Watching Bradley Beal average over 30 points per game over each of the past two seasons has been fun for me. Based on what I had read leading up to the 2012 NBA draft, I expected Beal would be a prolific scoring guard, but I would not have expected >30 ppg, especially in a season where he had another high-scoring NBA player on his team. One thing that Bradley Beal has done better than most NBA players is evolve his offensive game to score more points.
Is he the most prolific scoring guard in NBA franchise history? If Beal finishes his NBA playing days with the Wizards, I am pretty sure that will be one good description of Beal. When I think about the franchise's history, there have been other guards who were top scorers for their team. The others were with the Bullets/Wizards for only part of their career. In the cases of Phil Chenier and Jeff Malone, a large portions of their career was with the Bullets. Others had one or two high-scoring seasons while passing through Baltimore-Washington DC.
Comparing players across decades has limitations. The games rules have changed, so a guard who averaged 20 ppg prior to the NBA adopting a three-point shot might have averaged more ppg based on the number of FGs they would have made from behind that line. The pace of play and amount of scoring has varied over time. When I selected 13 seasons during which the Bullets/Wizards had a prolific scoring guard, the average points per game for the team during those seasons ranged from 91.2 to 116.6. And the average ppg for all teams during those seasons ranged from 91.6 to 112.3. So, a guard who averaged 20 ppg during a season when teams averaged 91 points per game (during a season shortened by an owner/player dispute, when the game was played with lower pace and much more physical contact) was in his day a prolific scorer.
I looked at guards who played primary PG as well as guards who played primarily SG. Bradley Beal is the leader of today's Wizards. And Jeff Malone played seven consecutive seasons for the Bullets, spanning the days of Jeff Ruland to the days of Bernard King. So, Beal and Malone have two rows on the table below. But I only picked one season for each of the other 9 guards; that being season that I regarded as their best with the Bullets/Wizards.
I place higher value on players who produce when they play and also are available to play in all or most of the games. Thus, the descending sort order is from the guard who scored the highest percentage of the team's total points during that regular season. That is why Beal 2018-19, who played all 82 games is above Beal 2020-21, who missed 12 of the team's 72 games.
Gilbert Arenas 2005-06 is at the top. We can talk about many different things about that season for Arenas versus last season for Beal. I will highlight a few that support my opinion Gilbert had the most impressive season of scoring for the franchise.
- Arenas averaged 29.3 ppg during a season in which the Wizards averaged 101.7 ppg and the NBA team average ppg was only 97. In relative terms, Gilbert scored more points than Beal.
- Gilbert was a workhorse, playing in 80 of the 82 games that season, and for an average or 42.6 minutes per game.
- This was the Arenas/Antawn Jamison/Caron Butler Wizards, so Gilbert was not the only high-scoring player on the team. Jamison averaged 20.5 ppg and Butler averaged 17.6 ppg.
- The 2005-06 Wizards were not a great team, but they did win more than half their games, which I consider to be evidence that Gilbert's scoring contributed to wins.
I know that the presence of other effective scorers cuts both ways, in that having the threat of Jamison and Butler made it harder for a defense to concentrate on Arenas, versus a player who is the only big scorer on their team will tend to average more than when they are teamed with other big scorers. For example, Alex English went from being a fairly high scoring 27-year-old to league leading scorer after David Thompson got hurt and Dan Issel got old.
On the other hand, the NBA had another guard who far surpassed Gilbert in 2005-06 - Kobe Bryant averaged 35.4 ppg. Kobe also played big minutes (41 per game) in 80 of the Lakers' regular season games. Both the Lakers and the Wizards lost their first-round playoff series following their season.
How about some of the other names on this list? We often talk about Arenas. Quite often we remember Phil Chenier or Jeff Malone. Those who have more interest in NBA history often think about the great Earl "The Pearl" Monroe. But what about Archie Clark? - I don't read about him or hear him get mentioned very often. But "Shake and Bake" Archie Clark came to Baltimore for two seasons, averaged 25.1 points as the leading scorer for the 1971-72 Bullets, and dropped 40 points on former Bullets player Walt Bellamy and the Hawks.
The 1971-72 season was confusing one for Bullets fans young and old. There is nothing new in the NBA! Earl Monroe wasn't happy with his salary and forced a trade early in the season. That was too bad for the Bullets. But they managed to get two decent players (Mike Riordan and Dave Stallworth) and some cash for Monroe. And they had already traded Fred Carter and Kevin Loughery for Archie Clark.
And Clark wasn't the only scorer on his team. When Archie Clark came over to that Bullets team after starting the season with the Sixers. Archie Clark led that Bullets team in scoring, but Jack Marin averaged 22 ppg, Phil Chenier was off to a good start, and Mike Riordan and Wes Unseld each provided some scoring (and many other things).
Note that among the guards in the last 6 rows of this table, only John Wall 2016-17 was the leading scorer on that season's Bullets/Wizards team. Wall was tied with Bradley Beal at 23.1 ppg, and he played 78 games and Beal only 77 games that season. The Wizards have had several of the best scoring forwards in the NBA, including Elvin Hayes, Bernard King, Michael Jordan (who played SF alongside SG Richard "Rip" Hamilton), and Chris Webber.