Leading up to this year, it was all but a forgone conclusion that Giannis Antetokounmpo would be the Most Improved Player this season. And you can’t blame people for penciling him in for the award. The Greek Freak has improved in all the important statistical categories year after year since entering the NBA, and made his first All-Star game appearance this season.
Nikola Jokic has also gotten consideration in recent weeks. He’s putting up very impressive numbers in just his second NBA season. But all of the NBA pundits continue to leave out one Wizards player in this MIP discussion; and no, it’s not Otto Porter.
Yes, it took him until his fifth NBA season, but Bradley Beal has finally come into his own and is just as deserving of the award this season.
After four injury-plagued seasons, Beal is on pace to play in the most games in a season since his rookie season. Chalk it up to health and conditioning, getting in the weight room, or just pure luck.
Voters probably won’t give his health too much thought when choosing a winner, but for the first time in five years, Wizards fans don’t have to worry if Beal will be playing on any given night or sitting out due to a nagging injury.
His shooting percentages are up, even though he’s taking more shots
Beal is shooting a career-best 48.5 percent from the field this year as well as 40.9 percent (tied for best of his career) from three-point range.
He has become much more aggressive in seeking out his three-point shot this season, averaging 7.3 long balls per game, but it hasn’t hurt his efficiency from deep or any other area on the floor. Beal is shooting above the league average in three of the five shot zones and is on pace to take twice as many three-point attempts this year than he did last year. Look at how his shot chart has evolved since he entered the NBA:
He worked diligently this offseason on creating his own shot as well as attacking the hole and it’s paid off as the ways in which he can score the basketball have evolved the most. Beal no longer settles for long twos as he’s now able to get to the rim and finish.
Truly impressed by this Bradley Beal maneuvering around traffic cones. #Wizards pic.twitter.com/hxiDOidvfZ— Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It) March 9, 2017
Now that he can drive, defenders are stuck in a bind. If you give him room, he can rise up and shoot over the defender. If you crowd Beal, he can take the defender off the dribble and finish at the hole or stop and pop in the midrange.
Not to mention, defenses now overcompensate on the sharpshooter and his teammates are now the beneficiaries of some easy baskets.
All of this happens because @RealDealBeal23 is a max player. Green anticipates Beal to curl off screen. Morris slips it for an easy dunk. pic.twitter.com/8XLfKSlRYs— Alan Jenkins (@AJenks24) March 1, 2017
Beal doesn’t get the assist for this basket but because the defense overcompensates on him, it’s just as good as an assist and makes the Wizards that much harder to defend.
Lastly, the variety of ways in which he can score the basketball has turned him into the Wizards’ best player in crunch time (with all due respect to John Wall). Look no further than the game against the Kings on Friday night. Beal hit clutch basket after clutch basket with 21 of his 38 points coming in the fourth quarter and overtime periods.
In seasons past, the Wizards would have probably lost that game. But because Beal has elevated his game and is able to carry the team for stretches, they were able to get the win.
Beal’s a facilitator now
Beal is averaging a career-high 3.6 assists per game and is finding the ball in his hands more often than not. He has become a better setup guy and coach Scott Brooks sometimes will use him as the primary ball-handler on the floor.
Now that the defense must respect Beal’s ability to rise up and shoot or attack the rim, not to mention his improved handles; this also results in easy buckets for his teammates.
Bradley Beal can pass too. Here's his 4th assist to set up Markieff Morris. #WizPacers pic.twitter.com/rijRQOeCnA— CSN Wizards (@CSNWizards) February 11, 2017
As we know, John Wall is tasked with getting the offense in a set play and setting up his teammates. But if Beal can continue to improve his playmaking and passing abilities, that will only help the team in the long haul and will take some of the burdens off of Wall’s shoulders.
The Wizards are winning
Unlike the Bucks and the Nuggets, the Wizards are well above .500. Yes, this is an individual award, but there’s something to be said for a player whose personal improvement makes the guys around him better.
Most fans know better than to overreact to some headline performances in November in December. Players tend to make their claims for awards in March. Just look at how Kawhi Leonard made his MVP case last week with his clutch plays against the Rockets. In the same way, Beal has eclipsed the 20-point mark in 13 of the last 14 games and 25 of the last 33 since the calendar flipped to 2017. His case has gotten stronger as the season has progressed.
He doesn’t offer the flashy dunks that Antetokounmpo will give you and isn’t a threat for a triple-double like Jokic. But if you’re looking for a player who’s elevated all aspects of his game and is one of the main reasons why the Wizards are one of the hottest teams in the NBA, look no further than Bradley Beal.