Wizards guard Bradley Beal has been on a scoring binge unprecedented in franchise history.
Yes, I can hear the chorus of “Walt Bellamy” shouts, but while Bellamy was terrific, he played in a much faster-paced era. When he set the current franchise record for consecutive games scoring 25 or more points, the league averaged 107.7 field goal attempts and 37.1 free throw attempts per game.
This season, the NBA is averaging 88.9 field goal attempts and 22.9 free throw attempts. While the league is speeding up and efficiency is higher than recent eras, the pace of play is at least 25% slower than it was in Bellamy’s era.
In other words, what Beal’s been doing over the last month is something special.
Through the first half of the season, Beal was good enough — at least on offense — to warrant serious consideration for the All-Star team. At the halfway point, he was averaging 27.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 6.4 assists per 36 minutes.
His .495 effective field goal percentage was below average, but he did a good job of getting to the free throw line and setting up teammates so his overall offensive efficiency was average. That was acceptable for a high 32.5% usage rate, but not sufficient to make anyone with sense think he was an elite offensive weapon.
Defense was worse. Various metrics had him rated among the NBA’s worst defenders. While the defense part of my metric, Player Production Average (PPA), had him solidly below average but not among the true defensive dreck, his poor defense was enough of a drag that his PPA was a fairly pedestrian 136. (In PPA, 100 is average and higher is better.)
All that’s in the rearview mirror, however.
Since the 29-point loss to the Raptors January 17, Beal has averaged 36.0 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per 36 minutes. His shooting has been outstanding (.560 effective field goal percentage) and his efficiency and usage have shot up together — a 117 offensive rating on a 38.2% usage rate. That’s top-shelf offensive production.
His PPA over those 17 games is a 202, which would put him in elite company if he’d done it all season. Here’s the list of players this season with a PPA of 200 or better:
- James Harden
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
- Anthony Davis
- Luka Doncic
- Jimmy Butler
- Kawhi Leonard
- Lebron James
If Beal keeps this up, he could shoulder his way into All-NBA discussion. Through the first half of the season, the Wizards were -7.0 per 100 possessions when he was on the floor. Over the past 17 games, they’ve been +2.4.
Like the All-Star conversation, Beal isn’t there yet for All-NBA. The meh performances earlier in the season count too so he’ll need to sustain this level of play to merit inclusion. And, the defense matters as well. While it can be reasonably argued that he’s not among the NBA’s very worst defenders this season, he’s still been a weak spot on the NBA’s worst defensive team.
Plus, as strange as it may sound, he’s still in “this could just be a hot streak” territory. Many players have turned in an outstanding month or two only to drop off when defenses adjust or they’re simply unable to sustain the intensity required to be an elite performer.
That’s not what this feels like, though. Beal’s scoring appears to be a synthesis of skills, knowledge, decision-making and physical tools — the kind of synthesis that happens when a player is reaching peak performance. His agility, ball-handling and shot-making are enabling him to manipulate defenses, attack even when they’re ready for him, and produce points from all areas of the floor. He’s a tough cover and shows little sign of relenting.
Regardless of whether he’s able to sustain this kind of production over the course of a full season, it’s an entertaining show in a largely forgettable season. Beal makes the Wizards worth watching, and fans who tuned out earlier in the year are missing one of the great shows in DC basketball history.