Coming into this season, it was clear Bradley Beal was going to need to take on a bigger role with the offense. Not only was this necessary for Bradley Beal to justify his value on the open market, but the Wizards needed someone to step up and carry a larger offensive load this season after Paul Pierce joined the Clippers.
Now that Bradley Beal is back, he's starting to do that, but not in the way people may have expected.
1. Bradley Beal has not developed into a better passer
If you were hoping Bradley Beal would develop into a more well-rounded offensive player who could force defenses to account for his ability to shoot and distribute, well, that hasn't happened. Beal has assisted on 15.6 percent of his teammates' baskets this season, up just slightly from the 15.0 percent he assisted on last season.
What's even more potentially concerning is that even though his assist rate isn't any better this season, he's using up more possessions. His usage rate is up nearly four percent from last season. The only players this season with usage rates as high as Beal and assist rates lower than Beal are three big men who don't have many guys to pass to (Anthony Davis, Jahlil Okafor, Brook Lopez), a sophomore still finding his way on a bad team (Andrew Wiggins), and a deadeye shooter on the best team in the NBA (Klay Thompson).
2. Beal has gotten better at protecting the ball
Beal hasn't developed into a better passer this season, but there is a silver lining here, depending on how you look at it. Even though Beal's usage rate is up, his turnover rate is down from last season, and over the past two months, it's has decreased even more. In February, he only turned the ball over 17 times in 399 minutes of action. He posted a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio last month even though he only averaged a paltry 2.5 assists per game.
3. Beal is less reliant on John Wall setting him up this season
Here is where it gets really interesting. For the first time in his career, Beal is making just as many shots off of assists as he is through his own shot creation:
Before we jump to any conclusions here, let's remember some of the context for why Beal would be taking more unassisted shots this season. Thanks to Bradley Beal's injuries and minutes restriction, he hasn't played nearly as much with Wall as he has in previous seasons. Beal and Wall averaged 28.2 minutes per game together on the floor last season. Since the start of the 2016 calendar year, they're only averaging 18 minutes per game together on the floor. Nine other two man combos for the Wizards have averaged more time together per game together in 2016 than Wall & Beal.
4. Beal is shooting better when he isn't sharing the court with Wall this season
Playing with the second unit has forced Beal to be more assertive and even though he has less scoring options around him with Wall out and he isn't passing as much, he's still doing quite well without Wall.
It's worth noting that most of the minutes Beal has played without Wall have come against other team's second units. There's a good chance Beal's shooting numbers would not hold up if Wall were to get injured and he became the focal point of the starting lineup.
This should be treated as an encouraging sign, rather than some sort of an indication that Wall and Beal can't coexist. If Beal can't develop into an excellent distributor, developing into a scorer who can create his own shot without Wall's help still accomplishes the end goal of alleviating the pressure on Wall to do everything. Now, it's up to Randy Wittman and the Wizards to find the best way to optimize the new skills Beal is bringing to the table to maximize Washington's offense.