Since the Wizards have come back from the All-Star break, they've won 7 of 9 games with Bradley Beal as a reserve. With 22 games left, coach Randy Wittman is faced with the decision to tinker a rotation that's not broken or leave well enough alone.
Beal still is on a minutes restriction. The most he has played since returning from the break is 34. He has been held to less than 30 in seven games.
The sliding scale on how many minutes he plays each night is explained here so when Beal keeps getting asked about it and pleads ignorance he's telling the truth. The max is about 35 minutes but the limit can change from game-to-game pending how much pressure he puts on his leg determined, for instance, by data obtained from SVU cameras at NBA arenas and other instruments.
After failed experiments to keep him from developing a stress reaction in his lower right leg, Beal had a fourth one for the fourth year in a row that sat him for 16 games this season. The Wizards (30-30) had to reassess their approach. Their two concerns: Keeping him healthy to make a playoff run but also retaining his value going into restricted free agency this summer. A fifth stress reaction ruins both.
"It's been like this for a while now," said Beal, who has come off the bench in 19 of 39 appearances going into tonight's game at the Cleveland Cavaliers. "I'm kind of getting used to it."
There are two legitimate schools of thought on what the Wizards should do:
Start Beal now:
- Garrett Temple has started 38 of 58 games played. But in the last nine, he is 14 of 52 (27%) shooting. On threes, he's not a threat at 7 of 25 (28%) as defenses are leaving him open for most of those looks. Temple is a defensive shooting guard in the mold of Thabo Sefolosha. He's not there for offense though the open-court style the Wizards have been playing allows him to push the tempo and get to the basket for easier buckets.
- Now that the roster is healthy, especially with how Nene, Alan Anderson, Jared Dudley and Ramon Sessions anchor the second unit, swapping Beal for Temple isn't a major risk. With the way Anderson is shooting since getting onto the court following repeated setbacks with his left ankle (8 of 16 on threes) and Dudley shooting 45.8% from three (fourth best in NBA), Temple doesn't have to carry any offensive burden.
- Before Beal shot 10 of 15 overall, including 3 of 4 on threes, in Wednesday's win at the Minnesota Timberwolves, he had been out of sync. In his previous six games from three, he was shooting 6 of 29 on threes (20.6%). John Wall is a set-up man. Sessions is a shoot-first point guard.
- It's time if the Wizards are serious about making a push not just to make the postseason but to get a higher seed. The best starting five belongs on the floor to get them off to quicker starts and take pressure off Wall which should in turn open the floor more now that Markieff Morris is starting.
Keep Beal as a reserve:
- Regardless of how Temple is doing statistically, the starting five is better with him there than Beal and that's far more important than an individual's numbers. There's ample evidence via advanced data to support the status quo. The Wizards are better points allowed/scored per 100 possessions with Beal coming off the bench. They score more (104.7 compared to 102.1) and give up less (99.4 vs. 105.5) with Beal as a reserve. That's a total differential of 8.7 points better.
- Beal is getting wide-open looks and still playing plenty with Wall in fourth quarters. All four of his looks in Wednesday's game were clean. Two were produced by drive-and-kicks from Wall. His other looks tend to come when he's running the two-man game with Marcin Gortat or Nene, both great screen-setters, and popping behind the arc. Wall is able to rest off the ball while Beal creates to give the Wizards a different dynamic.
- Beal is now going against mostly second-tier opponents, which gives him a significant edge in those matchups. "I look at it as an advantage to me. I don't look at it as punishment or anything like that. It's just being aggressive, taking advantage of matchups that's out there," he said. Beal is keeping his dribble alive to compensate for his difficulty shooting, stepping into mid-range shots and getting to the rim. This could make him better whenever he does start again as all of these elements to his game need fine-tuning in game action.
- Beal seemed to quip when he came back that Wittman would forget and leave him on the court too long and use up his minutes so he'd be better off as a reserve. But he wasn't really joking. In the heat of the game, it's easy for a head coach to lose track because they're so caught up in the moment. It's happened when Wittman used up Beal's minutes before by starting him. By having him as a reserve, it's easier to control them. Other coaches have indicated that it's problematic for them, too, when it comes to injured players. If Beal starts and the Wizards are in a close game that goes to overtime, he probably won't be available.