The early indications for Bradley Beal, who signed a $128 million max deal this summer while never averaging 20 points or more per game in four seasons, is that Wizards coach Scott Brooks will institute changes that’ll make him a first-time All-Star.
In the Wizards’ last preseason game, the shooting guard had 19 points in 28 minutes. He also had nine assists and no turnovers, attacking the basket off the dribble when the defense attempts to close him out on the open shot.
Center Marcin Gortat had this detailed observation that will be a good jumping off point: “I mentioned to a few other guys on the team, this is what I’d like to see from Brad. We all know that he’s a very great talent. He’s on the way to being a great player, too. But we need see more than just 20 points in a game. We need to see 20 points and six or seven rebounds, six or assists. Just because he’s a shooter and he doesn’t handle the ball as much as John (Wall) doesn’t mean he can’t have six, seven, eight assists a game. If we can add another guard with six or seven assists on our team, that’s going to be great. It’s going to open up a lot of things for him because he’s not only going to create shots for himself but he’s going to create shots for everybody else. People are going to be like, ‘I’m not helping from the big,’ and he’s going to have a layup. It’s better if Brad is going to try to do something 1-on-1. Automatically Brad is going to be able to beat his man. That’s what I like to see from Brad more, creating more than 20 points in a game that we all know he’s capable of doing.”
Brooks, who took over for Randy Wittman after he was fired following a 41-41 season, is giving him the tools to do it:
When the Wizards are running floppy actions for Beal as he comes off screens to get the open jumper, they’re flowing into “triangle” when that gets taken away. The handoffs from Gortat or other bigs in the high post give him options other than simply standing on the weak side and waiting for the skip pass from Wall. Beal can maneuver around the big to create room from a jumper, or he can draw the defender out and blow by him to get into the lane to finish or kick to the corner for the shooter.
The offense has evolved into all five players touching the ball –- a huge upside of using triangle and something they didn't do under Wittman –- to make them more difficult to defend. The Wizards don’t call it triangle, but some of those principles are built-in and Beal can benefit quite a bit from them. The key in all of this is proper spacing which is the biggest issue for the Wizards to grasp until it becomes second nature.
Freedom to run offense
Letting Beal be on the ball instead of putting 99.9% of the burden on Wall is designed to help both. Beal showed to start the third quarter vs. Toronto that he can be efficient. Three of the Wizards’ first four baskets were the product of assists from Beal.
Wall has worked on his catch-and-shoot threes and looks more comfortable spotting up in the corners. There are times when Beal over-dribbles and passes up on a good look for a tougher shot but he’s living in the paint. Gortat is able to clean up misses because the bigs are coming over to help seal Beal’s penetration. It’s a trickle-up effect.
“We don’t want him to just be a jump shooter,” Brooks said. “We don’t want him to be a one-dribble pullup guy. We want him to attack the basket, not only for himself but for the bigs.”
On inbound plays or after timeouts when the Wizards can get Beal on a small guard – this happened in the preseason finale vs. the Raptors but it wasn’t the only time in the seven exhibitions – he got matched with an undersized point guard in Kyle Lowry who is about five inches shorter. The entry pass went to Beal under the rim and that forced center Jonas Valanciunas to help. Otto Porter popped to the short corner for the pass and made a wide-open three-pointer. This is another way Beal can better his assist numbers (3.0 per game for his career). If there’s isn’t any help, he’s at the rim for the easy finish. Wall, who at 6-4 has good size and strength at his position, will benefit from doing this, too.
In the NBA, the weakside is where so much happens to create the open look. In the past, Beal has fallen into standing and waiting for the pass rather than moving which has caused the offense to stagnate in the half-court. By making the best shooter a screener (see Kyle Korver) on the weakside of the floor, defenses can have communication hiccups. Beal is getting layups off slip passes while defenses ball watch, particularly Wall because he commands so much attention. He's getting bigs on him 25 feet from the basket on switches and is breaking them down off the dribble.
“We know we can score in a variety of ways. That’s just another way to get easy points, just constantly moving without the ball,” Beal said.
Porter is the best player at moving off the ball and sees the benefit of what’s happening with Beal. If Beal isn’t scoring from his off-ball movement, he’s making defenses pay for ball-watching when he has possession. It’s a side benefit of the best shooter on the team running the offense more.
“Everybody is keying in on him,” Porter said. “With him creating for others, it opens up cutting lanes, driving lanes for everybody and it definitely helps the flow on offense.”
All of these new wrinkles should translate into more trips to the charity stripe, an area where Beal has been shockingly inefficent (2.8 attempts per game career average). Beal has played 63 games in which he hasn't attempted one free throw.
Brooks hasn't finished installing his entire arsenal. He'll add in things as the season progresses. Will Beal run more two-man game with a big or some elbow-gets that Brooks used with James Harden when he'd run the offense for the Oklahoma City Thunder?
"I’m still figuring out where everybody wants the ball, likes the ball and where they can be successful with the ball. With Bradley, he has the ability where we can spray his offense all around the court," Brooks said. "Not just at top, at the elbow, at the nail, on the side or on the baseline. I think he can do it all and I’m going to keep challenging him to be that type of complete offensive player. With all the guys. John is the same way. He’s been so dominating with the ball and rightfully so, he makes great decisions, one of the best passers in the game. But I’d like for him to be off the ball because when you get off the ball on those kick outs to him it’s going to be hard to catch his speed when he’s attacking the basket and it’s going to allow him to get to the free throw line which is what we need for both guys to get to the line more.