We all had our minds set on it as the season NBA season tipped off. “Bradley Beal is going to have a breakout sophomore year,” was a common theme among NBA circles. Some people set extremely high expectations, such as, “He will be an All-Star this season.” Others, such as myself, suggested he could lead the Washington Wizards in scoring. And then there was the group that thought he could be a solid wingman to point guard John Wall. Nonetheless, we all thought Beal was going to do big things for the Wizards this season.
The Wizards started off slow, losing three of their first four games, and Beal did not get off to a scorching start either. The first four games of the season, Beal averaged 15.7 points per game while shooting 33.3 percent from the field as well as 39.1 percent from the three-point line. It was not just his stats that were overly concerning, though. He looked uncomfortable shooting the basketball, especially off the dribble. He seemed overly anxious, as if he knew about all the preseason expectations and was trying to live up to them. When a player forces the issue, it can often affect their game. Beal has seemed to let the game come to him as of late and that could be a key reason why he’s found his groove since the somewhat rocky start.
Beal has looked like a totally different player in the last seven games. He has become a guaranteed 20-point guy basically every night and has been the Wizards’ best player. In the last seven games, he’s averaging 24.3 points per game while shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 50.7 percent from beyond the arc. This looks like the type of player he can be from here on out. His jump shot has looked much more fluid and confident. He’s slightly improved his shot off the dribble, even though he still needs more work on that aspect of his game (more on that in a bit). He has had huge games, like his 34-point explosion against the Oklahoma City Thunder in a tough loss. You can tell when players have found a rhythm and confidence and that is what Beal has done.
A lot of credit must given to John Wall for Beal looking more and more like the guy we expected going into this year. Although Wall has struggled finding his shot on the offensive end, his passing has been superb for the Wizards. He is second in the league in assists with 9.7 per game and Beal is a large recipient of those dimes. According to NBA.com’s Player Tracking Data, Wall is creating 23.7 points per game off his assists. Beal has benefitted greatly from this.
Because of Wall’s unique ability to drive and find open players, Beal has shown his excellence as a shooter lately. Beal is one of only two players who have played more than 10 games this season to average nine or more points per game off catch-and-shoots while also shooting over 46 percent from the field and over 52 percent from the three-point line, according to NBA.com’s Player Tracking Data. The other player is Kyle Korver. Wall’s ability to find Beal spotting up is a big part of why Beal has been scoring the ball at such a high rate as of late.
Beal still has a lot of room for improvement as this year as well as his career moves forward. He’s the kind of player who could average over 25 points per a game year after year. But he must improve his shooting off the dribble. It’s gotten better since he arrived in Washington but statistically, he is one of the worst pull-up jump shooters in the league for how many he takes a game. NBA.com defines a pull-up shot as “any jump shot outside 10 feet where a player took 1 or more dribbles before shooting.” Beal is shooting 31.3 percent on pull-up jump shots.
Since he is such a lethal three-point shooter, teams are really going to start keying in on not letting Beal get off the long ball. If he can begin to take players off the dribble and hit shots, he becomes extremely tough to defend. Shooting off the dribble is one of the toughest parts of the NBA game (Steph Curry is only shooting 40% on pull-up shots), especially for young players getting fully adjusted to the speed of the game. However, if Beal can become more efficient off the dribble, he has the tools to become an elite scorer in this league.
It’s fun witnessing players coming into their own right in front of your eyes and that is exactly what Bradley Beal is doing. He is going to be a tough guy to defend for the foreseeable future.