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Roundtable: Can Bradley Beal prove he's worth a max contract?

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Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

In the wake of Friday's report that the Wizards are set to offer Bradley Beal a five-year max deal to stay in Washington, we convened some of our writers (Nick BilkaMichael SykesAlan JenkinsQuinten Rosborough, and Jake Whitacre) to share their reactions and discuss where the team goes from here.

The Wizards have been criticized in the past for bidding against themselves to keep players. Is this another case of that or are the Wizards evaluating Beal's market correctly?

Bilka: I would say that it’s nearly certain that Beal would command max or near max money in restricted free agency. Even if they could scare teams off by threatening to match any contract, they would risk letting other teams set the terms of his contract or freezing the Wizards chance of using a chunk of their cap space on available free agents.

Some will say Beal isn’t a "max" player, but I think when people think of max players they think of players like Anthony Davis or Damian Lillard. If we think of those players as comparables, Beal clearly isn’t on their level. But compared to other recent max or near max players like Gordon Hayward, Reggie Jackson, Enes Kanter, or Tristan Thompson, there is a credible argument for Beal to get money in the post rookie deal max range.

Sykes: There's no question that Bradley Beal is a max player with the league's cap rising and, literally, almost every team having cap space. Beal would get a max deal from a team just off of potential alone. At just 22-years-old, Beal is already one of the better shooters in the NBA and has shined for Washington in the playoffs.

Teams would easily pay max just to take a chance on Beal similar to the way the Phoenix Suns were willing to do with Eric Gordon when he hit free agency. It's all about potential in this league and Beal has that.

Jenkins: The Wizards are evaluating the market correctly. Beal has the tools and potential to be an annual All-Star in this league. If the Wizards don't take a gamble on him, someone will.

Rosborough: It sucks, I guess, but there doesn’t seem to be a realistic scenario in which the Wizards avoid paying Beal the max. The Wizards understood the market well, and realized that no mystery team was going to do them a favor and put a reasonably-priced contract on the table for them to match. On the plus side, with Beal committed to the team, the Wizards should have a much more enticing roster to offer free agents this summer.

Whitacre: Unlike some past instances, I feel comfortable saying several other teams would have offered Beal a max deal if he went out on the market looking for a deal. Furthermore, I think there are plenty of other teams who would have made the same decision with Beal if they were in Washington's position.

If you wanted to be super-critical, there's probably an argument to be made that if the Wizards had put together a more developed core perhaps he could have been brought along more gradually and suppressed his value a touch, but at the end of the day, teams are always going to invest big in young, proven talent and that's certainly the case here.

On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being no confidence and 10 being total confidence, how confident are you that Bradley Beal will be able live up to his contract?

Bilka: 5. Beal certainly has shown flashes of potential in the playoffs and at times during the regular season, but I remain skeptical of his ability to become the consistent All-Star level player that many of us foresaw after his first two seasons. Less worrying to me than the injuries is the overall struggles to improve his production and efficiency over the course of his time in Washington. Injuries certainly play a part in that, but his poor shot selection and inability to get to the foul line have hampered his ability to be an efficient scorer. He’s shown improvements on that front in the past year, but not enough to see how he becomes the dependable #1 scoring option the Wizards need at this price.

Sykes: 6. Beal has definitely shown that he's capable of being the Wizards' leading scorer. It's all about shot selection and efficiency from this point on for him. Both of those are coachable points and Scott Brooks is a coach known for development. Brooks should help Beal get to his spots and play up to his potential.

Jenkins: 4. If he gets a max deal, the expectation should be playing 70+ games per year, annual All-Star appearances, and leading the team when necessary to ensure of playoff runs (Klay Thompson is creating the blueprint). The Wizards must become a threat in the Eastern Conference year after year and Beal's play has to be a big part of the reason for that. I can see it happening but his injury problems continue to give me doubts.

