What to Make of Bradley Beal | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

What to Make of Bradley Beal

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Updated: July 31, 2018

No one in their sane mind would question that the face of Washington Wizards is John F. Wall. When he is leading fast breaks, getting his teammates involved, getting to the free throw line, and, yes, judicious with his shot selection, Wall is a handful individually—and the Wizards are a formidable team collectively.

But last season, when John Wall missed 27 games while recovering from a minor procedure in his knee, it was Bradley Beal who took over the team and, temporarily, claimed the title as “The Man.”

During Wall’s absence, Beal’s scoring averaged dipped to 20.9 points (just two points from his eventual season average), but he averaged 1.3 more assists during that time, including 6.7 in the month of February. The team responded to Beal’s stewardship, too, averaging nearly 29.2 assists in February, and 27.2 in March, and they adopted and the much ballyhooed “Everybody Eats” mantra. (With wall, in January, the Wiz averaged 26.2 assists.)

With Beal’s new powers and the team’s collective confidence, there was every reason to believe that, when Wall returned, the Wizards would challenge for a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals–a spot they just missed a year before.

But not so much.

The Wizards failed to get out of the first round due to inconsistent play, and Beal, who played well down the stretch and in the playoffs, was not able to lead or even co-lead his team to the same level of success.

Can Beal regain the momentum he had in Wall’s absence and build on that to take yet another step forward (if not a leap)? Has he plateaued already? Can and he and Wall, lead this slightly revamped Wizards into uncharted territory?

Rashad Mobley (@rashad20) and Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace) decided to have an in-depth discussion about Mr. Beal, as he prepares to enter his seventh year in the NBA.

@LedellsPlace

I must confess that even after watching virtually every game of Bradley Beal’s career, I am still not certain of his place in the NBA hierarchy.

Last year he began the season on a tear and earned his first All-Star nod. He was driving to the rim, finishing through contact and creating separation with step-back jumpers in the early months of the season. He seemed well on his way to claiming the title of best shooting guard in the Eastern Conference.

When John Wall went down, Beal led a dynamic but short-lived “Everybody Eats” renaissance that had many dreaming of the Wizards’ return to the top of the Eastern Conference.

But Beal’s season–along with the Wizards’–fizzled. By the end of the year, Beal was no longer slashing to the rim and absorbing contact for acrobatic and-1s. His free throw attempts dropped from 5.0 per game before the All-Star break to 3.4 per game after. He was playing point guard for long stretches with mixed results. He had a forgettable Game 2 against Toronto when he scored nine points in 24 minutes, leaving Wall to fend for himself.

Contrast Beal’s trajectory last season with the meteoric rise of Victor Oladipo, the continued excellence of DeMar DeRozan (now in San Antonio) and the impending return of Gordon Hayward, not to mention the continued growth of Jaylen Brown and even the rose-colored tweets about Markelle Fultz’s re-birth under Drew Hanlan.

We all know the Wizards’ biggest competitive advantage is its All-Star back court. But it seems fair (and a little scary) to ask: Even though Beal had a breakthrough season, is it possible that Washington’s advantage at shooting guard is even less now than it was a year ago?

@rashad20

I find myself just as unsure about Beal as you are. One the one hand, his game clearly improved last year, from ball handling to passing. Beal found the ability to efficiently get where he wanted with the ball on the court and absorb contact at the basket. He showed it before Wall got injured, and once Wall went down, he demonstrated that he could be the alpha dog on this Wizards team. But the increased workload/responsibility came with a price.

He played a career-high, injury-free 82 games, and as you alluded to, he simply ran out of gas when the stakes were the highest. Not only that, but he and Wall were not as in sync as they have been in previous years. Both players( along with Scott Brooks) will have to fix that before either player sets foot in training camp, let alone the start of the regular season.

