We're bringing the Summer Checklist series back after doing it last year. Here's the first installment. -MP
Bradley Beal will be riding a giant wave of momentum heading into training camp after the postseason he just had. He's one of just eight players in league history to record a player efficiency rating of 17 or higher in the playoffs before his 21st birthday, and he did so in 11 games, which ranks second on that list. He shined as the team's go-to scorer, held Lance Stephenson to just 18/54 shooting in the first four games of the second round and upped his assist percentage to a very solid 20 percent.
Oh, and by the way, he did all this against two of the league's best defenses.
So it's easy to see why his regular season gets lost in the shuffle. What he did in May was no fluke. He was put through the mill all year long with pick and rolls and dribble handoffs, and it geared him up for situations where defenses would be locked in on him. He blossomed in the postseason, but it was hardly something that came out of left field.
Still, the 82 regular season games hold weight, and Beal hasn't completely shaken off his reputation of being a poor ball handler. But that much is obvious. We know that's at the top of Beal's priority list in terms of what he needs to continue to improve, and with another year under his belt, it's a good bet that he will.
The more pressing concern is on the other end of the floor, where Beal could be thrusted into the defensive stopper role that Trevor Ariza once occupied.
There are other avenues Wittman could take to ensure Beal isn't left with all of the responsibility, though none are exactly optimal. Garrett Temple has played the role in a pinch fairly well in the last two years, and both Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr at least have the length to potentially hold their own. Paul Pierce isn't what he once was, but he isn't a sieve either and he almost always steps up to the challenge against the LeBron's of the world.
Again, none of these options are ideal. While Beal lacks the size to defend the top wings on a nightly basis, he may not have much of a choice. But he's always been a willing defende, and he's shown a good understanding of positioning dating back to his college days. He rarely stands upright or flatfooted, which helps him avoid getting nailed by screens.
But that hasn't always yielded positive results. He's still learning how to fight over those screens without losing too much ground on his man, a concept John Wall has just now fully grasped.
It's not as easy as it seems. Beal needs to position himself before the pick is even set, but he has to be weary of Nate Wolters rejecting the screen and zipping right past him too. It's always a fine line for guards to walk; even the best athletes like Russell Westbrook that have the ability to recover can take themselves out of these plays by jumping out of position.
For Beal, containing dribble penetration will be how he earns his keep on defense. He'll have to do a better job on ICE calls, which requires him to position himself on the ball handler's hip and away from the screener and force his man baseline, making it impossible for his man to use the screen. There were a number of times last season where he failed to do so despite his big man being in position to defend on the sideline, and the end result was the ball handler getting to the middle of the floor.
He may always be at a disadvantage given his height and average wingspan, but it doesn't absolve him of everything. The Wizards need to replace Ariza's services somehow, and even if it's through a committee approach, they'll need one of the starters to step up. Beal seems like the right candidate.
What would you like to see Beal improve on next season?