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Inside the Most Important Summer of Bradley Beal's Life

Josh Martin@@JoshMartinNBANBA Lead WriterSeptember 23, 2015

Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) walks on the court during a break in the second half of Game 4 of the second round of the NBA basketball playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks, Monday, May 11, 2015, in Washington. The Hawks won 106-101. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Alex Brandon/Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Time is more precious than ever for Bradley Beal. Between his professional obligations, personal plans and pursuit of a spot on Team USA for next summer's Olympics, the 22-year-old can't waste a moment, even on the hardwood.

"We were in the gym for maybe three hours a day, and probably an hour of it was efficient," Drew Hanlen, his longtime trainer, told Bleacher Report of his early workouts with a 14-year-old Beal. "The other two hours was just us working our asses off, but that hour paid off, for sure."

Those long sessions helped to turn Beal, a St. Louis native, into a McDonald's All-American at Chaminade College Prep, an All-SEC performer at the University of Florida and the No. 3 pick of the Washington Wizards in the 2012 NBA draft.

Nowadays, his workouts with Hanlen are sharp, focused windows into the world of a budding basketball star. His shooting routines have been burned into his muscle memory. New drills are explained succinctly and executed as if set to the beat of a metronome.

But Beal's workouts, tight though they may be, aren't impervious to outside forces. On a sunny Thursday in Southern California—where Beal spent several weeks of his summer after coming to L.A. for a Washington Wizards minicamp organized by John Wallheavy traffic out of the South Bay delays his arrival to his session in Beverly Hills by nearly half an hour. 

Once his sneakers are on, though, none of the 6'5" shooting guard's time or motion is wasted. There's little margin for error with Beal pushing for a max contract, be it by way of an extension signed by Halloween or a foray into restricted free agency come the summer of 2016, as CSN Mid-Atlantic's J. Michael noted. 

"Nothing in my game is perfect," Beal told Bleacher Report. "I’ve been working on putting the ball on the floor more, as always. Working on catching-and-shooting. Working on my quickness, because I want to be a defensive stopper for our team as much as I can.

"Whatever it takes in order for us to be good and successful, in order for me to be an All-Star, I have to be able to play on both ends of the floor. So as much as I can, I’m just improving all around and just trying to be one of the best 2s in the game."

As far as pure talent is concerned, Beal is already well on his way. The three-year veteran entered the NBA with a reputation for three-point marksmanship. All he's done since then is improve his accuracy from beyond the arc, season by season:

But Beal's shown the potential to be much more than another catch-and-shoot savant. In each of the past two postseasons, he's assumed a greater share of Washington's ball-handling duties. When John Wall went down with a wrist injury in the second round against the Atlanta Hawks in May, Beal picked up the slack with three straight games of at least seven assists, including a 34-point, seven-dime, six-rebound star turn in Game 4.

From a physical standpoint, Beal has the tools to not only handle those duties but become a bona fide two-way star while doing so.

"He’s so well-built for his size," said Hanlen. "He utilizes his height, his strength and he moves very fluidly using those things. I think the best thing for him is, over the last couple years, he’s been able to drop his hips lower so he can move more efficiently on the court, which has been a tremendous help to his ability to kind of get himself into the spots that he’s efficient at."

Getting Beal into his uniform from night to night has been more of a challenge. He's missed an average of 18 games per season as a pro while coping with persistent leg and ankle injuries.

Beal says he's "100 percent healthy" now and hasn't had any issues with his body this offseason. That could be crucial to his bottom line. After all, if the Wizards are going to reward him with a max contract at some point, they'll want to see that he can stay healthy long enough to earn every penny.

"My ultimate thing is to make sure I’m healthy and ready to go and do whatever it takes to make sure my body is where it needs to be," Beal said.

Contract concerns aside, the timing of Beal's fitness couldn't be much better. Paul Pierce's departure to the Los Angeles Clippers figures to open up more opportunities for scoring and playmaking on the perimeter. Beal won't be the only one to sop those up, but with the work he's put in this summer, he could be the biggest beneficiary.

That work began not on the court but in the film room for Beal and Hanlen, as it usually does. Hanlen, a self-described "film geek," pores over every possession of his proteges from the previous season, picking out areas for improvement and designing workouts accordingly.

