There’s a basketball revolution going on in Washington. We’re more than five years removed from Gilbert Arenas’ hand (and real) pistol shenanigans, and the Wizards look more promising than ever.
The team made smart moves this offseason, letting Trevor Ariza walk away for a contract that was more than they cared to fork over, bringing back Marcin Gortat on a very fair contract and signing Paul Pierce to man the wing. But even with their smart maneuverings, the Wizards’ success going forward to stem from the young backcourt the team drafted. John Wall broke through with an All-Star season in 2014, and his partner Bradley Beal may not be far behind.
Beal came out of Florida after his freshman year, tabbed to be a sweet-shooting star to run alongside the lightning-fast Wall. That didn’t quite as planned in Beal’s rookie season, as Wall was sidelined for the first two months of the season, playing in just 49 games. Predictably, playing without his team’s point guard and best player, Beal struggled. But once Wall stepped onto the court on Jan. 12, 2013, things started to look a whole lot rosier for Beal.
|Before Jan. 12||31||13.1||3.6||2.6||36.7||32.3|
|After Jan. 12||25||15||3.9||2.2||46.8||46.6|
A young shooter even as talented as Beal needs space, and a point guard with the penetration ability of Wall is just the man to create it. With his freakish speed, great size and strength for a point guard and finishing ability (Wall shot 60 percent at the rim in 2014, per NBA.com), defenses often have no choice but to collapse on Wall’s drives, leaving space on the perimeter.
Beal took a major step forward in his second year at the ripe old age of 20. In fact, no 20-year-old in league history has ever matched Beal’s line of 17.1 points per game and 40 percent shooting from deep on at least 250 attempts from deep (Beal took 343 in 2013-14). Let’s expand it to all players in their second season in the league and add in Beal’s 24 percent usage rate. The list you come up with, thanks to basketball-reference.com, puts Beal in some elite company: a likely Hall of Famer, the reigning MVP and the most feared shooter in the league.
Of course, all of those players blossomed into among the best in the league. Carter went to and started the All-Star Game in his second season, while KD made it by his third season and Steph hit the big stage in his fourth season after shaking off some ankle issues that threatened to derail his career.
Of course, looking at those second seasons, Beal’s ranks lowest among all of them in player efficiency rating (PER). It’s easy to see where he lags behind - his shooting inside the arc. None of the other three players Beal stacks up against shot lower than 47.5 percent on two-point field goals, while Beal hit on just 42.6 percent in 2014. More than 45 percent of Beal’s shots came from mid-range, and 78 percent of his total shots were either jumpers or pull-ups, per NBA.com. As Beal improves, it’s not hard to imagine him finding ways to create easier looks for himself, especially if he picks up more responsibility as a ball handler alongside Wall.
Of course, wondering just how good a player can be is always a fun exercise. From day one, Beal drew comparisons to a sweet shooting all-time great: Ray Allen. Two years into his career, Beal isn’t far behind. In fact, despite being two years younger than Allen at the same point in their careers, Beal is a better marksman from long range on a slightly lower number of attempts per game. To see Beal compared to the greatest three-point shooter of all time and actually see him matching that Hall of Fame player through two seasons, it’s safe to he’s on the right track.
So what can we expect from Beal in 2014-15? Ariza, who was the recipient of oh-so-many Wall skip passes to the corner for open triples, is now a Houston Rocket. Pierce, while a respected shooter, spend much more of his time working the mid-range than he does beyond the arc, and has only matched Ariza’s shooting performance from last season three times in his illustrious career. It’s probably fair to assume that Beal is going to have to pick up that slack, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he moved into Durant and Curry’s stratosphere as a volume shooter, putting up more than six triples per game. With the tutelage of Pierce, Beal can pick up some shifty moves to use inside the arc. Looking at the state of guards in the East, seeing Beal on the All-Star stage in New York come February is well within reason.
With another year of growth alongside Wall, the Wizards’ foundation could get even stronger, with their guards ready to carry them in new, wide-open East.