Rosborough: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ /10. I’m not entirely sure what "live up to his contract means" but I think by next offseason his salary should better reflect what players who produce at his level are making. $22 million seems like a lot now, but like Gortat's 5 year/$60 million dollar deal, Brad's contract should age quite nicely into a salary cap that could be around $110 million once it expires. Can Brad average ~70 games a year? Who knows, but if he doesnt, it will be hard to see this deal as anything other than a mistake.

Whitacre: 7. Honestly, I think some of his injury concerns are overblown. The repetitive stress reactions are troublesome, but far more manageable than something like an Achilles tear. Hopefully with time the team can find the right strategy to allow him to maximize the amount of time he can play each season. Furthermore, as Beal gets a better feel for the game, he should get better at avoiding some of the drives to the rim that put him at greater risk for injury like this one from last season that forced him to miss time:

Do the locker room dynamics of the team change next season if Bradley Beal is the team's highest-paid player? Should they?

Bilka: It shouldn’t and I don't think it will. People will point to John Wall’s comments last year about Reggie Jackson’s contract, but that misses the larger point that Wall was making if you read the full context of the quote. Wall was pointing out that the Wizards were criticized in many quarters for giving Wall a max contract extension of 5 years, $85 million after year 5, the new reality created by television money means that players who are less accomplished than Wall will now be making the same or more money than he is now. "I guess they came in at the right time. That new CBA (note, it’s the same CBA, just with much more money) kicked in and they're good now."

He’s aware that the reason players are getting more money is because of the rising salary cap, so it’s hard to see exactly why he would blame Beal for taking advantage of that. Given that Wall probably sees himself as a top 10-15 player, it’s hard to imagine how the Wizards could build a better team in the current market without potentially paying players he would view as inferior more money. For Wall to want otherwise would be just Wall cutting off his nose to spite his face, and John strikes me as smarter than that.

Sykes: This isn't really a big concern. John Wall should be happy for his teammate and the success he's having. Wall has been quick to point out how essential Beal is to the team's success and how much better they play when he's on the floor.

At this point, Wall just has to understand that timing is everything with this money and his time will come soon enough. It's a bit disconcerting to hear Wall talking about how his popularity hasn't risen and how he isn't recognized, and it's all true. But should the team win, the recognition will come. And, frankly, if they win it won't matter.

Jenkins: Nope. This is John Wall's team.

Rosborough: $120 million dollars will change the dynamics of any situation, but John's a smart guy. He knows that this is his team, and that that sweet, sweet Klutch Sports endorsment money will start to flow his way any minute now. I think too much has been made of John’s comments on Reggie Jackson. He's not stupid, he understands why Reggie gets paid so much, I think he's just frustrated that he wasn’t born a few years later. Shoot, if he’s mad now just wait until he see’s how much Otto’s making in a few years.

Whitacre: It shouldn't change who the leader is. Wall has been around longer and has a stronger brand around the NBA. If Wall feels disrespected or slighted that Beal's making more money thanks to the rising cap, that's just an issue he needs to address on his end, it's not something Beal or the team need to apologize for.

However, Beal should start taking steps this summer to be more of a leader in the locker room moving forward. His sharp words after a disappointing performance in Sacramento this season were a good step in the right direction. Hopefully he continues to build on that.

Other than staying healthy, what does Bradley Beal need to work on most this summer in order to justify his max contract?

Bilka: Getting to the foul line and converting when he gets there. For a three point shooter with Beal’s accuracy and textbook form, Beal is a surprisingly pedestrian foul shooter. Of the 53 players in NBA history that have shot over 500 career three-pointers and made over 39.5 percent, Beal ranks just 43rd in free throw percentage at 78..1 percent. More concerning than Beal’s struggles at the foul line are his struggles to get there in the first place. While Beal did make minor improvements on this front this past season, averaging a career-high 3.2 free throw attempts per game, there are few players in NBA history that have managed to score 20 plus points a game getting to the line as rarely as Beal did last season.

