A Tale of Two Rookies: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bradley Beal's Slow Start

Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE

One month into the 2012-13 season, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has been one of the best rookies in the NBA, while Bradley Beal has struggled to hold onto his role as the Wizards' starting shooting guard. The key as to why is how they approach the game.

WASHINGTON -- Saturday wasn't one of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's best games. He fouled out in 24 minutes and didn't play down the stretch in the Washington Wizards' double-overtime loss to the Charlotte Bobcats. Still, Kidd-Gilchrist was able to pump in 12 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and two steals in his limited minutes, a statline that the majority of NBA veterans would be thrilled to post. This game was par for the course for the second pick in the 2012 draft,.

The player drafted immediately after Kidd-Gilchrist hasn't gotten off to quite as good a start. Bradley Beal played almost twice as many minutes as Kidd-Gilchrist, and yet he only managed to score 13 points on 3-12 shooting. It was a performance Wizards fans have become all too familiar with, as Beal appeared hesitant and struggled to make shots from the outside, forcing coach Randy Wittman to run much of the team's offense through less gifted players like Jordan Crawford and A.J. Price.

Beal's NBA career has gotten off to a rough start, especially when compared to Kidd-Gilchrist's. When the two players faced each other during Saturday's game, they offered a stark contrast in playing style and mentality that could provide a great deal of insight into why Kidd-Gilchrist's adjustment to the NBA has been so much easier than Beal's.

Kidd-Gilchrist's motor and intensity are his most notable attributes, and may have been even more responsible for his lofty draft position than his elite athleticism and fundamentally sound defense.

"He has got an aplomb to him, a confidence, and an exuberance to him, kind of like Magic (Johnson)," Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap said.

Kidd-Gilchrist repeatedly demonstrated these qualities during Saturday's win over the Wizards. He guarded all three perimeter positions at one point or another, repeatedly doing an excellent job of not giving up on plays or letting his intensity lapse. Even on offense, where he's far from a finished product, he managed to demonstrate a greater attention to detail than the typical rookie.

One sequence in particular stands out as demonstrative of the kind of motor Kidd-Gilchrist possesses. With 8:46 left in the third quarter, he caught the ball at the top of the key, drove past his defender, and passed to an open Byron Mullens in the corner. Rather than simply stopping or slowing down, which a lot of NBA players probably would have done, Kidd-Gilchrist ran toward the open shooter, using his body as a human shield to prevent Mullens' defender from closing out onto him and contesting the shot. Mullens hit the corner three as a result, giving the Bobcats a nine point lead after it had been a one point game only three minutes earlier.

Beal's motor and will to win have never been called into question, to be fair. But his approach to the game is more measured and laid back than Kidd-Gilchrist's. Possibly due to his role as more of a scorer than an all-around human wrecking ball like Kidd-Gilchrist, Beal's self-confidence can become tied to whether or not his shot is falling. Unfortunately for him and the Wizards, he's only shooting 33 percent from the field through his first 11 NBA games, and his aggressiveness has taken a hit as a result.

Beal managed to do a very good job of stuffing the stat sheet during the Wizards' loss to Charlotte, finishing the night with 10 rebounds and five assists in 40 minutes of playing time. But despite his reputation as a scorer, he largely deferred to his less-talented teammates, especially in both overtime periods. If you discount what happened after Charlotte pulled ahead by four points with less than 10 seconds left in the second overtime period and the game was out of reach, Beal only attempted two shots in the two overtime periods. It's one thing to take what the defense gives you, but a future go-to scorer like Beal needs to be aggressive when the game is on the line, even if he's a rookie going through a shooting slump.

"I felt that I had the game won," Beal said. ... "In certain situations I was upset with myself because there was a play I could have made but I didn't execute on. So I was pretty down on myself."

On the one hand, self-awareness is a great quality in a professional athlete, especially one who will be expected to play an enormous role on a rebuilding team like the Wizards. On the other, that Beal himself will admit that he needed to be more aggressive is a sure sign that his confidence isn't where it needs to be right now. While Kidd-Gilchrist seems to use his mistakes as motivation to go out and play even more aggressively, Beal dwells on and possibly over-analyzes his mistakes, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy in which bad play begets more bad play.

The funny thing about Beal's problems is that they're entirely a result of a lack of confidence. If you look solely at the parts of his game that aren't tied to his jump shot, he's been very solid this year. Coming out of college, he was projected to be a good rebounder, solid passer and decent defender who could block a surprising number of shots for a 6'3 guard. Through 11 games, he's averaging 4.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 0.8 blocks per 36 minutes and has been less torchable than a typical rookie perimeter defender. He's even finishing well at the basket, having made a very solid 58 percent of his shots at the rim.

The only part of Beal's game that hasn't lived up to expectations has been his outside shot, something that is more reliant on self-confidence than any other aspect of a player's game. Beal's only making 23 percent of his long twos and 33 percent of this three pointers this year, which is entirely why his overall field goal percentage is so low. If a few of those shots had gone an inch to the left or the right, Beal's confidence would be far greater and the Wizards could very well have had a Rookie of the Year candidate on their hands.

It's really only a matter of time until Bradley Beal gets back on track. More likely than not, he's going to need to get hot from the outside and drop 20 or 30 points on some unsuspecting team, after which his confidence should be restored and Wizards fans will finally get to see the player they hoped they were getting when President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld drafted him third overall. Until then, he's going to continue to struggle, and one can only hope that some of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's never say die attitude has rubbed off on him.

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