Washington Wizards: Bradley Beal undeterred by early shooting woes

Washington Wizards Bradley Beal (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)
Washington Wizards Bradley Beal (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images) /

It certainly has not been the All-NBA start to the season that we expected from Bradley Beal.

The Washington Wizards are 2-5. They’re giving up a ton of points, 118 on average. With such deplorable defense—the NBA’s 4th worst defensive rating—the Wizards have been forced to try and outscore opponents. So far, they have not been successful, and Bradley Beal‘s early-season shooting woes might have something to do with that.

Now if you look at the raw numbers you might say ‘Bradley Beal is not the problem in Washington.’ And you’d be right. Beal is by far the best thing this team has going for it right now. The 26-year-old All-Star guard is averaging 27.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 6.1 assists through the team’s first seven games. He’s getting to the line more often than he ever has in his career, averaging 7.4 attempts and 6.0 makes from the charity stripe each game.

Those numbers are great. But some other numbers paint a very different picture. Per Basketball-Reference, Bradley Beal’s field goal percentage after seven games is 40.8 percent, a career-low. He’s also shooting a career-low from three, 28.8 percent. Beal’s effective field goal percentage, 46.8, is (you guessed it) another career low for him. But Beal doesn’t seem to mind, according to Fred Katz of The Athletic.

More than anything, it’s been Beal’s three-point shooting struggles that have been shocking. Beal’s current three-point percentage of 28.8 is not a small dip from his norm. Through his first seven seasons, Beal has never shot below 35 percent from deep.

Against the Dallas Mavericks and Indiana Pacers, Beal missed ten or more three-point attempts in each game. That’s something he had never done before this season. He’s now done it twice in seven games.

Take a look at the types of threes Beal’s making and missing, and it gets even weirder. According to NBA.com, Bradley Beal is shooting 30.8 percent from three against tight defense (closest defender is two to four feet away). He’s shooting 30 percent on open threes (four to six feet away), and 26.1 percent on wide-open threes (six or more feet away). Beal is shooting worse the more open he gets! On corner threes, Beal is shooting an unbelievably low 8.3 percent.

There are several reasons as to why Beal is struggling early in the season. For one, it’s early in the season. There are still over 70 games left to play, and Beal is more than capable of righting the ship. Amidst many bad shooting nights, Beal did go 14-20 from the field and 7-12 from three against the Houston Rockets. But things aren’t going to get any easier for him as the season progresses.

Beal is the obvious number one on the Wizards offense, one of the few truly reliable scorers on the team. As a result, opposing defenses key on him. Now, Beal can score in a variety of ways, but it gets difficult when defenses don’t really need to worry about everyone else offensively.

None of the regular starters that Beal begins the game with are legitimate three-point threats. Thomas Bryant sure would like to be given how many times he’s letting it fly this season (up from 1.4 attempts last season to 2.9), but he’s not quite there yet. As a result, opposing teams can shrink the floor in the halfcourt, and don’t have to worry about the bodies roaming the perimeter. Driving and passing lanes get clogged. It makes life harder for Beal.

With Isaac Bonga exiting the starting lineup and either C.J. Miles or Troy Brown Jr presumably taking his place, the floor might open up some for Beal. So far, though, it hasn’t.

His solution: shoot the ball. Beal currently averages a career-high 22.4 shot attempts per game. 9.4 of those shots (or 42 percent) come from behind the arc. Both of those numbers are also career-highs.

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Beal’s shooting isn’t necessarily a problem. He’s actually shooting quite well closer to the basket, knocking down 49.5 percent of his two-pointers. Plus, his aggressiveness attacking the basket has helped him get points at the line, where he’s shooting over 80 percent.  It all makes his three-point issues that much more confusing.

Luckily, it doesn’t sound like he’s going to stop shooting any time soon, which is good news for the Wizards. They need Beal shooting the ball. They just need him to make it, too.