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Bullets Forever 3-Pt Play Roundtable: Is “Point Beal?” a thing going forward?

The Washington Wizards guard has played more at the point guard position in recent seasons. Should he play more from this position going forward?

Washington Wizards v Chicago Bulls
Should Bradley Beal play more point guard, or is he more of a “lead guard?”
Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

We’d like to introduce everyone to the Bullets Forever 3-Point play. The 3-Point Play is our look at a topic specific to the Wizards on a given week. We’ll have three points on the topic, which are:

  1. A podcast on the subject.
  2. A roundtable where we open the topic up to our contributors.
  3. Lastly, and most importantly, we put the topic out to you, the fans, to see where you stand on the topic.
  4. Let’s get it going with our topic du jour of the week, Point Beal!

With so many players unavailable over the past few weeks, the Wizards tried something new and it was pretty interesting!

Our topic? “Point Beal” – Bradley Beal, the player embedded into the lineup as a shooting guard since he was drafted in 2012, played the point guard position and the results were encouraging. In the four games where Beal was the lead guard, the team had an ORtg of 112.9 and Beal averaged 29.5 points, 10 assists, and 5 rebounds per game. It was almost the next step in an evolution we’ve seen in Beal’s game from and off-ball shooting threat to the on-ball guard he’s been since the John Wall injury.

We thought it was worth asking- should the franchise invest in this? Is this the next step in his career and could the results potentially eclipse the results in his current role? We wanted to ask our group of contributors this question and share their feedback.

Osman Baig: I think what we’ve seen with him as a primary ball-handler and “Point Beal” is interesting enough to at least warrant a larger sample size. I think post ‘16-17 Beal’s best basketball has come with lower usage guards next to him (i.e. Tomas Satoransky). And while he will make mistakes, it almost makes his play-making more organic versus it being forced. The chemistry between he and Dinwiddie has not been good. Beal’s offensive rating with Dinwiddie (and Caldwell Pope) is 103.5, meanwhile, if you remove Dinwiddie and go just Beal and Caldwell-Pope, it’s 112.3.

Lyndie Wood: If you had asked me at the beginning of the year I would have said “absolutely not”, but I’ve come around to the idea. Maybe not point guard in the purest, most traditional sense, but maybe “lead guard” (how former Phoenix Mercury head coach Corey Gaines used to refer to Diana Taurasi in the 2013 WNBA season). Gaines, as you might be aware, became an assistant coach for the Wizards from the 2019-20 through 2020-21 seasons.

I think the key to making this work for the Wizards is they need another secondary play-maker/high-level passer on the wing or in the front-court to ease the pressure on Beal. I think Beal in this role needs someone to help facilitate the offense when he gets stuck without requiring a total reset. That would hopefully take some of the pressure off of him to make the risky passes that can turn him into a turnover machine. Maybe that player could be Rui, but I think I’d prefer to see it come from a consolidation trade for a player like Sabonis.

Part of me wonders if this comes down to Dinwiddie not quite having enough skills as a set-up guy for Beal to feel comfortable off the ball and if he would adjust with another elite playmaker on the floor to a more traditional style of play for an elite shooting guard. That seems like the best-case scenario for maximizing Beal’s talent: Have him hunt shots off the ball more, and use his newer playmaking ability as a bonus. But he’s the best player on the floor by a big margin and I get him wanting to dominate the ball when there isn’t an elite playmaker to set him up. And it’s not like elite playmakers (point guard or otherwise) are easy to come by.

Yanir Rubinstein: I think the impressive thing about Beal is just versatile he has proven to be. I agree that the stretch he played with Satoransky (“Sato”) maximized some of his talents, and it was also when Sato was at his peak. These were two completely different versions of Beal, which again comes back to his versatility.

It’s not obvious which version of Beal is the “better” one because of his versatility. Also, one should not forget that aside from Wall or Sato in those periods, Beal also had Marcin Gortat, who was a (screen) assist machine. The Wizards really need someone that can read plays and screen or even pass in the big man spot if Beal’s skills are to be maximized. I like the idea of Sabonis especially if the Pacers are going to liquidate for cheap.

But my final answer would be: let’s not fix Beal into the PG spot or the SG slot. In my view, it should really be dictated by match-ups. Against some teams you would want him in PG, against others in SG. Against others as a “lead” guard, etc...

Having a roster that allows all these different possibilities would be great. Another thing is that in the NBA teams don’t have a whole lot of time to prepare for the next match-up. So having the different options and utilizing them differently in each game is actually an advantage. For instance, we all remember how in the first 10 games after Wall’s injury the Everybody Eats scheme won then-head coach Scott Brooks Coach of the month. But other teams learned the Wizards’ schemes, adjusted to them and suddenly Sato and the Wizards came down to Earth.

