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Discordant Discourse: Our differing opinions on Bradley Beal’s performance this season

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Here are our opinions on the Washington Wizards guard’s scoring, whether “Everybody Eats” is still a thing with him, and his defense.

Detroit Pistons v Washington Wizards
Wizards guard Bradley Beal.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

We know that Bradley Beal is gifted at scoring. For purposes of this article, we seek to glean whether his scoring is dynamic and truly elite or a product of an uptick in NBA scoring. Because...

  • Some say he’s overrated, having huge scoring numbers without wins to show.
  • Others say he’s already better than Gilbert ‘Hibachi’ Arenas
  • Some say we never criticize him.
  • Others say he’s looking off teammates, choosing to pound the ball instead.
  • A small minority say it’s better to trade him instead of letting him waste his prime in basketball purgatory.

Also, what better time to take stock of a player’s performance than when he’s sidelined with an injury?

Here’s our say:

Scoring

Albert Lee: Beal is an elite scorer. While he may be the NBA’s leading scorer because of a lack of talent on the Wizards, Beal is still averaging a career-high overall field goal percentage (48.5 percent) despite a career-low 33.8 percent shooting percentage from the three-point line. Beal is also making over 90 percent of his free throws this season. So in general, teams are focusing on Beal more but his production is increasing and his efficiency as a whole hasn’t gone down too much. Kevin will certainly have more data to dispute or corroborate.

Ron Oakes-Cunningham: Quick anecdote. The last time I attended a live NBA game, purchasing overly priced brew to wash down the Wizards losing, Brad Beal joined Christ Bryant on the list of players to record consecutive 50-point games on back-to-back nights. What I remember most is the way Brad took over in the fourth. His game had the air of can’t miss! What I mean by that is for every shot he put up his defender, Wesley Matthews, the entire arena, and I expected the ball to go in. It was an elite performance. And there are only a few players who are in that unmissable air: Steph, Klay, Kyrie, KD, and Dame. Joining them on that night as their peer was Brad Beal.

Jumping back to the present, Brad began the season in the same air. His scintillating December and January helped him to pace the NBA scoring list. In most of the games, the Wizards stratagem was to go down by double-digits before an activated Brad Beal would help them climb to within striking distance. So in that sense he’s a dynamic scorer, as his scoring stimulates progress, with progress being keeping us in games that we would have been blown out of otherwise. He’s elite.

Now what to make of the fact we’re losing. Does it diminish his greatness? I doubt it. But it does make for one brutal trivia question: Who are the last two NBA regular season scoring champs to miss the playoffs? Answer: WIZARDS DOUBLE: RUSSELL WESTBROOK AND BRADLEY BEAL.

Kevin Broom: Beal’s scoring, of course, is excellent. He’s a terrific offensive weapon, though maybe not quite at Arenas’ level.

Superficially, their offensive ratings (points produced per 100 possessions used) look similar. Arenas had three straight peak seasons with a 115 and Beal’s been at 113 to 114 the past three seasons. But, the league environments are different. Arenas was 8-9 points per 100 possessions more efficient than average; Beal’s been 2-4 points better than average.

I stipulate that Arenas had a better supporting cast. That’s inarguable. When Beal had comparable quality teammates, he had the most efficient offensive season of his career. That was 2016-17 when he played with peak John Wall, a lethal three-point threat in Otto Porter, and a quality screener and finisher in Marcin Gortat. Beal’s offensive rating was about 8 points better than average.

If someone wants to claim Beal’s as good offensively as Arenas this season, I won’t quibble much. He’s leading the league in scoring at above average efficiency. That’s outstanding.

Does everybody still eat?

AL: When Beal and Russell Westbrook both have usage rates over 30 percent, there’s almost no way the Wizards are having an “Everybody Eats” type of offense.

On the surface, Beal and Westbrook are dishing a combined 15.3 assists per game. But as a team, the Wizards are only making 270.4 passes per game, among the least in the NBA. While some NBA playoff caliber teams like the Milwaukee Bucks and Portland Trail Blazers average even fewer passes per game, the Wizards have the fastest pace so perhaps they should be among the league leaders there, even though this is a flawed stat. The Bucks also have a fast pace and fewer passes per game, but they do have a Top-10 defensive rating. The Wizards remain among the worst.

ROC: I don’t agree with the comments that Brad’s game is stunting the growth of the young players or not letting everyone eat. Maybe the losing has caused some to become disenchanted with Brad’s style of play. Because to suggest he pull a reculer pour mieux sauter (translation: step back) is curious. I admit he’s taking up the lion's share of shots and that he can tarry with the ball—yet who specifically is he holding back? Fingers point to Rui and Deni. I want Rui to flourish but Brad isn’t to blame for the fact Rui’s reluctant to shoot threes. Nor is he to blame for Scott Brooks and co failing to create plays that feature Rui in his preferred spots. And as for Deni, it’s uncontroversial to say a non-shooting wing with, by NBA standards, below-average athleticism isn’t quite ready.

