The vibes have most certainly not been immaculate for Washington Wizards fans of late.
2022 NBA lottery pick Johnny Davis looked like a fish out of water during his summer league stint. Bradley Beal’s max contract extension with all the bells and whistles wasn’t widely celebrated, to say the least. The overall temperature on what the future holds for this team isn’t close to being as rosy as D.C.’s cherry blossoms in April.
So what, realistically, is the best we can hope for? Fans cheer for the team to perform well on the court with rather mixed results. But if lady luck smiled on the Wiz increasingly often next season, what would that look like?
This series will try and portray what a reasonable best-case scenario would look like from the eyes of one Wizards writer. There’s no better place to start than Bradley Beal.
Part 1: Bradley Beal Remembers How To Shoot
Everyone knows the old adage about any group’s weakest link. The league largely adheres to the reverse of that concept. Any NBA franchise is only as good as its best player. If this Wizards team were to be any kind of threat next season, Bradley Beal will need to play like the All-NBA talent that he’s being paid to be.
The book on Brad is that he’s firmly entrenched in the next tier down from being a true superstar. But he’s right smack dab in the middle of his basketball prime and is still on the right side of 30. It’s very possible that next season will be the best one of his entire career.
Peak Beal on offense would be an absolute menace - and it’s not about unlocking some abilities we’ve never seen before. Brad just needs to find the happy intersection between the shooter he used to be and the scorer he’s now become.
In his pursuit to become a three-level scorer, he’s sort of forgotten about the three part of the equation. The former three-point specialist has failed to hit even 38 percent of his triples in any of the last five seasons.
Big Panda’s Shooting Amnesia
Bradley Beal reached his nadir as a shooter last season.
He was one of the worst catch-and-shoot players in the entire league in 2021-22. Bradley Beal ranked second to last out of the 231 players in the NBA who played at least 40 games and averaged two catch-and-shoot points per contests. The only player worse was OKC Thunder rookie Josh Giddey, whose biggest knock is that he can’t shoot a lick.
Beal’s 29.6 percent clip on C&S threes last year clumped him in the ignominious group of just five players who shot below 30 percent on such attempts. His shot was less reliable than deadeye shooters like Julius Randle, Russell Westbrook, and teammate Deni Avdija.
Compare that to the Bradley Beal of old who made a living off catch-and-shoot threes. Watching his old highlights feels like a fever dream with how smooth his shot connects from distance. Just look at how confident he rises up for each attempt in his 38-point showing vs. Sacramento back in 2017, a time when fans felt like every Beal triple was money:
Wizards dismantle Kings in OT 130-122 to win their fourth straight game— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 11, 2017
Bradley Beal: 38 points,10 rebounds, 5 threes pic.twitter.com/uCZwHowgoA
You can make the argument that playing next to John Wall had a strong effect on Beal’s ability to make threes. Getting a crisp pass right into your shooting pocket from an elite table-setter does make the job much easier.
But the eye test from watching Beal struggle the past few seasons tells you that he’s missing threes even when left open. The numbers confirm that, too. Simply put, Bradley Beal has forgotten how to make open threes.
Bradley Beal on “open” threes (4-6 feet from closest defender, via NBA Stats)
- 2013 - 2017: 39.8% (194 for 488)
- 2017 - 2021: 34.0% (302 for 886)
- Last Season: 25.5% (28 for 110)
Beal ranked 134th out of 137 players among players who attempted at least 100 open threes last season. He’s also ranked in the bottom third of the league in the four seasons prior to that.
The latest returns wouldn’t be so jarring if he wasn’t considered one of the best-shooting lottery prospects of the past decade, highly touted for his picturesque stroke and being compared to a young Ray Allen during his early years in the league.
If anything, it’s a testament to just how skilled Bradley Beal has become with the rest of his game when he can overcome such a monumental decline in what was once his best skill. That same decline coincided with his rise as one of the best pure scorers in the NBA.
Bradley Beal’s efficiency splits
First 5 seasons:
17.7 PPG | 44.1 FG% | 39.9 3P% | 79.6 FT% | 54.1 TS% | 51.0 eFG%
Last 5 seasons:
26.5 PPG | 46.7 FG% | 35.2 3P% | 83.5 FT% | 56.9 TS% | 52.6 eFG%
Amazingly, Beal still managed to raise his efficiency numbers across the board in the second half of his career. This despite his three-ball serving as an opposing force dragging him the other direction. Rediscovering his former prowess in that area will be key to a breakout 2022-23 season.
What Does Beal’s Best-Case Scenario Look Like?
It would be unreasonable to expect Brad Beal to become a top five player in the NBA next season. The shortlist of names he would need to knock off includes the likes of Luka Doncic, Stephen Curry, Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
However, a locked-in Beal can feasibly make some noise as a dark horse MVP candidate similar to how Ja Morant and DeMar DeRozan performed last year. It would probably take him approaching 50-40-90 splits for the season, but he has shown the offensive talent to get there. Averaging 27-28 points per game on 40 percent shooting from distance isn’t outside the realm of possibility for someone who’s exceeded both those thresholds separately in multiple seasons for his career.
There are obviously other areas wherein Beal has lacked in recent years. His defense has gone from passable to laughable at times while his handle is still far from dependable as a primary ball-handler particularly when facing heightened defensive pressure. The Wizards brass will certainly hope he makes major strides in both areas, but it’s not something one should hold their breath for.
A breakout season from Bradley Beal could stem from something as simple and attainable as making his open threes at a better rate while staying lethal in other areas as a scorer. That’s not too much to ask, is it? Both Beal and Drew Hanlen better be justifying their paychecks next season.
What would Bradley Beal’s best-case scenario look like for you next season? Let us know in the comments below.