But I think Beal deserves the benefit of the doubt. He worked on his game last year and it showed. He probably didn’t plan on doing the amount of heavy lifting he did. What if this offseason he is working on his conditioning and his ability to play the long game, not just focus the regular season and take what comes after? What if he (like the rest of the Wizards should be) is fueled by the absence of LeBron James, and is now re-doubling his efforts to be the best two-guard in the East? I think that’s worth considering.

The fact is, Beal will put up 22-27 points a night, he’ll get to the line at least four times a game (he averaged a career-high 4.5 free throw attempts last year), and he’ll continue to put pressure on any opposing backcourt, whether it features Hayward, Jaylen Brown, Oladipo, or Kawhi Leonard.

The big question for me is, will Beal learn how to be clutch? Because before his energy level failed him at the end of last year, he made a series of un-clutch plays during the season, and at times it seemed to affect his confidence. That, and the behind-the-scenes conflicts with Wall, are what concern me, not necessarily where he fits in the hierarchy of guards.

What say you, Mr. Rubin?

@LedellsPlace

I have to be honest, I was hoping you would snap me out of my skeptical funk with a “are you crazy, Beal is the best shooting guard in the East!?” response.

Nevertheless, I think you touched on the most important issue: Can Beal (and Wall) improve their play in the clutch. I’m not too concerned about the Wizards’ overall talent. Wall and Beal are a good enough foundation–from a strictly talent standpoint–to be a top-4 team in the East.

But that’s also the problem. It feels like Wall and Beal will always be destined for the 4/5 matchup. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Gilbert/Caron/Antawn era topped out at three 4/5 matchups in four years. Moving beyond that plateau requires a team building concept that the Wizards’ front office has not mastered. Ernie Grunfeld has shown the ability to assemble top-heavy starting lineups but he doesn’t surround them with enough depth or complementary pieces. Even with the addition of Dwight Howard, Austin Rivers and Jeff Green — a trio which has owner Ted Leonsis calling this the deepest roster during his ownership — the Wizards’ fate falls squarely on Wall and Beal’s shoulders.

So, rightly or wrongly, Washington’s success is heavily dependent on Beal making yet another leap and becoming a reliable crunch time scorer. It’s frustrating because he has shown flashes of a Ray Allen/Dwyane Wade-esque ability to take over games on the offensive end. But we are way beyond the “shows flashes” stage of Beal’s career. He may only be 25 years old, but Beal is entering his seventh season in the NBA. It’s been five seasons since his first playoff appearance. It’s time to put a complete season together.

One thing working in Beal’s favor is that he will finally have a viable backup in Austin Rivers. Given the lack of depth at shooting guard, Scott Brooks played Beal a ridiculous amount of minutes last season. Presumably, Rivers will lessen Brad’s workload by two to three minutes per game, which should increase his efficiency and save his legs a few hundred minutes for the post-season.

How do you think the Wizards’ improved depth–as well as playing alongside Dwight Howard–will impact Beal’s game this season?

@rashad20

Dwight Howard, for all his goofy behavior and inconsistent play over the past year still has the potential to be a rim protector, which on paper should do wonders for the Wizards fast break. If Dwight blocks or alters a shot and gets Wall the ball quickly, Beal simply has to sprint to the 3-point line and wait. Wall and Beal have mastered this fast break play at different times during their tenure, but never with the luxury of a legitimate big man–assuming he’s engaged. If I were Scott Brooks, I would putt together a package of plays designed to get Wall clear passing/driving lanes, and Beal open 3-point shots.

Trying to answer whether or how the arrival of Austin Rivers will affect Beal’s game is dependent upon the judgment of Scott Brooks–and that has so far been shaky, at best. After all, Rubin, we both felt like the emergence of Tomas Satoransky as a productive NBA point guard would allow Wall to rest and would add to the potency of the second unit. But Brooks decided to play Sato at the 2 or 3, and later Ty Lawson was brought in, and the situation became more chaotic than productive.

