Bradley Beal is the face of the Washington Wizards franchise. Their financial commitment to him and his commitment to stay in the District solidified that this past summer. With that said, his importance on his new contract is greater than ever if this team wants to move past the benchmarks they’ve set since this retool around Beal began. He put together a sustained stretch of high-level play but is now coming off one of his worst seasons in the NBA since his rookie contract. Is there reason for concern? We ask out debaters!
Osman (the moderator): ESPN had Bradley Beal as the 19th best player in the NBA; other sites had him lower ranging from the 20s/30s. Which is he closer to and going into Year 11, was last season a blip on the radar or a warning sign?
Yanir: First, thanks Osman for the invite to talk about one of the very best players in the world. I’m honored to give my 4 cents (inflation) on the Big Panda of D.C.
As far as I can tell, 19th sounds a bit high but there are some things that could help explain this rather high mark, especially with Beal coming off a pretty terrible season to his standards.
First, Beal was playing part of the season with a hand injury that ultimately required surgery and it’s possible that this issue had a lingering effect prior to him shutting it down. I know the 30 percent he shot from deep last season was highlighted in various outlets, but I’ll argue that that was an outlier, a serious outlier.
I bet he’ll jump up above league average this season once he has a semi-adequate point guard next to him and a quasi-adequate replacement shooting guard on the bench that can allow him to log only 35~ minutes a night instead of 39~ minutes.
Additionally, I feel that this season, Beal will be playing with a serious chip on his shoulder after the extraordinary contract extension he and his agency secured for him. Even if he wants to later move on to a contender he’ll need to put in some serious work and come up with some tangible results (definitely make the playoffs, but really win a playoff series for the first time in his career without John Wall) for any team to be willing to trade for him and pay him what he will be making over the duration of this contract.
So my take is that 19th is really bullish as far as I can tell (but kudos to Mark Bartelstein for working his ESPN connections) but I can sort of kinda see how this could be realistic if (sort of a big IF) a few things fall in Beal’s direction this season.
Renzo: Glad to be back for round 2. While I expressed my sunny optimism about Kyle Kuzma in the first debate piece, I have no qualms arguing the opposite for Bradley Beal. The 19th spot ESPN penciled him in isn’t just a bit high, it’s unquestionably generous.
First off, just take a look at the stars ranked a few slots ahead of him. At 17 through 14, the list features Jimmy Butler, Trae Young, Paul George, and Damian Lillard. What do those guys have in common? Each has been the driving force behind a conference finals run in the recent past. They’ve reached levels on the big stage, both literally and with their on-court play, that Brad simply hasn’t yet.
Next, look at the guys behind him. He’s one spot above Anthony Davis, a man who recently helped clinch a title and who at his best is head and shoulders better than Beal. Davis has the injury-prone label that pulled him down. But guess what - both Beal and Davis played the same number of games last season and yet AD somehow had a steeper drop. There’s a completely reasonable case to be made that Chris Paul (20th), Donovan Mitchell (24th) Anthony Edwards (25th), and DeMar DeRozan (28th) all deserve to be ahead of him, too.
He’s been a pedestrian shooter for four seasons now and that’s an undeniable sample size that points to this potentially being his new normal. He’s added so many new, albeit terrific tricks to his offensive repertoire that it’s hard to maintain the consistency needed to be the level of shooter he used to be.
He’s also never struck me as a “flip-the-switch” type star. He hasn’t shown the ability to take over games on a whim like some of the league’s best can. If anything, the pressure to live up to his contract could lead to him forcing the issue at times, which has never been his strength.
Bradley Beal is still an excellent player, and months from now, I’d love nothing more than to be wrong about this take, but with the talent infusion the league has seen in the past half decade, he’s much closer to 30 than he is to 19.
Yanir: Look, Renzo, I was asked to take the pro-Beal side for this debate, but I actually agree with you. There is no way on Earth Beal is better than any of the players ranked 20-24. I mean who is ESPN kidding? Anthony Davis at 20 and CP3 at 21 that you already touched upon, but Heaven and Earth — OMG Jaylen Brown at 22, are you guys for real? Like I said I’m the pro-Beal pundit here and I love the Panda but you just gotta to give it to Mark Bartelstein and his PR machine that can a) get Beal a 1⁄4 Billion (BILLION) dollar contract when his 538 projected salary should be a quarter of that, b) advance a narrative that Beal is better than AD, CP3, Jaylen Brown, Donovan Mitchell, Jrue Holiday (26), Lavine (27), DeRozan (28), Wiggins (32), Kyrie (33), Marcus Smart (34), Klay Thompson (37).
So, yeah, even though we’re supposed to disagree, I think about 30 sounds right to me (I just listed 11 players in the previous paragraph and 19+11=30) as the pro-Beal voice (though realistically, his numbers are closer to 40-50 if you ask Kevin Broom, though he might correct me here).
I have to say that since writing my first paragraph I re-ead Kevin’s recent post and the troubling revelation that there is a rather non-negligible percentage of the kind of surgeries that Beal underwent this off-season that fail to repair the problem (whatever it was I have no idea). So I’m a bit worried right now about my 5-minute old prediction that Beal will shoot above league-average from deep EVER again.
Seems like Bartelstein has very good connections in ESPN, but not so much in B/R where recently Beal’s photo highlighted the article on every team’s worst and best contract (and you can guess under which category they placed his).
To summarize, I’d be thrilled if Beal does justify the 19th place — but the very minimum to get there would be winning a playoff series, shooting above league-average from deep, and almost by definition at the very least being on the verge of selected for an All-NBA team.
Moderator: Given that Yanir has flipped sides mid-debate (!), we’re going to reset in Part 2 and give Renzo the pro-Beal side because fellas, there is at least an argument to be made that his greater body of work prior to this season should weighed and he can rebound. Stay tuned!!!