Unlike James Harden, Bradley Beal did not request a trade this offseason or capture the entire NBA’s attention with the question of where he’d next play.
Beal, though, is leading the league in scoring with 34.9 points per game, thanks in part to a career-high 60-point performance against the Sixers on Jan. 6. He’s a star who could logically become available this season and would seem well-equipped to fill holes for the Sixers.
It makes sense, therefore, to consider Beal and his game in greater detail now that Harden is on the Nets and the Sixers have the same team they did before Wednesday’s high-stakes, high-drama negotiations.
Will Beal be on the market?
The most significant story for the Wizards currently is a report Friday morning from The Athletic’s Fred Katz and Shams Charania that five Washington players have tested positive for COVID-19. The NBA season, and Washington’s in particular, is loaded with uncertainty at the moment. The health of all impacted by the Wizards' outbreak is the primary concern.
In terms of basketball, things weren’t going well for the 3-8 Wizards. Thomas Bryant’s promising season was cruelly ended by a partially torn left ACL. The team is 25th in the NBA in defensive rating, per Cleaning the Glass, and doesn’t resemble a contender.
Beal, 27, is in his prime and should be attractive to many teams if the Wizards engage in trade discussions. He’s under contract for the next two years and has a player option for the 2022-23 season. Washington would likely have the opportunity to acquire a good young player or two and draft picks in return. Ben Simmons was the primary piece in the Sixers’ negotiations with the Rockets regarding Harden, according to multiple reports, which suggests the team isn’t averse to giving up the 24-year-old All-Star for the right player. If the same willingness existed in Beal trade talks, it would clearly boost the Sixers’ pursuit.
Before the Harden deal, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported, “Teams already widely known to have interest in Harden, such as the Nets and Sixers, would unsurprisingly also have interest in Beal.”
What might he cost?
One imagines Simmons and Russell Westbrook flying up and down the floor and recording many triple-doubles. Outside shooting, of course, is not a strength of either player.
Simmons is under contract through the 2024-25 season, a fact that should increase his value in a trade. There’s a world in which he leads a Wizards core of himself, Deni Avdija, Rui Hachimura, Bryant, Davis Bertans and perhaps a draft pick or two to Eastern Conference contention somewhere around 2023-24, at which point Westbrook’s contract would be up.
If that scenario sounds less appealing to Washington than other trade possibilities, the Sixers could theoretically center a package around young players such as Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle and Shake Milton, as well as draft picks. They have an $8.2 million trade exception from the Al Horford-Danny Green deal, which could be relevant with Beal or in other potential trades.
How much would he help the Sixers?
Though Beal isn’t as special offensively as Harden, he’s an excellent player who’d address weaknesses for the Sixers.
Beal has been assisted on only 45 percent of his made shots this season and in 2019-20, according to Cleaning the Glass, one numerical indication of his shot-creating prowess. He’s a high-volume pull-up shooter, having taken 11.6 pull-up shots per game this season and recorded a 52.6 effective field goal percentage on those attempts. For comparison, Joel Embiid’s 5.4 pull-up attempts per game are the most on the Sixers.
Beal’s presence would likely evaporate the foul drawing void created when Jimmy Butler exited. A stronger Milton has made impressive progress at getting to the foul line, but Beal’s 9.5 free throws per game this season would be very helpful. Even if he doesn’t maintain that career-best pace, there’s a lot to be said for having a perimeter offensive weapon who draws free throws, can score with variety and would be primed to profit on open three-point shots if defenses choose to aggressively double or triple team Embiid. The idea of a Beal-Embiid two-man game is obviously enticing, too.
Beal hasn't been great defensively throughout his career. If the Sixers met the Nets or Celtics in the postseason, defense could be problematic. How would they match up against Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant? Who would guard Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker?
Another potential concern, albeit a lesser one, is the point guard position for the Sixers if the team parted with Simmons. Depending on the full details of the deal, we figure Milton and/or Maxey would assume heavier ball handling responsibilities. Regardless, Beal and Embiid would clearly be the focuses of the Sixers’ offense.
Do the Sixers need Beal to contend?
The 2020-21 Sixers were 7-1 before learning of Seth Curry’s positive COVID-19 test.
We know that Harden would, in all likelihood, have made them much better offensively. The same is true of Beal, to a lesser degree. Though we can identify teams' strengths and deficiencies at this early stage, we don’t have close to a complete understanding of the Eastern Conference’s balance of power. As the March 25 trade deadline gets closer, we should learn more about the Sixers and just how much sense pursuing a Beal trade might make.