This was supposed to be the year. The year that Bradley Beal would put everything together and elevate his game to make his first ever All-Star appearance. After hitting the game-winner against San Antonio early in the season, it looked like Beal was ready to take that leap.
But just like the Wizards‘ season, Beal’s individual season was uneven. Like past seasons, the injury bug reared its ugly head diminishing any hopes of him making the All-Star game.
The statistics from Beal’s season show a mixed story. Beal averaged 17.4 points per game shooting 44.9 percent from the field; both career highs. He attempted 3.2 free-throw attempts per game, a career-high, but making those free throws with consistency was an issue. He shot a disappointing 76.7 percent from the free-throw line, a career-low. Also, he shot just 38.7 percent from three-point range, the worst percentage since his rookie year.
As you’d expect, Beal also posted career-lows in games played (55) and games started (35). He benefitted in part from serving as the primary scorer off the bench and playing against opposing team’s second units. However, Wall to Beal transition threes became more of a rarity as he spent less time on the floor with him this season.
Breaking Old Habits
It’s looking like Beal is beginning to kick a bad habit as he shot just 36 shots which would qualify as long-twos (shots between 20-24 ft. which weren’t threes) this season versus 72 long-twos during the 2014-2015 season.
Much of this was due to his improvement to create his own shot off the dribble. 46.2 percent of his made field goals were unassisted this season. Last season, only 35.8 percent of his field goal makes were unassisted. This shows that Beal doesn’t need to count on Wall and other teammates to get open looks but can create off of the dribble for himself. In addition, he’s more comfortable attacking the rim when in the past, would have pulled up for a jumper.
This adds another element to his game as he no longer needs to settle for mid-range field goals if there’s an open lane. Beal attempted 204 shots this season from five feet or within compared to 203 last season (keep in mind Beal played in eight fewer games). Beal has always had a nice jump shot but now opponents must respect his ability to drive.
On the other side of the court, Beal’s defense was average at best as several shooting guards had big games against the Wizards. This wasn’t entirely Beal’s fault as the Wizards as a whole decided to stop playing defense this season but is definitely an area he can improve on next season.
With free agency looming, it’s all but guaranteed that Beal will get a maximum deal either here in Washington or somewhere else. On the court, he’s shown that he can be a star when healthy. The problem is, he can’t stay healthy for an entire season. That’s not ideal for a player who’s missed time in every season of his career and is just 22 years old. Still, if the Wizards don’t, someone will take a gamble on him based on the potential of what he could produce if he stayed healthy for an entire season.
Has he proved enough on the court to warrant a maximum deal? Probably not. But with the salary cap shooting through the roof, you have to throw everything you know about free agency out the window. The Wizards are pigeonholed. Either re-sign Beal to the maximum or let him walk and plug in a new backcourt mate for John Wall that the team can’t go over the cap to sign and lacks his upside. While maxing Beal comes with risks, they’re less worrisome than the risks that come with letting him walk away for nothing.