Bradley Beal is probably always going to be linked to James Harden because of the reported 2012 trade that fell through, a deal that would have sent Beal to Oklahoma City for Harden right before they switched gears and shipped him to Houston. But the connectable dots between them don't end there and lately they have become increasingly more evident.
Take Kings coach Luke Walton's comments this week, for instance. He told reporters in Sacramento when the Wizards were in town this of Beal:
"You watch him on film, it's like watching film of James Harden."
NBC Sports' NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh also recently tweeted this line about the two: "Bradley Beal is East coast James Harden."
They are both shooting guards turned primary ball-handlers who each began their careers playing off-the-ball with high-usage point guards. Then, for different reasons, they spent time away from those point guards and flourished as playmakers. They have also both been coached by Scott Brooks.
So, there's the trade and the stylistic similarities. Then, there are the numbers, and they are downright eerie.
Statistician Ryan Spaeder has been drawing the comparison between the two lately and it's truly remarkable. Beal is currently in his Age 26 season with 542 career games under his belt. Harden had played 534 games through his Age 26 campaign.
Just look at how closely they stack up to this point:
Beal - 542 G, 34.5 mpg, 20.9 ppg, 4.0 apg, 4.0 rpg, 1.1 spg, 45.2 FG% (7.6/16.9), 37.9 3PT% (2.3/6.0), 51.9 eFG%, 80.6 FT% (3.4/4.2)
Harden - 534 G, 33.2 mpg, 21.1 ppg, 4.9 apg, 4.6 rpg, 1.5 spg, 44.3 FG% (6.2/14.1), 36.8 3PT% (2.1/5.7), 51.7 eFG%, 85.5 FT% (6.5/7.6)
As the numbers illustrate, Harden had Beal slightly beat in volume numbers, but Beal has been just barely more efficient. The differences in basically every category, however, are negligible.
Beal is essentially on the same exact trajectory Harden was through the age of 26. The question is whether Beal can keep it going and ascend to the point Harden has since reached.
Harden's Age 26 season was right before he took off to become one of the best scorers in NBA history. This year he leads the league in points per game as he aims for his third consecutive scoring title. And he reguarly does things no one has since Wilt Chamberlain.
Beal has a ways to go to become what Harden is today. Harden of course won the 2017-18 NBA MVP award and has been All-NBA six times, while Beal is still chasing his first selection.
But Beal is on the right track and the Wizards can maybe learn something from how the Rockets unlocked Harden's skillset not that long ago. Maybe the Wizards don't have to go full Rockets with their heavy iso ball and extreme lineup experimentation, but there are likely lessons they can draw.
That, and NBA fans can maybe start viewing Beal's rise differently. Harden is carving out an all-time great career and Beal might be on his way not far behind him.
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