Washington Wizards: Bradley Beal is this year’s scoring title dark horse

Washington Wizards Bradley Beal (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Washington Wizards Bradley Beal (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards are preparing for a 2019-2020 campaign with low expectations. Can the All-Star guard play himself into the scoring title?

It took some time, but the Washington Wizards locked Bradley Beal into a two-year extension worth $72-million. Thus focus shifted off of their personnel decisions and onto a year that will feature more questions than answers.

Beal has signed on for two, maybe three (player option) more years of Wizards basketball, with the first of those likely without his backcourt partner, point guard John Wall. While his teammate recovers from an Achilles’ injury, the newly signed shooting guard will be leading the pack.

With that comes a volume of shots and usage rate that a scorer like Beal simply thrives on. His numbers after Wall went down with an injury last year were monstrous. And with a full season of the same opportunities ahead, Beal is a legitimate name to watch for the NBA’s 2019-2020 scoring title.

Let Off the Leash

Beal was always enabled as a talent when playing next to Wall. But when the point guard went down with an injury, he saw his numbers increase dramatically. In the four months Beal played without Wall last season, he averaged 25.9 points and 5.9 assists per game.

Sure the Wizards went just 10-21 in that span, but without the shooting guard, even two of those ten wins would have been hard to come by.

Fortunately for Beal, the scoring title isn’t based on a team’s record. While he might miss All-NBA as the Wizards seem on the outskirts of the Eastern Conference standings, he could still earn the scoring crown.

With two consecutive 82-game seasons behind him and a full year without point guard Wall ahead, he’s only going to improve the rate/volume at which he scores.

Beal recorded 17 games with 30+ points after his point guard went down with injury last season. He had just seven when his point guard healthy.

Beal regularly got his points using a wide array of scoring techniques. They were all on display during this 40-point performance from the guard in a mid-March win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

Beal took just seventeen shots that night. Not impressed?

Per Basketball-Reference, only 11 players last season scored 40 points on 20 or fewer field goal attempts. And Beal, well he’s the only one to do it behind 17 or less shots.

In Wall’s absence, the guard saw both his per game field goal and three-point attempts take a slight bump (from 18.7 to 20.7 and 7.2 to 7.8 respectively). But he’s proven he doesn’t need volume as much as he needs opportunity in order to score more. He’ll see plenty of those opportunities this season.

Beal, without Wall, is an above .500 team’s number one option. And with a slightly improved roster behind him this year, he’ll get more clean looks and scored buckets.

Last Season’s Leaders

Beal is going to be up against the field in his chase for the title, and there could be up to eight players all in the mix. Last season, the Wizards guard finished 11th in points per game, but as high as 4th in total points scored.

Only Paul George, Kemba Walker, and James Harden scored more points than Beal last season.

Harden, who won the scoring title, finished with 36.1 points per game. That’s over an eight-point differential between himself and second place George (28 points per game). While he is a two-time consecutive scoring leader, three-peating has been historically hard to come by.

Only seven players have done such in history. And only one guy has done it in the post-Michael Jordan era of the 2000s: Kevin Durant. Luckily for Beal’s scoring title chances, he’s probably not playing this year.

Both Durant and Harden are walking into vastly different situations, that will often test their patience with being “the guy.” For Harden, he’s got a new teammate (and former scoring champion himself) in Russell Westbrook who enjoys playing with the ball in his hands.

George was traded out to Los Angeles to pair up with Kawhi Leonard to form California’s second super team. But on a roster that’s deep down to its fifteenth man, he too could see a dip in points.

Walker’s also in a brand new situation after signing with the Boston Celtics in free agency. After playing years in Charlotte that left not just Hornets fans, but all NBA fans begging league executives to get him some help, the point guard has joined a roster with some real talent.

Still, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are young, emerging scorers in Boston. Walker’s going to have to share the ball. And will Gordon Hayward continue his climb to his pre-injury form? Walker will have a strong chance at career assist numbers, but won’t have to do all the scoring this season.

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Then there are guys like Stephen Curry, Jimmy Butler, or reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, all of whom could very well see a slight-to-large uptick in their scoring. However, they all have established second scorers on the team.

But Bradley Beal’s proven, he’s determined, and he quite literally has to score at a league-high level if these Washington Wizards want to reach the postseason. He could wind up winning the scoring title simply out of necessity.