As discussed in the latest episode of the #SoWizards Podcast, the most important figure in the Washington Wizards organization is Bradley Beal. The team has sent every public and private signal possible that they remain committed to Beal as the franchise cornerstone, that they’ll reject every trade overture, and that they’ll award him with the biggest possible contract they can the moment they’re able and he’s willing to accept.
This is a mistake, of course. Beal, even at his best, isn’t a franchise cornerstone, and he’s reached an age and stage of his career where he’s not going to make the leap from very good to franchise cornerstone. The Wizards’ genuflection to Beal seems classic #SoWizards. I see three possibilities:
- They truly believe he’s a franchise cornerstone.
- They’re making a show of commitment to Beal to drive up his trade value.
- They recognize he’s very good but not elite, but they’re committed to him because he’s the closest they have to a franchise-level talent, he’s well-liked in the city, and they can ride him and a roster of mid to play-in contention two or three times over the five or six years.
The first of these options is delusion. The second seems kinda silly — they’ve likely already sped past the window of maximum trade value, and several of the contending teams that would want someone like Beal have already spent their draft resources. Like option one, the third is delusion, but with the addition of building a strategy on luck and wishful thinking.
My thoughts on Beal are not a reaction to his middling play this season, though it’s good to acknowledge he hasn’t been the team’s most productive player on a per possession basis (that’s Daniel Gafford followed by Montrezl Harrell). So, let’s take a look at where Beal ranks in the NBA this season.
In total production, according to my PPA metric (see below for additional details), Beal ranks 57th this season. He’s missed several games, but so have many other players. For example, Beal’s played 39 games and 1,404 minutes. When I ran these numbers, LeBron James ranked 4th in total production with 36 games and 1,319 minutes. Giannis Antetokounmpo stood 5th with 128 fewer minutes than Beal. Nikola Jokic stands atop the individual production standings with 43 fewer minutes.
The most extreme example? Jimmy Butler, who ranks 24th in 10 fewer games and 433 fewer minutes than Beal. If I eliminate everyone who’s played more minutes than Beal this season, he still stands just 36th.
Among each team’s most productive players, Beal ranks 26th.
NBA’s Top Guns
|25||Wendell Carter Jr.||PF||22||ORL||39||29.1||155||6.3|
Numbers are through the Wizards’ last game (the 35-point come-from-ahead loss to the Los Angeles Clippers backups and scrubs).
kWins is the value of each player’s total production expressed in wins contributed per 82 games.
Weirdly, this approach might be overrating Beal. For example, Dallas’s top producer this season is Jalen Brunson. Everyone would view Luka Doncic as that team’s franchise player. And both Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis have been more productive than Beal.
In Portland, Damian Lillard is the franchise guy. He’s had a bad year for him, but the primary reason he ranks lower than Beal in total production is that he’s played 10 fewer games. On a per possession basis, Lillard has been better.
The Clippers are led by Ivica Zubac this season, but that’s only because Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have missed so many games. On a per possession basis, Beal’s production among each franchise’s “top gun” ranks 29th out of 30.
Leaguewide, 17 teams have at least two players more productive than Beal this season. Here’s the breakdown:
Teams with Four Players More Productive than Beal
- Brooklyn Nets
- Denver Nuggets
- Golden State Warriors
- Memphis Grizzlies
- Minnesota Timberwolves
- Sacramento Kings
- San Antonio Spurs
While the Wizards roster is a misshapen grab-bag of average and worse performers, the numbers show that Beal is receiving as much or more support than any other top gun in the league.
The drop-off from Beal’s total production to Kyle Kuzma, the team’s second-place total producer, is 8.6%, according to my PPA metric. That’s the league’s 8th smallest drop from first to second. Here are the 10 smallest drops so far this season:
- BRK — James Harden 1.5%
- CHI — DeMar DeRozan 1.9%
- CHO — Miles Bridges 4.6%
- CLE — Jarrett Allen 5.0%
- ORL — Wendell Carter Jr. 5.8%
- NYK — Mitchell Robinson 6.1%
- POR — Jusuf Nurkic 6.5%
- WAS — Bradley Beal 8.6%
- DAL — Jalen Brunson 9.8%
- BOS — Jayson Tatum 10.3%
And the biggest drop-offs:
- LAL — LeBron James 49.8%
- IND — Domantis Sabonis 49.4%
- DEN — Nikola Jokic 44.8%
- TOR — Fred VanVleet 40.3%
- SAS — Dejounte Murray 36.8%
- GSW — Stephen Curry 36.4%
- PHO — Chris Paul 36.3%
- DET — Saddiq Bey 35.2%
- SAC — Tyrese Haliburton 32.5%
- OKC — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander 30.5%
This drop-off metric is a measure of the quality of the top player against the quality (and health) of his “supporting cast.”
The drop from Beal to Spencer Dinwiddie, Washington’s 5th most productive player so far this season, is 22.9%. The league average drop from one to two is 21.9%. Here’s where Beal and the Wizards rank in smallest drop-off two second, third, fourth and fifth most productive:
- 1st to 2nd — 8th
- 1st to 3rd — 4th
- 1st to 4th — 3rd
- 1st to 5th — 1st
Combined, the Wizards have the league’s smallest decline from the total production of its top player to to its 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th best players. Considering the mediocrity of Washington’s roster, this is a damning indictment of the notion that Beal is a franchise player.
While Beal has been very good the past few years, this season he’s been a high-usage and inefficient shooting guard (about 4 points per 100 possessions below average), a poor shooter from three-point range, and a below average defender. This is his worst season since 2015-16 — his fourth in the league. While he told NBC Sports Washington’s Chris Miller he could help the team by playing better defense and getting back on defense instead of complaining to the refs, the reality is that he could do even more by leading the offense with a combination of high usage and above-average efficiency.
For a team clinging to 10th place in the East, paying a supermax contract to someone of Beal’s caliber would be malpractice. Not because Beal sucks — even this season, he rates a bit better than average overall — but because he’s not a franchise cornerstone and awarding him with that kind of status commits the team to a multi-year strategy of waiting for good fortune.
Beal is the team’s most valuable asset. He’s a likeable character and a very good player. But it’s time for the front office to make its move for the good of the franchise.
Player Production Average
Player Production Average (PPA) metric credits players for things they do that help a team win (scoring, rebounding, playmaking, defending) and dings them for things that hurt (missed shots, turnovers, bad defense, fouls), each in proper proportion to how much it contributes to winning or losing.
PPA is pace neutral, accounts for defense, and includes a “degree of difficulty” factor that rewards playing more difficult minutes. There’s also an accounting for role/position. In PPA, 100 is average, higher is better, and replacement level is 45. It usually takes a score of 225 or higher to be part of the MVP conversation.
The PPA score is not saying one player is “better” than another in terms of skill, ability, athleticism, or replaceability (if players hypothetically switched teams or were placed on a hypothetical average team). Rather, PPA shows production so far this season in terms of doing things that help teams win NBA games.
Washington Wizards PPA through 48 Games