How Long Can Washington Wizards Stay Afloat Without Bradley Beal?

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How Long Can Washington Wizards Stay Afloat Without Bradley Beal?
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Not again. 

The diagnosis is a stress injury to his proximal right fibula—the same diagnosis Bradley Beal received after injuring his leg last season. Only last season's injury forced Beal to miss all of April and most of the summer. 

This time, the Washington Wizards have given him a two-week timetable with a reevaluation planned upon its completion. But it's only natural to feel a bit skeptical knowing Beal's recent history. 

Beal was just starting to get in that scorer's groove, too. He recently rattled off three straight games with at least 25 points before going for 18 and six assists in a win over the Knicks.

This injury is bad news. Beal's emergence is the primary reason why Washington generated preseason buzz. As his expectations rose, so did the team's, thanks to the impact a scorer like Beal is capable of making.

Beal's offensive presence in the lineup isn't something you can just replace with mid-level guys. He was averaging 20.6 points per game before going down. Beal had become a go-to option in the offense, allowing Wall to focus more on his core responsibilities as a facilitator.

So who's going to make up for all that lost production?

Between Wall and the team's veterans, the Wizards can probably hold their breathe for the first two weeks. But I'm with Grantland's Zach Lowe—I'm not sure how long they can last after that. 

 

Who's Stepping Up?

Without Beal's scoring touch from the wing, there's now a gaping hole in the middle of the lineup. The Wizards are going to need a tourniquet to stop the bleeding, as opposed to the Flintstones band-aids that make up the rest of Washington's rotation. 

Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster are only going to stick for so long. Outside of Washington's backcourt, the roster is filled with short-term contracts and serviceable youngsters on cheap rookie deals—temporary fill-ins, as opposed to long-term replacements. 

You know Ariza isn't going to continue averaging 14.8 points. Not only has he already missed five games with a hamstring injury, but he hasn't averaged 14 points in a month since the start of the 2009-2010 season. 

And Webster is what he is—an inconsistent scorer who heats up and cools off, but never enough to tip the scales in either direction. In other words, he's not an impact player. 

The Wizards have already been getting the maximum out of Nene Hilario. He's never averaged more than 14.6 points a game in a season. And he's at 14.5 points per game today. Expecting anything more from Nene would be unfair and irresponsible, given he's only managed to play in 111 games over the previous three seasons.

And the Wizards should want him fresh for the stretch run after winter. Increasing his usage rate now might increase his odds of breaking down later. 

Nene, Ariza and Webster should be able to hold down the fort a couple of weeks. But having to rely on them for consistent offense over an extended period of time is a recipe for disaster.

And as good as Wall is, there's only so much a point guard can do offensively without disrupting that balance and flow. You don't want Wall jeopardizing his shot selection because of the need to make something happen.

Without Beal, Washington's perimeter attack goes from lethal to shallow and one-dimensional. And it's that perimeter attack that's given this team an identity. 

Rob Carr/Getty Images

 

The Competition

The Wizards have lost eight of their first 13 games, and still sit above teams like the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets in the standings. You can look at that one of the two ways, with the first being the Wizards are currently No. 9 in the East—just a few percentage points out of the early playoff picture. 

They've been given a little cushion with so many other teams off to humiliating starts.

The other way to look at it is from a glass-half-empty point of view. 

The Wizards were 5-8 with Beal. They now have to find a way to improve without him while weathering the inevitable runs of their competitors. 

Call me crazy, but I've got the Knicks and Nets making a run eventually. And I'm pretty sure the Cleveland Cavaliers might make one soon too. 

Still, everything comes down to Beal's durability. Missing seven or eight games pre-All-Star break shouldn't make or break the team's season. 

But the Wizards lack sustainable offensive firepower to last without Beal for months at a time. If they  want to be taken seriously, they better hope that reevaluation in two weeks goes smoothly. 

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