The Becoming of Bradley Beal

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 16: Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards celebrates after scoring in the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies at Capital One Arena on March 16, 2019 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 16: Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards celebrates after scoring in the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies at Capital One Arena on March 16, 2019 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

Bradley Beal is putting up 28.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game for the Washington Wizards since John Wall was sidelined for the rest of the season. Welcome to the Beal Era in D.C.

Bradley Beal was being pressured by Memphis Grizzlies’ guard Avery Bradley, so the two-time Washington Wizards All-Star gave the ball up to second-year center Thomas Bryant. The skillful big man then returned a bounce pass to a streaking Beal as Memphis point guard Mike Conley and Bradley converged to disrupt Beal’s path to the basket. It was too late. Beal received the dime, took one recovery dribble, and acrobatically finished a layup to beat the shot clock and extend the Wizards’ lead to five points with 22 seconds remaining. Beal slammed his chest with his right fist three times as if to validate the win and his second consecutive 40-point night.

Punctuating a mid-March victory with an acrobatic layup at the rim is traditionally on five-time all-star point guard John Wall’s list of duties. After rupturing his right Achilles’ tendon, however, Wall is relegated to watching his fellow two-time All-Star backcourt partner evolve as the primary playmaker and leader for an underwhelming Wizards roster pushing for a playoff position.

In the 35 games since Wall has been sidelined for the season, Beal has produced 28.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game.

If it hasn’t already been evident, the Bradley Beal era in Washington has commenced.

“Big Man” Beal

While Wall has always been considered the relentless rim aggressor, Beal has continued to show a growing affinity for what he calls, “big man stuff.” Despite knocking down a career-high nine three-pointers against Memphis, the game-sealing dagger came at the rim–a dagger full of intention and confidence.

As Beal’s career evolves, so does his shot selection. When he’s not shooting threes, his original calling card out of college, Beal is getting to the rim and finishing layups or dunking more than in previous seasons. You know, “big man stuff.”

“Big man” Beal has attempted 416 field goals in the restricted area through 70 games, already eclipsing his 348 attempts in all 82 games last season (Beal is on pace for 474 field goal attempts near the rim this season). Coupled with finishing 67.8 percent of these shots, Beal is showcasing his most efficient barrage close to the basket to date. It’s often easy to mistake Beal’s aggressive finishes at the rim for vintage Wall drives.

Shooting Table
% of FGA% of FGA% of FGA% of FGA% of FGA% of FGAFG%DunkDunk
SeasonAgeGDist.2P0-3 ft.3-10 ft.10-16 ft.16 ft-3pt3P2P%FGAMd.

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Generated 3/18/2019.

Beal’s evolving shot selection data (a career-high 27.2 percent of his shots come within three feet of the basket and his 53 dunks already trump previous years’ totals) indicates a retreat closer to the basket–his average field goal distance this season is an entire foot closer to the basket than just two seasons ago.

Without Wall, Beal has had no choice but to diversify his scoring game. Beal’s preference to now dribble drive to the rim can be attributed to improved ball handling, court awareness, confidence, and relationships with teammates.  Gone are the days of the one-dimensional Ray Allen comparisons. Beal is more; and he shows it on a nightly basis.

Beal’s Floor Game

Assuming primary playmaking duties has elevated aspects of Beal’s game beyond his shot selection. The seventh-year guard is averaging career highs in minutes (37.7), points (26.2), rebounds (5.3), and assists (5.6) per game; but it’s Beal’s developing floor game that may be earning him All-NBA consideration.

Advanced Table

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Generated 3/18/2019.

From handling the ball (career high 28.3 percent usage rate) and distributing to teammates (career high 24.2 percent assist rate), to getting to the line (career high .269 free throw attempt rate) and snagging steals and blocking shots (career high 1.9 percent and 1.7 percent rates, respectively), Beal shines in more advanced areas beyond scoring, as seen by his career high value over a replacement player (VORP), which takes into account metrics beyond scoring the basketball.

Beal’s outside shooting has evolved into his relentless attacking of the rim, which has evolved into his being the primary ball handler while on the floor, which has evolved into facilitating offense for his teammates, which has evolved into Beal unquestionably becoming D.C.’s alpha since Wall was sidelined with injuries. The evolution continues.

The Bradley Beal Era Begins

Wall leaping onto the scorer’s table after his game-winning three against the Boston Celtics in Game Six of the 2016-2017 Eastern Conference semifinal unfortunately proved to be a premature moment of arrival. The 2010 first overall selection who survived 20-win seasons shouted, “This is my city,” as fans embraced what was thought to be a defining moment for Wall, the Wizards, and a city longing for winning basketball. They made it. Until they didn’t.

The Wizards followed their semifinal appearance with a first round playoff exit to the Toronto Raptors in 2017-2018. Wall was sidelined with injuries yet again and the city longing for winning basketball was told to wait longer. Though the Wizards’ regression was disappointing, Beal proved himself a fully capable first option playmaker and was recognized as an All-Star for the first time to validate it. Beal’s development in 2017-2018 would foreshadow his even greater leaps on the court this season.

Off the court, Beal is creating his own journey as a leader in the D.C. community, partnering with D.C. Public Schools’ Ron Brown High School. Beal donated shoes to Ron Brown’s basketball team and serves as a de-facto mentor to the young men. Beal has mentioned he is seeking to grow his reach and do similar work each year. Wall is revered in many parts of D.C. for his charitable work in the city’s most disenfranchised neighborhoods. Beal seems to also be embracing this component of leadership.

Adding to his visibility and reach off the court, Beal most recently attended a meet-and-greet with hundreds of fans to launch the Tissot Chrono XL NBA Collector special edition watch.

As a trying year reaches its last dozen games, Beal had a message for fans:

"“I just want everyone to know I’m a winner. I don’t care about how many points I score. Rebounds. Assists. You know, numbers are great, but the only thing that matters is if you win. Those numbers won’t mean jack if you’re not in the playoffs and if you’re not bringing home the trophy. I’m unselfish. I’m going to do whatever it takes to win. That’s what I’m all about.”"

When asked if the Wizards would make the playoffs, Beal immediately insisted, “Yes.”

Next. Washington Wizards: Beal Becoming an Even Better Shooter Late in the Season. dark

Beal’s taking the day to recover from 83 minutes of basketball in the previous 48 hours by attending an official Tissot NBA watch reveal meet-and-greet community event now seems appropriate: It’s officially the beginning of the Bradley Beal era in D.C. It’s his team. It’s his time.