If Brooks is smart, he’ll tweak his lineup so that Wall can rest the last three or four minutes of the first quarter, giving Sato or Lawson a chance to run the team, and then allowing Beal to rest that same amount of time in the second quarter, so that Rivers can work his magic. Ideally, this will allow Beal and Wall to play closer to 34 minutes per game. Considering Beal struggled at the end of games and at the end of season, perhaps those stolen moments of rest will be the nudge he needs to make that Ray Allen/Wade-type transformation you alluded to earlier.

Do you think it is necessary for Coach Brooks (or maybe even Leonsis or Grunfeld) to force Wall and Beal to sit down and iron out their differences for the good of the team? Because I don’t know about you, but I feel if this Wizards team starts slowly and underachieves, the Wall/Beal issue, whatever it may be at that point, will resurface once again.

@LedellsPlace

Call me crazy but I don’t think Wall and Beal’s lack of friendship off the court impacts their play on it. The end-of-game hero ball is a big problem for the team but I don’t think Wall and Beal’s relationship is the problem. In fact, I think Scott Brooks is more to blame for the team’s late-game failures.

His plays are not creative and take too long to develop. Too often, Wall dribbles the ball at the top of the key for 20 seconds waiting for Beal to run through a series of picks. This inevitably leads to one of two scenarios. Either Beal catches the ball with way too little time on the shot clock and cannot create a decent shot, or, if Beal is not open, Wall has to break off the play with the shot clock winding down and forces a fade-away jumper.

This isn’t to say that Beal (and Wall) are without blame. Just that I don’t think their interpersonal relationship is the issue. Instead, they both need to decide for themselves that 40-win basketball is not good enough. That requires more than just saying the right thing in the locker room and scoring 22 points per game. You need to impose your will on the court. When your team is blowing a 15-point lead to the New York Knicks on a dreary Tuesday night in mid-January, you need to walk into the huddle and say, “Nope, this isn’t happening,” and then back it up on the court.

For several years now, those kind of games have gone the other way, with head scratching losses and befuddled locker room quotes from Beal and his teammates. So, I don’t think Beal and Wall need to iron out their differences, but they do need to sit down–metaphorically, at least–and make a pledge that this year is going to be different.

@rashad20

It sounds awfully like a full Zen Phil Jackson thing to say, but I do think Wall and Beal need an actual (not a metaphorical) sit down with Coach Brooks. Yes, the end-of-game plays drawn up by Coach Brooks have left much to be desired, and yes, Wall has fallen in love with his dribble-drive ability one too many times . . . and hell yes, Beal seems to tense up when his services are needed most. But that’s all the more reason for a discussion. And in my head, here’s how that discussion should play out.

Brooks needs to impress upon Beal and Wall that this is their team and the proverbial sense of urgency is high. Then there should be a group discussion where Beal and Wall discuss successful plays and situations. And finally, Beal needs to speak up and discuss what made the Wall-less Wizards work so well and see if they can incorporate bits and pieces of that into this new roster, which now includes Austin Rivers and Dwight Howard.

This sounds more like an SNL sketch than a realistic situation, but if Wall, Beal and Brooks fall short of expectations early, this could be quite a long season for everyone. Wall is going to be Wall, and sadly, Brooks has proven to be exactly who we thought he’d be.

Beal is the wild card here. If he can find another gear, and if Howard or Rivers are steady, that could be enough to offset Brooks’s shortcomings. The Wizards could exceed expectations.

https://twitter.com/cmillsnbcs/status/1024332448790925312

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Adam Rubin
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Adam grew up in the D.C. area and has been a Washington Bullets fan for over 25 years. He will not refer to the franchise as anything other than the Bullets unless required to do so by Truth About It editorial standards. Adam spent many nights at the Capital Centre in the ‘90s where he witnessed such things as Michael Jordan’s “LaBradford Smith game,” the inexcusable under-usage of Gheorghe Muresan’s unstoppable post moves, and the basketball stylings of Ledell Eackles.