Sykes: Shot. Selection. Beal's shot charts have been ugly throughout his career. His fixation with long-twos has hampered him for his entire career and, if he cuts down on them without completely removing them from his game he can be so much better.

Jenkins: Free-throw shooting. Now that Beal is starting to attack the hole more, it's resulting in more free-throw attempts. He's just not knocking them down. He's shooting an underwhelming 78 percent from the charity stripe for his career. For a knockdown shooter, there's no excuse for that number to be below 80 percent. And in actuality, it should probably be in the 85-90 percent range.

Rosborough: Free throws, free throws, free throws. Brad’s hovered around free throws per game for his entire career, and that’s just not enough for the top-flight wing scorer the Wizards desperately need him to be. He’s had the tendancy to disappear entire games at a time, and the ability to will himself to the freethrow line should allow him to contribute to the team even when his shot isn’t falling.

Whitacre: For me, it's still playmaking. Beal made some nice strides this season in learning how to create his own shot. But now as he starts to command more attention from opposing defenses, he has to get better at learning when to pass out before he gets caught in tight situations. Even if he doesn't improve his assist numbers greatly, just getting better at recognizing when to pull out of a drive before he winds up in a bad spot is a move in the right direction, and one that should help improve the team's offense.

Assuming Kevin Durant is off the table, which max-level player would fit the best alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal for the future?

Bilka: I am not totally sold on any of them (minus KD), but Hassan Whiteside seems like the ideal mix of production, playing style and youth to play alongside Wall and Beal. He could replace Gortat’s production in the pick and roll, where his explosive athleticism might put more pressure on defenses than it did in Miami when paired with Wall’s superior passing ability. Defensively he has a tendency to chase the home run block a little too much, but teams have to respect his ability to protect the basket. As much as I like what Gortat has brought to the team, the prospect of a younger more athletic upgrade is tempting. There are concerns about Whiteside's maturity, but with his talent it’s a risk you’d have to take.

The major problem for the Wizards is that he will probably stay in Miami, and even if he doesn’t, more glamorous spots like Los Angeles will come calling.

Sykes: There are a number of free agents available that fit extremely well with this backcourt. Although Marcin Gortat is already in place, Al Horford would be a great fit with the Wizards.

Horford turns 30 later this week, but his game should age extremely well. He's able to space the floor, is a great screener and an amazing defender both positionally and athletically. He only averaged 15.2 points per game last season with 7.3 rebounds, but he had an offensive rating of 103.8 and a 56 percent true shooting mark. He brings defensive versatility and toughness to a team that badly needs it.

Jenkins: I think Nicolas Batum would be a great addition for this team. He reminds me of Trevor Ariza with better offensive arsenal. The Wizards lacked an elite wing defender this past season who could guard the three-point line. Without a 3-D player, the Wizards have been exposed over the past two seasons with opposing small forwards having big games against the Wizards. Batum can fill that void.

Rosborough: Nerlens Noel. He’s not getting paid the max yet, but he’s a top-10 player in blocks, steals, defensive rating, and defensive win shares, and his quickness would transform the way the Wizards play on both ends of the court.

Whitacre: I'm still not convinced Washington's cap space is a big asset this summer, at least in the traditional sense. With the rising cap, teams will be able to keep pretty much any player they want to keep this summer, with a few small exceptions, and Washington has never been a top destination for big free agents.

With that in mind, my guess would be the Wizards will work the phones hard to flip their cap space to someone for a star player they no longer want. Blake Griffin would be intriguing if the Clippers decide to blow things up, age-wise he's entering his prime just like Wall, but he'd face skill overlap issues with him just like he did with Chris Paul.

Carmelo Anthony would make a lot of sense in Washington, because he'd instantly solve the Wizards' issues scoring in late-shot clock situations and he'd give Washington lots of versatility at the 3 and 4 spot. He'd have to waive his no-trade clause, which I can't really see him doing unless the Knicks really mess something up, but Washington should at least pick up the phone to gauge his interest.