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2020-21 Wizards Player Evaluations: Bradley Beal had an elite offensive season. Can he focus more on better shot distribution and defense next season?

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The players section of our evaluation series finishes with the Wizards’ franchise cornerstone.

Philadelphia 76ers v Washington Wizards - Game Four
Bradley Beal had a great season scoring the basketball, but he can always find a place to improve. On defense.
Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Our Washington Wizards player evaluation series concludes with Bradley Beal. We’ll have two more evaluations for now-former Head Coach Scott Brooks and General Manager Tommy Sheppard will come out soon after.


How did Beal perform last season?

When a player makes the All-NBA third team for the first time in his career and leads his team to the playoffs despite spotting opponents 10 games ... I’d say that player had a good season.

Anyway, Beal averaged 31.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game in 60 appearances. He made a career-high 48.5 percent of his shots, largely due to his 53.5 percent shooting efficiency from two-point range. Beal even shot 88.9 percent from the free throw line, a career-high.

When it’s all said and done, Beal was a scoring machine all last season who continued to increase his national profile this season, not just with a playoff berth, but also with his All-Star selection where he was named a starter.

Strengths

As you can see above, it is Beal’s shot chart from the 2020-21 NBA season. As you can see, the biggest strength from this shot chart and his strengths is that Beal has become a reliable scoring option from nearly anywhere on the court.

For a guard who is 6’3, that’s not easy, given that Beal took 559 of his 1,382 shots from close range. Also, Beal has become a better close to midrange shooter, in particular from the right hand side.

Also, another strength for Beal this past season was that he made incremental improvements with his offense. As mentioned previously, his free throw shooting was a career-high 88.9 percent. And his two-point shooting improved from last season, all of which add to a couple extra points here and there.

Weaknesses

While Beal has become a great volume scorer, his shot distribution is a bit too analytics-unfriendly. So let’s compare his shot chart and distribution against that of Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry.

Beal and Curry both played about the same number of games (60 for Beal and 63 for Curry) and shot the ball a similar amount of times (1,382 for Beal and 1,365 for Curry). So these shot charts are a good way for us to compare their shot distributions and efficiencies relative to the league.

While Beal takes more shots from midrange and toward the basket, Curry takes a lot more threes, where he attempted 801 while Beal only took 373. Since Curry made 337 threes while Beal only made 130, it’s no surprise that this disparity made the difference in the scoring race (Beal scored 1,878 total points while Curry scored 2,015).

I’m not trying to compare Beal to Curry as a shooter ... and that’s unfair because we know who the better shooter is. But Beal’s shot distribution and efficiency are starting to mirror a player from the 2000s when midrange iso ball was the craze.

Next season, Beal should focus a bit more on taking more spot-up three-point shots as he did earlier in his career, and also when his efficiency was routinely at or above 40 percent. Beal’s history as a three point shooter is still there and I think he can reach those marks again with a new head coach coming to town pretty soon.

The other weakness Beal had this season was his on-off stats on defense. According to Cleaning the Glass, defenses allowed opponents to score 6.7 more points per 100 possession when Beal was on the floor which ranks him in the 8th percentile among other wing players. The only Wizards player with a worse rating was Chandler Hutchison who played much fewer minutes. While Beal’s net offensive rating was 10.7 points per 100 possessions (97th percentile among wing players), the poor defense ate up most of the gains from his elite offense.

Beal isn’t necessarily a bad defender to his core and he can be a net positive on both ends of the floor. In the 2016-17 season, he was in the 97th percentile for net offensive rating and the 73rd percentile for net defensive rating. That was when the Wizards won the Southeast Division and advanced to the second round of the playoffs against the Boston Celtics.


What’s next for Beal?

2021 USA Basketball Training Camp: All-Access
Our Olympian!
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

In the short term, Beal will play for the USA Basketball men’s national team in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. I’ll have another post on the Olympics later today. Beal is the first active Wizards player to be on the men’s team for an Olympic tournament and we expect him to be one of the key contributors for a team that’s coming off a disappointing 7th place finish in the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

As for his time with the Wizards, Beal will enter the first year of a two-year extension he signed in October 2019 where he will make $34.5 million. He can then exercise or opt-out of a player option for the 2022-23 season. Washington’s performance next season will likely be a big factor as to whether he exercises the option, or at least opts out to sign another extension with the Wizards.