Why Bradley Beal Hasn’t Had A Breakout Season Thus Far


Full Disclosure: I wrote this piece across Sunday and Monday, putting the finishing touches on it well before the Washington Wizards tipped off with the Houston Rockets last night. Of course, Beal didn’t take long to prove me wrong as he played a game that directly contradicted with the evidence I provided below (in a good way). I can only assume that he somehow read this piece before it was posted. We have that kind of connection after all; pure jump shooters stick together.

Bradley Beal is just 21 years old. He’s barely into his third season as a professional basketball player. Due to various injuries for both players, he hasn’t yet logged 150 career regular season games with John Wall. And he’s only starred in one Eastern Motors commercial to date. So admittedly, it is too early to worry about where we’re headed with the budding star.

He still has all the tools to become a top shooting guard in the league so there’s no reason to panic when his on-court performance doesn’t consistently match his ratings in NBA 2K15. But unfortunately that’s not how the sports world works these days.

In today’s society, there is no shortage of available data and no lack of media coverage. With that is born a consistent stream of breakthrough analysis that usually ranges somewhere between ‘certifiably insane’ and ‘probably incorrect’.

But with the Wizards at 21-8 and clearly a player in the Eastern Conference race, it’s not out of line to take a closer look at his game to identify critical areas of improvement. In the long run, Beal may figure all this out and make me look foolish. But if you’re going to call yourself half of the best backcourt in the game, the time is now to start playing like it.

We all know why we fell in love with Bradley Beal the moment the Wizards made him the 3rd pick in the 2012 draft. The only thing as smooth as his shooting stroke is that million-dollar smile. His game is the perfect complement to John Wall’s, almost as if both were concocted in unison by a mad scientist working overtime in his basketball laboratory (also working overtime is the scientist’s marketing department. So far, they’ve come up with ‘House of Guards’, ‘Splash and Dash’, and my personal favorite ‘Hustle and Flow’).

Beal adds to his shooting acumen an underrated athletic component that gives him the ability to get to the rim when defenders close out too hard and enough strength to guard bigger perimeter players when necessary. Listed at 6’5”, 207 lbs. (but probably a little shorter), Beal leaves little to be desired when building a franchise 2-guard. So why hasn’t he played up to billing yet?

Beal’s struggles are of little secret to those who watch him on a nightly basis: shot selection, shot selection, shot selection. This can partly be attributed to Randy Wittman’s anemic offensive sets that encourage players to take deep two-pointers if they’re open vs. stepping back a foot or two and earning an extra point for their troubles.

But not all can be blamed on the coach, because players have to play to their strengths within confines of schemes. The Wizards roster is constructed with a ton of guys who love mid-range jumpers so claiming that it’s only the coach’s fault is taking onus away from players who should also understand efficient basketball.

Beal has become a top offender on the team in regards to taking smart shots, and it has cost him dearly in developing a more polished game in Year 3. Per basketball-reference.com, Beal takes an incredible 40.8% of his field goal attempts between 10 feet and the 3 point line, shooting a horrid 31% from the field on those shots.

Furthermore, he’s shooting just 25% on attempts between 3-10 feet from the basket. Beal has been so bad almost everywhere on the court that it doesn’t even matter that he’s a scintillating 46% from deep and 66% at the basket because not enough of his attempts relatively even come from those areas. Those numbers round into a True Shooting Percentage of 52.7%, which is fine if you’re John Wall and can affect the game in 10 different ways, but not if you’re Beal who is relied on mainly for scoring prowess.

via Vorped.com

Beal’s secondary problem as a result of where he chooses to shoot is that he simply does not score easily enough.

The plethora of contested jumpers has resulted in a lack of opportunity to attack the rim and initiate contact. Beal averages just 2.7 free throw attempts per 36 minutes, good for a FT rate of just .193. To put that in perspective, consider an extreme example in James Harden. His shooting splits (FG%/3PT%/FT%) are similar to Beal’s at 43/34/89 (Beal is at 43/46/80). Yet he gets to the line an incredible 9.3 times per 36 minutes and shoots .515 free throws for every field goal attempt.

The difference is that one of the two players is the leading candidate for league MVP and the other sports a PER below league average at a paltry 13.8. If Beal learns how to skillfully draw more fouls, he can make an impact on those days when his jump shot isn’t falling.

Another troubling aspect of Beal’s 2014-15 campaign thus far has been ball security.

As he and Wall have progressed together, Washington has started using Beal more as a secondary ball handler, either with Wall on the court and spaced out in the corner or at the onset of the 2nd and 4th quarters when Wall is taking his customary breather. The results thus far have not been promising.

Beal is averaging 2.2 turnovers per game, while only handing out 3 assists per game and is committing turnovers on 11.2 out of 100 possessions, as per NBA.com. Beal has struggled to work off of screens by Nene or Marcin Gortat, often failing to create space between him and the chasing defender. This allows the opposing big man to sag further into the paint to disrupt the pick-and-roll passing lanes, leaving Beal in a predicament of whether to shoot his patented mid-range jump shot or force feed his roll man in a tight window.

Beal’s issues are pretty common for anyone getting acclimated to the NBA, much less a kid who is being asked to help carry a deep, veteran playoff team to the Promised Land. Beal has matured as a basketball player and by all accounts he’s been nothing short of exemplary on and off the court. As he continues to expand his game, he’ll discover how to integrate his innate talents with what he learns going up against the world’s best every night.

The long-term outlook remains as bright as ever, with Washington expected to be a major factor in the Eastern Conference for years to come. But in regards to this season, Beal must play smarter if the Wizards want a real chance at glory. With Martell Webster back in the fold, Washington is finally at full strength heading into a daunting January that will essentially determine whether this team is a contender or pretender come playoff time.

They’ll need Wall, Nene, Gortat, and Pierce to all be at their best. And they’ll most definitely need Bradley Beal in that form as well.

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