James Harden vs. Bradley Beal: Better Fit For The Washington Wizards


Oz recently wrote a highly entertaining piece regarding the James Harden-Bradley Beal almost trade. It inspired me to dig a little deeper into the statistics of the almost deal and how they match up in the different phases of basketball.

With apologies to Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, and Klay Thompson, the title of best shooting guard in the game belongs to James Harden. Rewind 2 years ago; Washington Wizards’ management was under fire for turning down a trade which included newly drafted Bradley Beal and role player Chris Singleton for reigning 6th man of the year James Harden. Now, Harden has developed into a bona-fide superstar (1st team All-NBA last season) while Bradley Beal is seen as one of the most promising young players in the league. Did Ernie Grunfeld and company make the right call?

Offensively, James Harden is one of the toughest players to defend in the entire NBA, in the regular season (more on that later). Harden averaged 25.4 PPG, 6.1 APG, and 4.7 RPG, while Beal averaged 17.1 PPG, 3.3 APG, and 3.7 RPG. Bradley Beal does most of his damage off the ball, spotting up for open threes which backcourt mate John Wall somehow manages to see with the eyes in the back of his head. Harden on the other hand manages to score with a vast array of methods. He can shoot the three (36.6%), attack the rim, and he even hits free throws at a rate of 86.6%.

Bradley Beal has a ways to go to get to the high level of offensive efficiency that James Harden boasts, but one thing to consider is usage. Last season, Harden sported a usage rate of 27.8%, while Beal’s was just 24.3%. That may not seem like a large difference, but Harden ranked 14th in usage last season while Beal did not even crack the top 50. Wall is close behind Harden with a 27.4% usage rate, which is truly shocking. Beal is still rounding out his game offensively and seems to have just touched upon his immense potential, and so much of the Wizards’ offense fell on Wall’s shoulders last season. That is why it is so hard to believe that a point guard like Wall had a lower usage rate than Harden. James Harden may be a great scorer, but it would be difficult to envision Wall and Harden coexisting. Both players need the ball in their hands to spark things offensively, while Bradley Beal is able to affect the game just as strongly when he moves off the ball as with the ball in his hands.

For defense…you’ve probably seen this already, but I’ll just leave this here.

And this.

OK, so this clip doesn’t really do a great job of defining Bradley Beal’s play on defense, despite how awesome the block is. Beal is by all accounts an average defender, highlighted by his hard working attitude and excellent leaping ability. However, he lacks the size and strength to match up with bigger shooting guards, standing at 6’4” (the same height as John Wall). On most nights this does not pose much of a problem, but strong post-up guards such as Dwyane Wade have routinely gotten the better of Bradley Beal in the paint. While he is no Trevor Ariza on defense (too soon?), he is certainly no James Harden either.

Let’s take a look at how the two perform in the postseason.

James Harden was lambasted for his abysmal performance in the NBA Finals against the Heat in 2012, where he disappeared completely and failed to crack double digit point totals in 3 of the 5 games in the series. Now that James Harden is a featured option in Houston, let’s examine his playoff performances vs. Bradley Beal’s this past season. While you may consider Beal’s two playoff series to be a small sample size, Harden has only played in two playoff series total in his two years with the Rockets.

This past season, Harden and the Rockets faced the Portland Trailblazers, a middle of the road defensive team. The defender most responsible for containing Harden? Wesley Matthews, by no means a lockdown defender. Also involved was Robin Lopez, a solid rim protecting big man.

James Harden proceeded to average 26.8 PPG, which sounds great, until you realize it was on 37.6% shooting including 29.6% from three. Oh and Bradley Beal? Against the Chicago Bulls, he matched up against one of the best wing defenders in the league in Jimmy Butler. Also present on the Bulls was Joakim Noah, reigning Defensive Player of the Year. And if that’s not all, they were led by former Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau, widely regarded as the finest defensive mind in basketball.

20-year old Bradley Beal dropped 19.8 PPG on 44% shooting including 45.5% from three, one of the primary reasons for the Wizards’ first playoff win in 9 years. As we all know, Bradley Beal wasn’t done there. Beal then matched up against Lance Stephenson, Paul George (All-NBA 1st Defensive Team), and towering Roy Hibbert, perhaps the best rim protector in the league. Beal was unfazed, scoring 18.7 PPG on 41.2% shooting including 38.7% from three. Despite the efficient scoring against two of the league’s premier defenses, it is important to consider pace. The Bulls and Pacers were notoriously slow teams last season, while the Rockets and Trailblazers were two of the fastest paced teams.

James Harden is a great (offensive, regular season) player, but it’ll take more than that beard to topple the BEALin Wall.