NBA Playoffs 2014: Bradley Beal's sampling period is really paying off

Gary Dineen/NBA

Bradley Beal's breakout NBA Playoffs performance has a lot to do with how the Wizards used him all season.

We wondered all season why the Wizards used Bradley Beal like they did. A pure shooter with a beautiful stroke and an advanced off-ball game was suddenly being used in a hundred pick and rolls while having to quarterback a second unit devoid of other offensive threats. He was encouraged to pull up for long twos, even though these aren't especially efficient shots as is and he wasn't exactly nailing them at a proficient rate. Hell, I wondered it too at one point myself.

But there was always one silver lining to the Wizards' approach. Sure, Beal would struggle to read pick and roll coverages now, but he wasn't going to struggle forever. For Beal to approach stardom, he needed experience learning how to create shots for himself and others. Rather than avoid this and try to turn Beal into a specialist, the Wizards felt his confidence would hold up by being challenged, even if failure resulted early on. Thus, the Bradley Beal Sampling Period was born.

And boy are we seeing the fruits of that labor now. Beal has been absolutely fantastic in the playoffs, taking the lessons he learned from the season and applying them. How about 25 points, seven assists, seven rebounds in a 102-96 win over the Pacers last night? Reminder: he's not even 21 yet.

He looks like a different player attacking pick and roll situations. He's no longer overwhelmed when he's trapped. He no longer firing away the second he sees even a sliver of daylight. He's throwing in advanced hesitation dribbles to get to the rim. He's making the right pocket passes back to his big men. He's taking GOOD in-rhythm jumpers, not just the first shot he sees. He's even declining screens to get all the way to the rim, like this.

Beal_drive

Despite all that, he's getting enough threes and off-ball movement. The Wizards' favorite after-timeout play in the playoffs gets Beal moving off multiple screens while curling into the lane. Another favorite gets the ball to Nene in the post and has Beal curl off the other big on a screen at the free-throw line. And because the Wizards get out on the break so much, Beal still shot five threes.

I've said this many times, but player development is not linear. Nobody rides a clear path to stardom or any sort of success in this league. Players need to go through struggles to learn how to improve their games. In this case, it appears the Wizards threw those struggles onto Beal because they knew he'd maintain his calm demeanor to address them. Now, the Wizards have themselves a much more versatile offensive player that can both complement John Wall and step in for him.

***

I'm sure you've seen Gilbert Arenas' Instagram posts by now. Love seeing Gil support the home team. Not sure I love the quality of humor on his page. Then again, I enjoy puns, so I'm not sure I'm the best judge of these kind of things.

***

From Indy Cornrows' recap:

It's all well and good to look at what Washington likely won't do moving forward, but what can the Pacers actually do themselves to counter it consistently? Regardless of what other teams do, the Pacers keep doing the same things again and again. They keep coming out flat, they keep failing to run an offense, they keep getting nothing but fouls from their centers, they keep having to rely on bad shots, slow offense, one-on-one basketball, and out of sync defense.

The optimistic side of everything looks at how Washington played and sees that this series is still well within reach, but where's the optimism in Indiana? They may come out in Game 2 with much better energy, but why do they need to constantly have their backs to the wall in order to play well? No one looked particularly good tonight. Paul George was excellent at getting to the line (9-9) to make up or his defensive lapses on Ariza and his 4-17 shooting night.

It's true. The Wizards may cool off, but what is Indiana's adjustment?

Not going to lie: it's sad seeing what Roy Hibbert has become. The Pacers seem really tired of answering questions about his awful play of late. For example:

And this is even worse:

Indiana's slide started with Hibbert's demise. Any half measure that limits his court time is a band-aid solution and isn't going to be good enough in this series. He either gets it together or the Pacers go home.

***

At some point, John Wall has to make more shots. For now, though, he can brilliantly choreograph the game and make tone-setting plays like this.

Wallblock

Wallpass

***

I don't know about this one, Jeff Teague.

As Charles Barkley said: "the blueprint is supposed to work.

***

Favorite photo of the night:

Usatsi_7901132_medium

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Drew Gooden has longed for that ball longer than longing itself.

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