just forced me to get back in the gym and really just shifted my mind-set of having a little Mamba mentality coming into this year,” Beal said, referencing the late Kobe Bryant. “I just tried to just make sure that each and every night, I give it to my teammates. I just leave it out there for them and be a prime example for them.”

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