It wasn’t intentional for us to leave Bradley Beal until the last spot in the 2013-14 Need to See series. It’s not a prediction of player rankings in the upcoming season, nor is it indicative of the changing of the guard of lead alpha dog in Washington. We’re pretty sure John Wall will still grab the headlines and be announced last in the starting lineup. But to even consider for a moment that Beal might supplant him in that role shows how far the sweet shooting guard out of Florida has come since arriving as the 3rd pick in the 2012 draft. He entered the league with comparisons to the most prolific long-ball shooter in NBA history, Ray Allen, and would have probably had to average 30 points a contest on 10 3-pointers to satisfy the expectations of Wizards fans. But of course, Washington fell flat on its face, losing its first 12 games and causing Dr. James Naismith to roll 2 to 8 times in his grave with its offensive putridity. Beal himself had a very rocky start that saw him burden way too much responsibility on an active roster saddled with mediocrity. His efficiency spiked way up, however, when the calendar turned to 2013 (and maybe not coincidentally once his backcourt mate Wall showed up) and flashed the potential to become a star in the NBA. Fast forward to the just-completed preseason and it’s pretty obvious as to why people in this area are salivating at what Beal can become. He was tied for 2nd in the league in scoring with messiah Derrick Rose at just over 20 points per game and was lights out all over the court. So as the Wizards head into the games that actually count, keeping up those numbers would be ideal. But what else do we need to see from Bradley Beal to confirm he has really taken the next step?
Attack the basket with conviction:
It is common knowledge that Beal has the ability to heat up from anywhere on the court. His shooting splits post January 1st were comical for a rookie (and let it be known, better than Rookie of the Year landslide-winner Damian Lillard) and he shot 50% from 3 with Wall on the court. However, as good as Beal was from deep, he approached driving to the basket with more apprehension. Too often we’d see Beal get stuffed at the rim (or even by the rim in unfortunate occasions) on plays that could have been successful with either a made basket or free throw attempts had he just taken it up strong. Based on his preseason play, it looks like he’s already made strides to address that, starting with his ball handling. His dribble looks much tighter and has shown the ability to get by defenders out of isolation situations. He’s even looked like Wall at times with his speed and deliberate nature of his drives. The next aspect for Beal to add is protecting both himself and the ball while bracing for impact with a rim protector. It’s tough for defenders to really slow down an oncoming guard without fouling. Beal could benefit by finishing strong and eventually giving those defenders a second of hesitation about contesting an attempt. Based on his height and body type, a fair comparison might be Dwyane Wade, a guy who is not the tallest shooting guard in the league but understands the angles of getting to the rim and therefore is at or near the top points in the paint and free throw attempts each year.
Avoid costly bumps and bruises:
This next point actually ties directly in to the one before, and is an area where Beal needs manage being aggressive at the rim but at the same time cautious with his body. We saw him take several dangerous spills that had everyone to holding their breath in fear. He battled various minor ailments that caused him to miss games for stretches, including injuries to his wrist, head, and ankle (the final of which led the Wizards to shut him down for the season). Although these types of injuries are less concerning than something like chronic knee or back pain, they still represent ways for Beal to fall out of rhythm and miss stretches of games. Basketball is a physical sport that will no doubt lead to have players nursing any type of condition by season’s end (hell, I was playing James Harden-like defense last night and pulled a hamstring). But I expect Beal to manage himself better on the court and pick and choose his spots of when to show off just how acrobatic he is. We’d all prefer him miss a rebound or put back if it means he’s landing back on his feet and not the other way around.
Ascend the ranks of the NBA shooting guards:
With resident SG extraordinaire Kobe Bryant still nursing the torn Achilles he suffered last April, and Dwyane Wade slowing down a little more each year as Father Time creeps in, the race for the top of this list may be as wide open as ever in the next couple years. My dig of Harden aside, he obviously is the class of the league at that position, and Bryant and Wade probably still occupy the next two spots. But after that triumvirate who else is vying for top billing? Joe Johnson in Brooklyn was a perennial All-Star but it’s clear he’s not the same player he was in his days in Atlanta and Phoenix (though his contract would indicate otherwise). Klay Thompson of the Warriors is as pure and quick of a shooter as there is in the game today but he’ll need to continue expanding the rest of his game. Dion Waiters seems like more of a 6th man instant offense guy for Cleveland. And Monta Ellis is…Monta Ellis (though I’m excited about the prospects of him getting looks off of Jose Calderon and Dirk Nowitzki). This leaves ample opportunity for Bradley Beal to make the leap into near-stardom. He has most tools you’d want in a guard, including an apparent 2-inch bump in height over the summer. He’s got the passer who is looking to get him the ball about 104% of the time, and he’s got the green light to put it up so the offense can manage to crack 90 points per game this year. I’m hesitant to predict or even hope for an All-Star appearance given the plethora of guards in the East (Irving, Rose, Wade, Williams, Wall) but it’s not out of the realm of possibility for Beal to be in the running for another award, such as Most Improved Player.
If you’ve read even a fraction of the pieces I’ve written thus far for the Need to See, you’ll know that I’m less than optimistic on a majority of the Wizards roster. It’s not my intention to be the naysayer in the room, it’s just how I feel about the acquisitions the franchise has made. Beal, as you can tell, does not fit that mold. I cannot wait to see what he does this year and I had to temper my excitement just to write a fairly objective piece. Other moves aside, I believe Grunfeld hit a home run with this pick, and he could eventually be the best player in the class outside of Anthony Davis. We should all pay attention this season to The Takeover Ft. John Wall and Bradley Beal and maybe for once expect an emotion other than disappointment.
Enjoy the opener vs. Detroit tonight and LET’S GO WIZARDS!!