If you thought last season's playoff run meant the Wizards were getting rid of all team's bad shot selection and Randy Wittman would start prancing around in meadows with statisticians, think again. Though the Wizards are starting to open up their offense with the acquisitions of Jared Dudley and Gary Neal to help spread the floor, it looks like Bradley Beal is still going to be firing away from midrange area next season, and the Wizards will still be okay with it, according to this interview he did with Yaron Weitzman for SLAM Magazine:
SLAM: You love shooting the midrange jumper, even though that’s an unpopular shot in today’s NBA. Is that something you’re going to keep doing?
BB: That’s definitely a shot that, even though a lot of people in the NBA don’t like, I’m going to continue to work on it. It’s an open shot and I think you’re probably more open shooting that shot than a lot of other shots. It’s just about being able to get the mechanics down and the rhythm down and being able to knock it down.
SLAM: Has the team ever told you to stop taking them?
BB: Not really, nah. They just let me play my game. Coach Wittman loves those shots. He wants you to shoot everything possible whenever you have the opportunity to.
Before we go on a math rant, let's look at the positives from this interview:
- Wittman and the Wizards are continuing to encourage Beal to be aggressive. That's the best thing they can do for his development at this point in his career. It's easier to rein someone in than force them to do more as they get older. The Thunder took the same approach with James Harden, forcing him into situations where he had to take on more responsibilities which helped him flourish in the NBA. It took a little while for things to click with Harden, but he's obviously paying the dividends now.
- In another part of the interview, Beal also says he's working on dribbling this summer to "help John out a little bit" which is good to hear. Not only would potential improvements help Wall out, but they might even help Beal get to the rim more effectively, which helps everyone.
- If you wanted to go full-out conspiracy theorist on this, you could argue encouraging Beal to take more midrange shots is the best way to drive his value down. NOTE: There is nothing out there to suggest this is what's going on. In fact, I'd be surprised if the Wizards ever considered doing something like this. I only put this here because blogs are where you go to read about bizarre conspiracy theories that make no sense.
Now that we have that out of the way, let's discuss the reasons why this very bad.
Midrange shots are open for the same reason hotels leave out bowls of mints at the front desk: They're not that valuable and even if you take all of them you still don't have much. Midrange shots require all the skill of a three point shot but only give you 66 percent of the reward. It's understandable to fire up an 18-footer off a pass you need to get a shot up before the shot clock expires, but most of Beal's midrange shots are coming early in the shot clock and off-the-dribble. So Beal is not only taking inefficient shots, but he's making them harder than they have to be, which explains why only one player shot worse than Beal while averaging as many attempts from the midrange as Beal did last season.
Beal made 107 of the 316 midrange shots he attempted last season. That's an average of 0.68 points per shot attempt from the midrange. To give you a frame of reference, the Wizards as a team averaged 0.99 points per possession last season. Furthermore, Beal averaged 1.23 points per shot on threes last season. So even if Beal's percentages dipped by taking a more aggressive approach to shooting threes, his percentages would have to drop from 40.9 percent from beyond the arc to 33.2 percent before it becomes less effective than the average shot by a Wizard and it would have to drop down all the way to 22.5 percent before it becomes less effective than his average midrange shot from last season.
In a player's development, it's important to establish the right process, even if the results don't come right away. If it takes another year or two for Beal to really understand how to attack NBA defenses, it's worth it for Washington, even as they push forward as a playoff contender. Still, the way the Wizards appear to be encouraging Beal by encouraging him seek open shots over efficient shots appear to be forcing him on an especially circuitous route on the road towards stardom.