Plus what do you guys really think their ceiling is? Seriously. Because there have been but just five all-stars drafted 9th in the past 15 years — Joakim Noah, DeMar DeRozan, Gordon Hayward, Kemba Walker, and Andre Drummond. Rui may get to that level; his scoring is on par but he’ll need to add a few more tools to his kit. As for Deni... he has a long way to go to even be considered an NBA starting-caliber player. And these are the players some accuse Brad of famishing? Plus, the young guys and others had their chance with Brad being out. The (lack of) scoring during his absence redounds to Brad’s credit. So I don’t see it.

Instead, Quinton’s comment from a previous article perfectly summarizes what I see:

“When you have that dominant player who is the focal point, you kinda walk on eggshells. You want to contribute but at the same time you don’t want to take anything off their plate because in the back of your mind it’s, like, “if I take this shot and miss, that could’ve been a shot HE could have taken.”

It’s not that Brad is icing them out; instead, the culprit is their respective psyche, as they and the rest of the team seem to be on tenterhooks when sharing the floor with Brad. To be fair, Brad can be more of a willing passer when the double comes, as that’ll hopefully allow his assists numbers and the young guy's confidence to rise.

KB: I don’t see Beal holding anyone back. As Ron points out, it’s not like he’s surrounded by youngsters ready to do serious work. Hachimura’s efficiency craters when they ask him to do more. Avdija has a poorly developed left hand, doesn’t shoot well, and is (as Ron wrote) a below-average athlete for the NBA.

When I watch the Wizards play, I’m seeing guys who don’t have the skills necessary to succeed in a larger role. They can be kinda okay with guard rails and training wheels, but ask them to jump onto the Harley and it’s just asking for a wreck.

The solution to “developing” these young players isn’t to ask them to do things they’re ill-equipped to do but to get them to put in the work on the basic skills they lack. For Hachimura and Avdija, that’s just about everything — shooting, ball handling, passing, defense, awareness, strength, quickness. In Avdija’s case, I’m not worried about the passing — if he can get his ball handling and shooting to NBA level to unlock the rest of what I think his game could be.

If there’s one thing I want him to improve on offense (aside from three-point shooting), it’s to be a more alert passer. I think he could be averaging close to 10 assists per game.

As for the team passing stats — they’re interesting but don’t mean much. At the bottom: the Portland Trail Blazers, which has the league’s fifth-best offense. Second to last: the Milwaukee Bucks with the sixth-best offense. Then the San Antonio Spurs (19th), Dallas Mavericks (11th), and Wizards (24th).

Let’s flip it the other way — the teams with the most passes. We have: Indiana Pacers (15th), Golden State Warriors (22nd), Philadelphia 76ers (14th), Charlotte Hornets (16th), Los Angeles Lakers (20th).

Ball and player movement seem like good things because we always have some analyst on TV telling us it is, but the truth is there are lots of ways to have a good offense.

Is Beal the worst defender at his position?

AL: He isn’t the best defender by any means. But he’s not Shaqtin a Fool bad either, even though he’s below average. Considering how bad of a position the Wizards are in for their long-term future, it’s a plus that we aren’t seeing Beal (or any other Washington player) every week on the NBA analyst’s weekly lowlight reel.

ROC: The numbers say he’s a mediocre defender at his position. But who have you seen Brad get cooked/exposed by? And to the chagrin of my buddy who admonishes to “never make excuses for grown men,” we have to cut Brad a slice of slack. The man literally has to carry the offensive load EVERY NIGHT just so the team can lose by less than 20. To ask him to become a defensive stopper is a tough ask. Because how many 6’3 lockdown specialists are there in the league? The last count was zero. This isn’t to say he shouldn’t value the defensive end on par with what he does on offense. But it is to say at this point we’re just looking for holes in his game.

KB: Most of the numbers don’t say Beal’s mediocre on defense, they say he’s bad. ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus metric ranks him 111th out of 114 at shooting guard this season. Just looking at simple on/off data, the Wizards are 8.4 points per 100 possessions better defensively when he’s not in the game.

What little tracking I’ve done this season indicates he gives up drives to the middle, dies on screens, and doesn’t close out consistently. Some of that could be fatigue from carrying such a heavy offensive load, but he’s never been a high-quality defender.

Whatever the reason, the subpar defensive performance works to somewhat undermine what he provides on offense. What he brings offensively is so good that it outweighs the defensive ineffectiveness, but that ineffectiveness is part of what keeps him in the “very good but not elite” category.