Though this upcoming season won't be the first with Bradley Beal as the face of the Wizards, it will be to a different degree than we have seen before. There is no future Hall of Famer for him to share the backcourt with or a multi-time All-Star earning a supermax contract rehabbing an injury on the sidelines. It is also not shaping up to be a rebuilding year with lowered expectations.
The Wizards are Beal's team to a greater extent than it ever was in the past. That may on a surface-level lead to him receiving more credit or blame for their results, but it also presents an important dynamic for the roster. If the Wizards are going to look towards Beal as their lone star, they need to have a supporting cast that complements his skillset.
After a series of trades and other moves, it appears the Wizards have a roster that may be able to do just that. Instead of centering everything around Beal and another star, they have spread their salary cap resources around to create depth and balance. The players they acquired could collectively fill in the gaps around Beal and should, in the most basic sense, ask him to do less.
Beal is good enough to warrant that strategy. He is the leading scorer in the Eastern Conference two years running, an All-NBA selection and an All-Star starter. He's about as complete and consistent an offensive player as you can find in today's NBA.
Where Beal needs help the most is on defense and in making things easier for him on offense. The Wizards have added defenders at more positions, more outside shooting and more guys who can create their own shot. All of it should help.
Start at point guard. In Spencer Dinwiddie, Raul Neto and Aaron Holiday, the Wizards have three point guards who can defend. Not just one of them can defend, all three of them can, and Dinwiddie's size (6-foot-5) should allow him to take on some shooting guards. Having a scrappy defender alongside Beal at all times should limit his responsibility on that end of the floor.
The Wizards now have more defensive options at the wing as well. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope could play some at the three next to Beal and he's a tough and willing perimeter defender. Kyle Kuzma offers versatility and athleticism at forward and Deni Avdija should be better in his second season after flashing potential as a rookie.
Behind the guards and wings they can place Daniel Gafford, who has shown through two seasons the potential to be an elite rim-protector. Though the same element won't be there when he's off the court, when he's playing Beal and others will have a security blanket in the lane and a trap they can try to lead drivers into.
More capable defenders should lead to Beal expending less energy on defense and fewer times where he has to assume physical mismatches against taller wings. Having more shooters and shot creators should also help Beal's cause.
The Wizards' offense was squeezed at times last season by a lack of outside shooting. They were 22nd in three-point percentage (35.1%) and 28th in makes (10.2/g), so they de-emphasized shooting threes, ranking 29th in attempts (29.0/g). That allowed opposing defenses to collapse their defense into the midrange to clog up driving lanes.
The defense contracting led to a lot of attention placed on Beal. He faced the fifth-most double-teams of any player in the NBA last season and had the highest percentage of his possessions involve double-teams. According to NBA tracking data, 47.1% of his possessions last season, so almost half, included double-teams. His former teammate, Russell Westbrook, faced the 10th-most double-teams of any player.
In order to prevent that from happening again, Beal's teammates will have to make opposing teams pay for the double coverage. Others will have to knock down shots and make timely cuts to capitalize on their man leaving them. The data shows the Wizards weren't good at that last year.
Among the 10 players who received the most double-teams last season, Beal and Westbrook ranked eighth and ninth in points per possession on those plays. That means the double-teams worked, as the Wizards weren't able to turn those into points by finding the open man as well as other teams were.
More attention from defenses means far fewer open shots. Last season, only 20.7% of Beal's threes were deemed open or wide open (closest defender 4-to-6 feet or 6-plus feet away) according to NBA.com. Four years ago, in the 2016-17 season, 38.7% of his threes fell in those categories.
The Wizards as a team attempted the third-fewest wide open threes. A bigger problem: they made the sixth-lowest percentage on those shots (36.8%). They also made the seventh-lowest percentage (56.9%) on wide open twos. So, they didn't get wide open shots often and when they did, they didn't make them often enough.
Spread the offense out with shooters around Beal and he will have a better chance to do damage in isolation. If he draws defenders towards him, a better three-point shooting attack can make opponents regret helping and should lead to more chances of the like. In an ideal scenario, it could look like James Harden in Houston.
Another way the Wizards can make life easier for Beal is by providing scoring behind him. A consistent scoring guard off the bench has been a need for years, but Caldwell-Pope could help fill the void, depending on what his role ends up being, as there is a chance he starts. If he is the starting three, and he started all 67 of his games with the Lakers last season, the Wizards may have some trouble finding bench scoring at the guard spot.
But overall, the Wizards' depth could shine through with more second-unit scoring. If you look at the last two NBA seasons, the Wizards now have two players who were among the top-eight in 20-point scoring games off the bench. Montrezl Harrell (35) is second only behind Jordan Clarkson and Davis Bertans (19) is eighth.
Another question as it pertains to complementing Beal may be who the Wizards can rely on as their second and third scoring options. Though Beal is very good and reliable, every player has off-shooting nights. They will need guys like Dinwiddie, Rui Hachimura, Kuzma and others to score consistently, and ideally to create their own shots when the offense stalls.
Regardless, add it all up and the Wizards seem to have done a nice job filling in the gaps around Beal. By compensating for his weaknesses, it could augment his strengths and lead to an even better version of him than we have seen to this point.