With the 2019-20 NBA regular season almost certainly over, end of year evaluations can begin. For the Wizards and Bradley Beal, the most interesting one is being conducted by All-NBA voters.
In financial terms, it doesn’t make much difference. The extension Beal signed last summer pays him the maximum through 2022-23, if he picks up the player option on the final year. Depending on the league’s financial situation, he could decline that option and sign a new deal as a 10+ year veteran. That would qualify him for a starting salary worth 35% of the salary cap, which is basically what he would get with a supermax extension.
In other words, this is about bragging rights and history.
Does Beal deserve the honor? There’s a case to be made that he does, but there are also good arguments that he doesn’t. And it depends on other factors like what voters emphasize and how players are classified.
The main arguments in favor: Beal scored a gazillion points on high usage and solid efficiency. He was the team’s biggest offensive weapon and his output elevated the Wizards from abject bottom feeder to the...well...not-so-lofty heights of 9th place in the East, five-and-a-half games out of the playoffs. But they’d likely have been among the worst teams in history without him. Plus, for about a third of the season, his overall performance was that of a fringe league MVP candidate.
The main arguments against: he got off to a ho-hum start, the team was bad, the team defense was terrible, and Beal’s individual defense and defensive effort was putrid for the first half of the season. There have been some “hollow stats” rumblings because the team wasn’t much good, but a) that’s covered in the “the team was bad” argument, and b) it’s a crap argument anyway. Defenses loaded up on Beal — they doubled, blitzed, trapped and gimmicked him — and he still went for 30+ per game and set a career high in assists.
Before I go deeper, what does All-NBA actually mean? To me, it’s intended to reward the best players in the current season. In other words, it’s not questions like “who would you pick to start a franchise?” or “which player is ‘better’? in some hypothetical world where we break down the relative merits of each player’s skill set and imagine how good they’d be on a hypothetical team. For me, what matters is the actual performance on the floor this season.
Leaving positions aside — they’re less relevant in the modern NBA than they’ve ever been — was Beal’s performance among the 15 best this season? In my analysis, he’s at least in the conversation. Looking at total production using my Player Production Average metric, he ranks 17th. He missed a few games due to injury, but then so did some of the guys he’s just barely trailing.
That said, the difference in total values between Beal and the players a little ahead of him — Jayson Tatum, Rudy Gobert, Khris Middleton, Ben Simmons, and Trae Young are close enough that reasonable minds can differ. If someone wanted to nudge Beal up and demote a couple from the list above, I wouldn’t argue much.
For example, even with the atrocious defense, Young’s total value squeaks in slightly higher than Beal’s. They produced comparable scoring on comparable efficiency, but Young had 71% more assists per possession and he played 67 additional minutes. Watch them and you’ll think they’re both terrific on offense and challenged on defense — probably Young being more challenged. The numbers are basically saying their overall impact is about the same.
My pick between the two would be Beal, in part because during his borderline MVP-level string of games (more on that below) his defense was decent. Young was consistently bad on that end all year.
Looking at things per possession (with a requirement of 1500 total minutes), Beal ranks 22nd. On a per game basis, he’s 14th.
Of course, because of antiquated rules, position matters when it comes to All-NBA. The only centers more productive than Beal this season were Nikola Jokic and Rudy Gobert, but voting rules require three centers on the ballot.
Cutting the field to only guards, here where Beal ranks, according to my analysis:
- Total production: 7th
- Per possession: 8th (Kemba Walker jumps ahead of him and Young)
- Per game: 7th
The chatter among All-NBA voters indicates Beal will also be contending with Kyle Lowry and Russell Westbrook. I can see the argument for Lowry though I don’t think he merits All-NBA this season, but Westbrook was awful to start the season and then had a great month. I don’t think that’s enough.
Beal is so close to All-NBA status that it could ultimately hinge on where the league decides to classify certain players on the ballot.
For example, is Bam Adebayo a forward or a center? He starts at PF because the Heat for some reason like to begin games with Meyers Leonard at C, but he plays a lot of minutes in the middle.
The same question could be asked about Anthony Davis.
And just what the heck is Giannis?
Of greatest relevance to Beal are Lebron James and Jimmy Butler. James was the Los Angeles Lakers point guard this season, but he’s traditionally been a forward. If the league sticks with that, guards move up and forwards move down. Butler plays both guard and forward for the Heat and could arguably be dropped in either bucket.
If the league designates both as forwards, Beal is arguably the league’s sixth best guard. If either (or both) are guards, Beal’s on the outside — at least in my analysis.
What of Beal’s sensational post-All-Star game binge? It was indeed sensational (check out his performance ekg, below), but in my analysis, wasn’t quite enough.
The chart tells an interesting story about Beal’s season. The first eight games were...not good, for the most part. Seven of the eight rated below average. The one “above average” performance was spectacular — 46 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists (a 417 PPA — average is 100) in Washington’s preposterous 157-156 loss to the Houston Rockets.
After that 8th game, Beal abruptly played better and his overall rating went up, getting as high as 163 before dropping again. When he missed seven of eight games in December and January, his PPA was 137. Decent, but not close to All-NBA caliber.
When he came back, his first three games were crappy (PPA 46 against Utah), excellent (PPA 250 at Chicago) and bad (PPA 61 at Toronto). His fourth game was okay (PPA 126 vs. Detroit).
And then he went supernova — seven consecutive games with a PPA of 216 or better. His PPA for that stretch was 272. The top score this season is a 286, which belongs to Giannis.
Beal didn’t stay in the stratosphere the rest of the way, but was still excellent. Over the final 22 games of the season, he had just four that rated worse than average. For that stretch, his PPA was 202, which (if he did it all season) would put him among the 10 most productive players in the league.
If Beal can find a way to produce at the level for a full season, the Wizards will finally have something close to the elite performer they’ve needed for decades, the team will do a lot more winning, and there’ll be no question whether Beal deserves All-Star or All-NBA accolades.
So, who’s on my All-NBA ballot?
- G — LeBron James
- G — James Harden
- F — Giannis Antetokounmpo
- F — Anthony Davis
- C — Nikola Jokic
- G — Luka Doncic
- G — Damian Lillard
- F — Kawhi Leonard
- F — Jimmy Butler
- C — Rudy Gobert
- G — Chris Paul
- G — Ben Simmons
- F — Khris Middleton
- F — Jayson Tatum
- C — Bam Adebayo
If the league designates Lebron and Butler as forwards, then Tatum gets bumped, Lillard goes to first team, Paul to second and Beal is third.
If they make Adebayo a forward, he jumps ahead of Middleton and Tatum, and I’d probably give the third team spot to Karl-Anthony Towns even though he played just barely more than half his team’s games.