Bradley Beal’s Blueprint: Engineering A Star Shooting Guard
[Ed. Note: Below is the third TAI post by Cameron Purn, a basketball junkie from Seattle, WA, who attended Western Washington University and who now lives in Japan. His first TAI post statistically broke down John Wall’s defensive numbers compared to some other top NBA point guards; his second took a dive into Washington’s offense prior to this season. You can check out some of Cameron’s work on his own website, KeeperOfTheCourt.com, and you can follow him on Twitter here: @KeeperOTCourt. —Kyle W.]
If one were to genetically engineer the ideal shooting guard for today’s NBA, the result wouldn’t be far from the Washington Wizards’ Bradley Beal. He embodies a player with a picture-perfect shooting touch and a well-rounded game predicated on unselfishness, energetic play and athleticism. During his rookie year Bradley was able to use these tools and his NBA-ready body to put forth a very successful season, playing major minutes and acting as an integral piece for the Wizards—as well as being named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team and receiving an invitation to work out with Team USA. It’s no wonder that expectations were high for him heading into the 2013-14 season. These expectations came from pundits, of course, but also from teammates like John Wall:
“[Beal] has improved a lot. He’s doing a better job of creating his own shot off the dribble, and he’s doing a better job of coming off pick-and-rolls. He’s always been able to shoot the ball, but I think he’s attacking the basket a lot better,” said John Wall during an NBA.com preseason interview.
As of November 20, we’re ten games in. How has Bradley Beal looked?
In the pick-and-roll and coming off of screens…
The 2013-14 Wizards are running some new sets and implementing new variations to get Beal more involved. An example can be seen during their “Horns” set, where they look to get Beal to score as the first option—he does this by coming off of a screen in the high post and looking to slash into the lane once he receives the ball. Naturally, his pick-and-roll ball-handling frequency has risen in his first 10 games: he’s completed 24.7 percent of his plays this way (16.5 percent last year), per Synergy Sports. NBA.com/stats tells us he’s doing more off the dribble, too. So far, only 44 percent of Beal’s converted shots in the 8-to-24 foot range have been assisted; last year, 65 percent of them were. Operating in the pick-and-roll gives Beal more looks at the hoop and opportunities to utilize his passing ability, both of which he deserves; Washington and their low-ranked offense also benefits from this as they are in dire need of another off-the-dribble threat.
Beal has shown more confidence—especially when handling the ball—and Washington has instilled more trust in him. But there is work to be done in this area. Beal retains his tendency to be a bit hesitant when coming off of screens. At times, to a fault, he will survey the floor to make sure he has enough space and time to attack or dish the rock. This can result in missed opportunities:Coming fresh off of a screen, Beal’s actions can also be too deliberate; he could make better use of pump fakes and deceptive moves in these situations. He can also be caught not paying enough attention to his surroundings. All of this can result in unexpected contests by the defense, which can result in shots that are off-balance, rushed, overly difficult, or blocked (note: Beal’s percentage of his shots being blocked was fourth among shooting guards last year with 30-plus minutes per game). See below:
Beal’s made some improvements here, but be sure to keep an eye on him in these screen-involving situations. They will continue to be a crucial component of Washington’s offense.
Scoring and shot selection…
Along with the entire Wizards team, Beal is shooting 3-pointers with more frequency this year. He’s also connecting on them at an impressive 46 percent clip. Much to the Wizards’ liking, Beal is also converting on shots at the rim nearly 10 percent better than last year:
Bradley and the Wizards need to figure out how to better manage his midrange shot volume—he’s always shot at a below average clip from here, and with any player, shooting from this spot has the least expected points per possession of any area on the court. Still, there’s plenty to be pleased about with Beal’s shooting so far this season.
Beal needs to get better at shooting free throws! Despite being one of the league’s most gifted shooters (40 percent career shooter from 3-point land), he’s only shooting 78.6 percent from the stripe this season, and currently sits at a 78.4 percent career rate. History tells us that’s a really rare combination, and usually reserved for larger, clunkier guys like Chuck Person, Rashard Lewis, and Dennis Scott. It’s likely that Beal merely needs a different mental approach to improve here. The fact that John Wall is the designated free throw shooter for Washington should provide a pretty clear wakeup call for Bradley, who also must improve upon the amount of times he gets to the line (he’s only averaging 2.9 attempts per game in his career thus far).
It would be nice to see Bradley cut a little bit more. Coach Wittman and his offensive assistants are the main culprits here, but as of now, Beal is only finishing 2.7 percent of his plays off of cuts. That’s an incredibly low number for someone who prides himself in being a primary option on the perimeter. Currently, all of the league’s elite offenses employ adept cutters—from Dwyane Wade to Corey Brewer to J.J. Redick—which helps things run smoothly by keeping defenses on their heels and allowing for easy conversions. Given the attention that Beal’s shooting draws, instances like this should be seen more frequently—especially given Bradley’s quickness and energy:
So far, everything else is looking good from Beal. His energy output in boxing out opponents to rebound is consistent, he’s buckling down on defense, and he’s dishing the ball out at a productive rate. Most important of all, he’s looked comfortable taking on an extra scoring load. When he’s been asked to—such as on Saturday and Tuesday with Trevor Ariza sitting out—he’s stepped up: Beal’s impressive 20.7 point per game average speaks to this.
All in all, Bradley Beal’s looked good this season. He’s still got a ways to go before Washington has him at a place they’re fully comfortable with, but his improvements and positive attitude are both apparent, two things that are great to see in one of the league’s most promising and unique young players.