Backed by Scott Brooks, Bradley Beal is Rising from Good to Great
Scott Brooks was hired as the Washington Wizards head coach just under 16 months ago. Known for his inability to play cohesive lineups, he was fired from his previous job with the Oklahoma City Thunder for failing to succeed with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But the Wizards took a chance on Brooks. Despite his shortcomings as a coach, he had been known to instill an atmosphere that got the most out of its players.
Enter Bradley Beal.
Drafted third overall in 2012, Beal came into the league with high expectations. His shooting ability and general talent with the ball made him a highly touted prospect, and the Wizards believed he would be a perfect fit next to franchise darling John Wall. With Wall and former head coach Randy Wittman, Beal showed he had skills in his first four seasons. But nobody in the organization could get the shooting guard to polish his abilities. Injuries made it hard for him to grow, and his early time in the league was marred by stagnation.
So Brooks was hired to help.
Beal started his own personal blog during the 2016-17 season, and one of his first posts touched on the new head coach. He talked about the way Brooks got the most out of the Wizards roster. In the post, Beal states: “Win, lose, or draw, it’s always a collective effort,” showcasing his belief in Brooks and the culture change the new head coach instilled. He also wrote, uniquely, that Brooks bet him he wouldn’t “shoot 20 threes in a game. Like, he actually wants me to shoot 20 or more threes.”
The bet was designed to get the most out of Beal’s strengths on the court, and it worked.
Beal never took 20 threes in a game—never higher than 14, in fact—but he attempted almost two-and-a-half more per game than he ever had. As he became a bigger threat from beyond the arc, more space on the floor opened up for him to improve in other areas, as well. Using NBA Math’s Play-Type Profiles, you can see that Beal grew in nearly every offensive play type during his first season under Brooks’ supervision:
These aren’t just small improvements. Beal made leaps and bounds from his 2015-16 season to the last campaign, and his growth was a huge part of the Wizards’ success. He was able to balloon his true shooting percentage from a middling 54.7 percent two seasons ago to 60.4 percent last year, and his increase in efficiency can be attributed to his improvement in a wide variety of offensive skills. With Brooks telling him to shoot more threes, Beal cut out the worst shot in his game, the long two, and began to show what a great player he really can be.
Beal’s largest individual refinement came in transition. An increase in confidence, skill and basketball I.Q. helped him grow more efficient when running down the court. The Wizards improved from No. 17 to No. 3 in transition points per possession (PPP), and Beal was a large part of that jump. Here, he fills his lane perfectly, and Wall is able to find him for the alley-oop:
As a testament to that I.Q., Beal gets straight to the rim in a two-on-one situation. He curls in from the wing to give himself more space away from the defender, and he’s able to get the easy dunk as a result.
A product of the Marcin Gortat-infused offense, the Wizards also have a lot of sets that run players off of screens. Brooks loves using whatever means necessary to get players open, and he often used the body of their big man to do just that. Beal was worse than average off screens two seasons ago (47.6 percentile), but thanks to Brooks screen-heavy system, he improved his feel for the play type and was more than serviceable this past campaign (60.1 percentile).
The Wizards run a play here for Beal and give him two off-ball screens. This frees him up for the three, and you know what happens when Beal shoots from deep:
He makes it.
Like he did on 40.4 percent of his threes on the season, Beal nailed it. He took a 1.7 percent leap in three-point percentage over the last two go-rounds, and it showed. The increase also led directly to Beal increasing his skill in spot-up situations, where he finished in the 90th percentile around the league. Here, he has the presence of mind to realize his defender lost him, so he slides into the corner for an open triple:
The confidence infused into him by Brooks allowed Beal, with no fear, to do whatever he wanted when he lost his man. He saw the space, ran into it and nailed the shot, and his coach definitely can’t complain about that.
Like screens, Beal also improved on handoffs. He’s small for a 2-guard, but on this play, he uses his strength to beat his defender. Then, he nails the jumper off the handoff.
Many of these examples are high-I.Q. plays where the rising star quickly assesses and reacts to a situation.
Beal took leaps and bounds in his abilities, and his on-court intelligence served as a large factor. Just look at how he smartly leads Paul Millsap away from the screen, just to draw him back in and create space for the three:
The Wizards won their most games as a franchise (49) since the late ’70 in 2016-17, and Beal’s growth in Brooks’ system was a big part of that.
Last season, he ranked third among shooting guards in NBA Math’s total points added (TPA) metric—second in the Eastern Conference, behind only Jimmy Butler. After a wild offseason with the likes of Butler and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope switching to the West, Beal has a legitimate case as the best shooting guard in his half of the league, with DeMar DeRozan serving as his only real competition. At just 24 years old, the Wizards have to be thrilled about his development, especially relative to others at his position.
Going forward, it is reasonable to anticipate more improvements from Beal. Given his age, a continued increase in on-court IQ should be expected, and as he proves his skills even more, he can expect a bigger role in his offense. His 26.5 percent usage rate is strong, but it’s still lower than guys like Enes Kanter, Jeremy Lin and Jerryd Bayless. Give Beal more touches, and who knows how high he can fly.
Brooks dug in deep and connected with Beal. Finding a way to get him to execute his strengths turned pubic opinion from thinking of him as an injury-prove, average guard to one of the most dangerous scorers in the league. The young guard is ready to burst on to the scene next season, and with the pool of talent dwindling in the East, an All-Star appearance is quite possible.
Watch out NBA, because Bradley Beal is coming.
Follow Tony on Twitter @TEastNBA.