Ben Becker: I don’t relish being a killjoy, but I feel a little like Kate Dibiasky, Jennifer Lawrence’s character in “Don’t Look Up.” I believe there’s some obvious stuff in front of our faces that people just don’t want to believe due to the nature of fandom. The inconvenient truth (see what I did there?) about Beal is that he is what he is regardless of whether he’s initiating the offense or not or if he’s the primary ball-handler.

When you zoom out (always zoom out!) and look at a large representative sample, you can easily see that Beal over the course of his career has proven to be a very good player, but well outside the NBA’s elite. A role tweak isn’t going to change that. Further, his league-adjusted three-point shooting has fallen for six seasons straight to the point that he’s now shooting nearly twenty percent below league from three.

Yes, Beal does some things really well! But when you look at the sum total of him as a basketball player, you arrive at the same point: he’s good, sometimes very good, but not a consistently great player.

I don’t say this to drag Beal. He’s had a wonderful NBA career. But any discussion of Beal has to include his contract status, which looms like the comet from “Don’t Look Up.”

I’m going to try to write about this soon, but the short of it is that the Wizards are about to blow a massive opportunity to build something sustainable for the long term by choosing to not trade a bunch of their in-prime vets who are going to experience age-related decline in the next couple of years. They are much more apt to blow a bunch of assets in pursuit of an incremental improvement likely to give the team upside still far short of contender status. They’ll probably make the mistake of giving Beal a Supermax — which is certifiably insane given that within the past two seasons they have seen the effect of having TWO different players on Supermax deals who don’t produce at elite levels.

Beal’s position and role don’t matter all that much in the big picture. If the Wizards give him the Supermax, they’re doomed to mediocrity and irrelevance for the foreseeable future.

John Heiser: The NBA has reached a point where traditional definitions start to fall by the wayside. I like the use of “lead guard” more than “point guard” that Lyndie and Yanir used. Wes Unseld, Jr. isn’t asking Brad to become Chris Paul or play the way Chris does. Even if we back it down from HOF level, Wes isn’t asking Beal to be Trae Young. Yes to handling the ball more and initiating the offense more. These are things that Brad would have been doing earlier in his career if he wasn’t playing with John Wall.

One of the keys to this offense was Brad (and others) trusting their teammates enough to know they’ll get the ball back. It seems like reads have gotten easier over time this season. In terms of the “game slowing down” both Gafford and Avdija stand out. Now with Brad initiating and making good reads, he’s able to put the defense in conflict, pass out of it and reap the rewards when he gets it back for a good shot if his pass doesn’t lead to one. That’s got to be better than teams top locking him, slogging up our offense as we wait 3-4 seconds for Beal to beat it or go elsewhere.

Another side benefit of this stretch with so few guards available is that the team has advanced the ball more without needing to go through a designated PG. The team has played with better pace as a result. Kyle Kuzma’s assists are up as well with increased play-making. This was a point of contention when Dinwiddie was out there. As he said, he needs the ball if you’re expecting him to cook. If anyone can and is advancing the ball then he’s not initiating. If he’s off ball a lot we’re not making the best use of his strengths. Similarly if KCP is initiating more we’re not doing him any favors either.

Moving forward, Beal still needs a true ball handler out there with him, as a pressure release and to help the ball move. Dinwiddie is too good in the pick and roll to spend the majority of his PT as an off-ball spacer. It would be ideal if the player opposite Brad was also a plus defender/shooter. SD isn’t ideal in either of those roles as teams have targeted his defense when out there with Beal, KCP and Kuzma.

Aaron Holiday was improving before going into coronavirus protocols. That said, his performance so far this season has been worse than the team anticipated. It remains to be seen if he can improve enough warrant starting next to Brad for 4-6 minutes in the 1Q. Do they gamble on him playing above his most recent levels or look to bring in another guard?

Osman Baig: To wrap up, Bradley Beal has been a very good to a sometimes great player in Washington. We’ve discussed the question on whether there is more the organization can do to maximize Brad’s evolving ability on the floor while also maximizing the return they will get on a potential Supermax sized deal. It would also shift a change in the model the franchise has chased since drafting Beal, and before him, John Wall.

The Wizards have looked clunky for the most part on offense this year. The stretch of games where Beal played point was a refreshing change from that, and also was a very engaged version of Beal. Maybe handing the keys to “Point Beal” is the real symbol that it’s now his team while demanding a similar all-around on-court commitment from him?