Look, sometimes the headlines just write themselves. I ran Bradley Beal through my Statistical Doppelgänger Machine, and the first name that popped up: Monta Ellis.
Wizards fans can breathe something of a sigh of relief — the nearly dead-on similarity was for a partial season from Ellis. It was 2011-12 when the Golden State Warriors traded Ellis (and former Wizards great Kwame Brown) to the Milwaukee Bucks for Andrew Bogut.
This article being about the Wizards means that even relief is #SoWizards. While Ellis was the top comp, next on the list was Gilbert Arenas...from the 2009-10 season when he a) wasn’t much good, and b) got suspended for bringing guns into the locker room.
The list from there...well...let’s just say that I wouldn’t want to give any of them $251 million dollars over the next five seasons.
Here’s the best “bright side” picture I can paint at the moment: Beal has a history as a very good player who has put up big scoring numbers on decent efficiency. He’s a three-time All-Star, who also made third-team All-NBA once. Criticisms of his defense have gotten a bit overblown — it’s not a strength, but it’s not team-wrecking either, especially in stakes games.
He works hard on his game, seems interested in being part of the DC community, and appears to be well-liked and respected by his teammates.
Last season was terrible (PPA: 115 — in PPA, 100 is average and higher is better) for someone alleged to be a franchise-level building block, but he and the Wizards are convinced it was a one-year aberration, and that he’ll soon be back to what they seem to think is franchise-level building block play.
On the other hand, there’s this thing I wrote back in May suggesting that a bounce-back season shouldn’t just be assumed. From that article:
My look at the risks of awarding Beal that supermax contract keeps producing flashing red lights. My assessment is that Beal is more likely than not to continue missing a significant number of games due to injury, and that he’ll experience a steep decline in production...if that isn’t what we already saw this past season.
In other words: this supermax deal the Wizards are hellbent in getting him to sign has serious risk of going terribly wrong. It has the earmarks of yet another #SoWizards contract.
And that was the conclusion from an analysis I did that ignored the 2021-22 season.
What happens when I look at that performance through the doppelgänger lens? Well, Monta Ellis, one-legged Gilbert Arenas and the like. See for yourself:
2021-22 Bradley Beal Doppelgängers
For those unfamiliar, my Statistical Doppelgänger Machine works by comparing a player’s performance across 14 different categories that include age, playing time, pace-neutral box score stats and scores from my PPA metric. All that’s rolled up into a single score that (in theory) provides a list of NBA players since 1977-78 with similar production at a similar age.
Here’s Beal’s list from last season:
- Gilbert Arenas, Washington Wizards, 2009-10, age: 28 — I know, I put Monta Ellis in the headline. But, it was only part of a season for Ellis, and that full season shows up in the top three anyway. Getting this version of Arenas as a comp is not encouraging. This was the post-injury Arenas, and while he wasn’t much good, it was the last average or better season of his career.
- Jerry Stackhouse, Detroit Pistons, 2001-02, age: 27 — In this season, Stackhouse posted a 116 PPA at age 27. His peak was a 128 the previous season. That offseason, the Wizards trade Richard Hamilton to Detroit to pair him with Michael Jordan, and Stackhouse posted a 117 PPA in Washington. And...that was the last average or better season of his career.
- Monta Ellis, Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks, 2011-12 — Ellis had a 102 PPA in this, his age 26 season. He followed it up with PPAs of 104 and 102 at 27 and 28. He had two more 90+ PPA seasons and was finished in the NBA at 31. Ellis was similar to Stackhouse in one difference with Beal — they each peaked lower. Stackhouse’s best year was a 128 PPA at age 26. For Ellis it was 136 at age 22. Beal’s best season (so far) was a 160 at age 26.
- Tracy McGrady, Houston Rockets, 2007-08, age: 28 — McGrady was a sensational player, whose best season was a 235 PPA at age 23. Then he got hurt. A lot. Even with the injuries, he posted a 173 PPA in 66 games at age 27. This age 28 season (124 PPA over 66 games) was the beginning of the end. His PPA at 29 was 126, but he played just 35 games. He had one more average or better season (102 PPA over 72 games at age 31), and he was out of the league at 32.
- Mitch Richmond, Sacramento Kings, 1994-95, age: 29 — Finally, an encouraging comp. My analysis suggests Richmond was mostly overrated during his career, but his career had an atypical arc. His best seasons were ages 30, 31 and 32 (PPAs of 141, 153 and 147). In this season, his PPA was 116. Naturally, Washington traded for him at 33, and got the “off a cliff” portion of his career. He had a PPA of 89 in his first year with the team, and a 106 at age 34 (his last average-ish season).
- John Starks, New York Knicks, 1993-94, age: 28 — This tied with the preceding season as the best of Starks’ career (PPA: 111). He had two more average-ish seasons (105 at 29 and 109 at 30), wrapping up his career with five more below average seasons. A bit like Stackhouse, while performance at a similar age was close to Beal’s last season, Starks’ peak was significantly lower than Beal’s.
- Mitch Richmond, Sacramento Kings, 1993-94, age: 28 — The first repeat doppelgänger, Richmond is basically best hope for the Wizards because of his late peak. The off-the-cliff drop at 33 wouldn’t be much of a concern because Beal’s contract ends after his age 33 season.
- Deron Williams, New Jersey Nets, 2011-12, age: 27 — By now, a trend is apparent, even to me. The list of comps is mostly good-to-very-good players on their way down. Williams is no exception. He had four seasons with a 160+ PPA, the last of which came at age 26. His production from age 28 on: 151 (78 games), 139 (64 games), 104 (68 games), 98 (65 games). He had one more below average season and retired at age 32.
- Michael Redd, Milwaukee Bucks, 2007-08, age: 28 — Redd, a second round pick, was arguably Ernie Grunfeld’s best-ever draft selection. He was an All-Star once, and he made third-team All-NBA — both honors came in the 2003-04 season, though his best year by my reckoning was a 161 PPA in 2005-06 (age 26 season). This age 28 comp season was the beginning of the end for Redd. He posted a 125 PPA in 72 games, and followed it up with a 137 the following year...but in only 33 games. He closed out his career with three more injury-riddled seasons (18, 10 and 51 games played respectively) that all rated below average when he could get on the floor. He was finished at 32.
- Joe Johnson, Atlanta Hawks, 2010-11, age: 29 — Bright side: While Johnson posted a middling 110 PPA in this comp season, he rebounded for a career-best 151 the following seasons. The worrisome side? That age 30 season was basically the last very good one of Johnson’s career. He followed up his peak with two more average-plus seasons: a 119 at 32 and a 101 at 33. He continued to play until age 36, but was unproductive and oft-injured.
To loop back to the headline, did the Wizards just give a quarter billion dollars to the neo-Monta Ellis? Nah. Could this contract somehow work out in the Wizards favor? I don’t see how.