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Bradley Beal is finally becoming everything you wanted him to be

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Detroit Pistons v Washington Wizards Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The expectations on Bradley Beal throughout his career have always been pretty daunting.

Think about it. Coming out of college, he was compared to Ray Allen who is easily the most decorated shooter ever. The Wizards believed in him enough not to trade their third overall pick for James Harden, who is one of the best five or six players in the league right now.

It’s safe to say there were a lot of people who saw talent and potential in Beal. And it’s also safe to say that up until this season, he hasn’t lived up to it. In his first four years in the NBA, he was never even been considered for an All-Star game, never averaged more than 17.4 points per game and has always been a wildly inefficient gunner when healthy.

All that remained true up until this season. It’s been a real “put up or shut up” year for Beal after receiving a max deal in the offseason and he has done a lot of putting up this season.

Beal is averaging career highs in quite a few statistical categories including points per game, field goal percentage, three point attempts, free throw attempts and free throw percentage. He’s scoring 22.8 points per game overall with a 58.6 true shooting percentage.

The Wizards have a 9-6 record over the last 15 games and a lot of that has to do with Beal’s increased production on the offensive end. He’s averaging 25.7 points per game in that span while shooting 49 percent from the field and 43.4 percent from three point range. He’s been money from every area of the floor.

Bradley Beal’s shot chart over the last 15 games.
Via NBA.com

Beal is finally showing the promise many thought he had coming out of Florida. But the change is so drastic it is still hard to believe. So how is he doing it?

There is more than one answer here, but the biggest difference for Beal has been his shot selection this season. It has changed drastically from what we’re accustom to seeing from him. More attempts are coming from beyond the arch and at the rim.

A hex map of Beal’s shot locations and league average comparisons
Via NBA.com

Beal’s three point attempt rate has shot up to 41.6 percent this season from just 33.9 percent last season, but he’s making threes at the same rate. A big issue with Beal in the past was his hesitancy to shoot from three despite it being his best shot. This year, he has embraced that and it has opened up more on offense for him and his teammates.

Notice how he rises up and shoots despite the defender trailing him closely off of some flare screening action.

Kent Bazemore does a great job of following him through screens and getting a good contest in. This is a shot Beal would have traded for a midrange jumper last season because of a bit of defensive pressure. Now, he’s letting the three ball fly and it’s paying off.

Because of his three point shot and his willingness to launch them at any time, his hesitation moves have defenders jumping out of their shoes and leaving him clean paths to the rim. Even off of the dribble, Beal has become a problem for defenders because of how tight they play him.

And when Beal catches the ball, he’s just as dangerous — if not more. He’s a threat to rise up and shoot at any time, so defenders have to stay hooked to his hip. When they do, he can do things like this with his explosive first step.

But Beal hasn’t only become a better scorer because of his shot selection. He’s also become a better facilitator.

Kyle Korver, JJ Redick and even Steph Curry have all become masters at using the gravity of their jump shot to create openings for others. Beal has always had the shot, but never the presence and patience to make those same plays.

But he’s having a career year passing the ball averaging 3.5 assists per game and 3.8 assists per game in the last 15 games. That stretch includes a game where he had a career high nine assists. Many of them coming from plays like this.

Beal’s offensive surge this season has vaulted the Wizards into the 11th best offense in the league, which is the best rating they’ve had on that end in the John Wall era. Wall has been his normal self and even improved in some respects, but it’s Beal that has put the team on another level and helped facilitate much of their recent success.

He may not get an All-Star nod with a deep selection of guards around the Eastern Conference, but Beal has earned his place in the conversation and is now living up to the expectations many have put upon him since he broke into the league.

Now all that is left to see is whether he can keep it up or not. We’re about a quarter of the way through the season and he is playing well, but consistency is key. If he can keep performing at this level, the Wizards will make the postseason and be a problem for whoever they line up against.