In the first quarter of last night’s game against the Indiana Pacers, Bradley Beal was taken out of the game because of an ankle injury. He tried to come back in the 2nd quarter, but stayed in the trainer’s room after halftime and didn’t return to the game. After the game, Beal told the media that he injured one ankle in the 1st quarter, then felt he overcompensated in the 2nd which led to turning the other ankle. He had an MRI done on Thursday that came back clean, but he’ll be listed as day-to-day while he recovers.
Regardless of your opinion on whether or not he deserved his max contract, Beal is an integral part of this team and the team likely cannot survive extended periods without him. Whether that is because of how good Beal is or how bad his backups are will be left for you to answer, but the data shows that any lineup with our 4 starters but without Beal does not have favorable results.
The Wizards Starting Unit
As I said in the last roundtable, this starting unit has consistently proved its worth. This year’s starting lineup of Wall, Beal, Porter, Morris, and Gortat are sporting a fantastic +9.2 NetRtg in 510 minutes. That is comparable to the starting lineup of the reigning NBA champions Cleveland Cavaliers. Irving, Smith, James, Love, and Thompson have notched a NetRtg of +9.3 in 300 minutes.
In fact, as long as Wall and Beal were at the head of the snake, our starting lineups have been great for going on 5 years. Last year in the 2015-2016, the same starting lineup of Wall, Beal, Porter, Morris, and Gortat had a NetRtg of +5.6 in 194 minutes. In the 2014-2015 season, Wall, Beal, Pierce, Nene, and Gortat had a NetRtg of +7.4 in 596 minutes. In the 2013-2014 season, Wall, Beal, Ariza, Nene, and Gortat had a NetRtg of +10.5 in 487 minutes. (Even when Nene was injured that season and Trevor Booker stepped in, that lineup had a positive NetRtg in almost 700 minutes.) In the 2012-2013 season, Wall, Beal, Webster, Nene, and Okafor produced an impressive +24.0 NetRtg in 142 minutes.
Needless to say, Beal is important to this team. This year especially, the Wizards have few options to replace him in the starting lineup. The person that has had the most experience playing with the Wizards starting unit in place of Beal is Marcus Thornton. However, without even looking at the data, you can guess why this has not worked in the past and will not work in the future. Thornton is what we call ‘a chucker’. He is not afraid to shoot the ball and, therefore, shoots the ball way too often. That causes the ball to stick and breaks the offense instead of allowing it to flow properly. This is especially noticeable when looking at the drop in assist percentage, defined as the percentage of field goals that were assisted. When replacing Beal with Thornton, the lineups assist percentage drops from 63.9 percent to 48.0 percent. The other big change is in the True Shooting percentage, a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account field goals, three point field goals, and free throws. Again, when replacing Beal with Thornton in that lineup, the true shooting percentage drops from 57.2 percent to 49.9 percent. All this is to say that Thornton is not a good option, and it shows in the data. When you sub in Beal for Thornton with the rest of the starters, that unit produces a dismal NetRtg of -13.7 in 62 minutes of action, that’s a huge of 22.9 points per 100 possessions when Thornton replaces Beal.
Two other options would be to use one of the two rookie guards – Tomas Satoransky or Sheldon McClellan. There is a very small sample size on each of these options (2 and 8 minutes, respectfully) but they aren’t good. Rookies that are tasked with replacing an established stud like Beal have trouble filling in. They make too many mental mistakes, mistakes that, for the most part, Beal has stopped making. Tomas had some good minutes early in the season but has hit a bit of a rookie wall. McClellan seems like a real option after coming back from the D-League with more minutes under his belt, but the level of competition is much different which could make those minutes more or less obsolete.
The only other option is Kelly Oubre Jr. After a forgettable rookie season, Oubre has proven to show intensity on the defensive end and inconsistency on the offensive end in his 2nd season. That defensive intensity and willingness to play the limited ‘3 and D’ role has contributed to the wild success of the Wall, Beal, Oubre, Porter, Gortat lineup. (+28.5 NetRtg in 80 minutes.) Oubre has a game similar to last year’s Garrett Temple, in my mind. He pressures ball handlers, sticks to his man, and can provide some offensive boost at times. Last year, Temple replaced Beal while he was injured and the Wall, Temple, Porter, Morris, Gortat lineup posted a NetRtg of +4.0 in 122 minutes. However, if Oubre logs minutes at the 2, the team doesn’t have a good option to fill in for minutes at the 3 behind Porter. That could lead to heavy minutes for the remaining wings, mainly Porter who has a little history of nagging injuries himself, or the presence of some really big lineups with Morris at the 3 and more playing time for Nicholson and Smith, a recipe for almost certain disaster.
Moral of the Story?
The Wizards will likely be able to survive without Beal for Friday’s game at home against the Brooklyn Nets. However, if he misses any substantial amount of time (read: more than one game), the Wizards will undoubtedly see their great play as of late taper off and things could quickly tumble back into the disarray we saw earlier this season when Beal got hurt and the Wizards lost three straight games.