In Beal's case, Hanlen zeroed in on three weak spots for his first client to strengthen this summer: finishing at the rim, drawing fouls and sharpening his shot selection. The two of them agreed to focus on those areas, without input from the Wizards.

"I have to do as much as I can as best as I can to eliminate those long twos and get to the basket, get to the free-throw line," Beal said. "Those are just easy points."

Beal didn't come by those points so easily during his first three NBA seasons. He's averaged fewer than three free-throw attempts per 36 minutes as a pro and taken nearly twice as many long twos as shots within three feet of the hoop.

These distributions aren't all Beal's fault. Part of the problem has stemmed from how the Wizards are built, and how he fits into that construction. Washington needs Beal to stretch opposing defenses with his shooting, both to open up driving lanes for Wall and to create breathing room for behemoths like Marcin Gortat and Nene. Wall's own long-ball woes (30.5 percent from three for his career) have made Beal's smooth stroke all the more critical to the Wizards backcourt.

That role still leaves room for improvement on Beal's part. At times, he's settled for low-quality long twos when opposing defenses have run him off the three-point line:

Other times, he's eschewed another dribble or two into the teeth of the defense in favor of shots that foes have wanted him to take:

Even when Beal's gotten to the basket, he's had some difficulty converting. The feathery touch that's made his jumper such a joy to watch hasn't always translated to the interior:

Finesse can be a fickle friend for any player, though. For Beal, stronger finishes could go a long way toward improving his shooting percentages and upping his value in D.C.:

To address Beal's problems, Hanlen cut together clips of Dwyane Wade attacking off the dribble and Ray Allen pulling up for jumpers off pin-down actions. In the gym, Hanlen put Beal through drill after drill to get him comfortable finishing under uncomfortable circumstances—specifically against long-armed defenders trying to rush him. The key for Beal was to get creative with the ball when hunting for more appealing angles.

"We noticed that if he finishes at a better angle, he has more options," Hanlen explained. "And so being able to put him in the right spots helps him be able to have more options when it comes down to it."

Amid all of his individual work, Beal put his skills to the test against some of Hanlen's other clients, including reigning Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins and Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson:

The proof of Beal's offseason efforts won't be in the proverbial pudding until he has a chance to unleash his freshly sharpened skills in actual NBA action. So far, though, the new and improved Bradley Beal looks game-ready:

If he can stay healthy this season and parlay his offseason regimen into an All-Star-caliber campaign, Beal may well wind up with the payday he wants. Chances are, he'll have to wait for that money in restricted free agency next summer as Washington scrounges for every shred of cap space ahead of its pursuit of Kevin Durant in 2016. As Sporting News' Daniel Leroux explained:

In order to prevent teams from gaming the system in free agency, the NBA imposes placeholders called cap holds on teams for any free agents that have yet to be re-signed or let go. Cap holds are based on how much money a player made the prior season and his team’s signing rights that offseason, which means they most heavily impact players coming off rookie contracts and into restricted free agency; those players are the ones most often expecting big raises. ...

Since an actual contract amount replaces the hold, there are times when teams have a strong incentive not to sign valuable young players to extensions a year before free agency. For example, the Wizards and Bradley Beal agreeing to a contract at or close to his maximum would take almost $10 million of cap space away for their pursuit of Durant, making it that much harder to assemble a strong team around the D.C. area native.

Whenever Beal signs his next deal, getting the max from the Wizards would go a long way toward not only validating the work that he's put in so far, but also toward confirming the team's belief in Beal's abilities as a franchise cornerstone for years to come. 

"It would mean a lot [to get a max deal from the Wizards]," Beal said. "It just means that they want me, for one, and that they trust me and they’re depending upon me to help lead the team."

Those contract concerns are out of sight—and, thus, largely out of mind—for Beal. It's on him to take care of business on the court and help guide the Wizards to their first conference finals appearance since 1979.

At his age, Beal seems to have all the time in the world to do both, but if his work this summer is any indication, he's not about to waste any getting there.

Footage of Bradley Beal working out courtesy of Pure Sweat Basketball (@puresweat).  

Josh Martin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.

 

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