Washington played again Tuesday, and Bradley Beal fought back. The 24-year-old guard scored a career-high 51 points against the Portland Trail Blazers, who came into the game with the third-best defense in the league. He did it on 21-of-37 shooting, and the rest of the Wizards barely outscored him (55 points to his 51).
Washington is still missing John Wall, who has sat for the past six games while resting nagging knee soreness. The nominal second option in Wall’s absence is Otto Porter, but he had a two-point, 1-of-9 shooting dud on Tuesday. The Wizards needed Beal to come through, and he did just that.
Last season was a career year for Beal, and he’s having a similar one through the first 24 games. He’s averaging 23.3 points per game while adding 3.3 assists and 4.2 rebounds as well.
On Tuesday, the growth in Beal’s game from his rookie year to now was on full display.
Beal has turned himself into an excellent two-point shotmaker
Beal came into the league known best for his three-point shooting, but the 6’5 off guard has never been better shooting inside the arc. Take this blow-by layup, created off the threat of his pull-up three-pointer.
Or this similar play in the third quarter. Beal paused at the three-point line, which briefly froze Evan Turner behind him. (Also note Marcin Gortat’s brilliant “second screen” on the sinking Jusuf Nurkic, a nifty trick that Gortat has perfected.)
By leveraging the threat of his three-pointer, Beal is shooting more than 34 percent percent of his shots within 10 feet of the rim, tied for the best mark of his career. He’s also shooting nearly 65 percent at the rim, the best figure in his past three seasons, when his attempts within three feet of the hoop rose considerably.
Another sign that Beal has emerged as a true shot creator: only 39.5 percent of his two-pointers are assisted this year, by far the lowest number of his career. Yes, that’s partly due to Wall’s absence, but it’s a huge development from when Beal came into the league — 64.4 percent of his twos and 94.5 percent of his threes came from assists his rookie season.
But Beal’s still best as a second option
Beal can destroy mismatches against big men, and he will hit shots like this.
But shots like, contested long two-pointers, that won’t sustain an offense. Beal’s still better as the team’s second option, a role he should gracefully slide back into upon Wall’s return.
Why? Beal’s three-point attempts are down from last year, and so is his percentage. Beal hit 53.8 percent of his twos last season, and now he’s knocking down just 50.7 percent. Take Beal’s True Shooting Percentage: it was 60.4 percent last season, but it’s down to 56.7 percent this year. That’s still good, but it’s not special.
Only six players have ever exceeded 23 points, a 60 percent True Shooting Percentage, and more than 200 three-pointers made in a season. Beal was one of them last year. Stephen Curry, for reference, has done it four times. That’s a special crowd that also includes James Harden and Peja Stojakovic.
The Wizards are at their best when Beal can be that player, an uber efficient, superstar second option. As the lead scorer, Beal is solid but unremarkable. He’s not a dominant defensive force or elite shot creator, but as a second option, he’s one of the best shot makers we’ve ever seen.
Beal playing like that is how the Wizards can be their best selves, and why Wall’s return can’t come soon enough.