Unseld Jr. sees potential for Beal to be better defender


Anyone who has watched the Wizards closely in recent years has probably wondered what it would look like if Bradley Beal had more help. Oftentimes he's carried a very large share of the offense and, though he does a good job of hiding his fatigue, certainly that plays a factor in his performance.

New Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr. has the same theory. In evaluating Beal's film in recent years, he has drawn the conclusion Beal could showcase more in his game if less is asked of him.

Here's how Unseld Jr. explained it on Friday in his first press conference of the 2021-22 season, days before training camp is set to begin:

"He’s multi-faceted. He’s one of the most dynamic offensive players in the game. I think what’s lost is his defensive acumen," Unseld Jr. said. "He has the ability to do it. I think sometimes the burden for him offensively was so high in past seasons that it took a little bit out of him. But to have the depth and flexibility that we have, I think it gives him an opportunity to take possessions off on the offensive end."

"Maybe that gives him the legs and the energy to do it on the defensive end as well. You hope also that depth will maybe reduce some of his minutes and his workload, so now he can be fresher at the end of games and be fresher going into March and April when you’re making your playoff push."


Beal, 28, has long been known more for his offense. He has led the Eastern Conference in scoring each of the past two seasons and has been on the floor through some low moments for the Wizards on the defensive end. But how much of that is his fault or the team's collectively has been hard to decipher.

It would make sense if spending less energy on offense gave him more to use on defense. According to NBA tracking data, Beal covered 2.62 miles on average per game last season, good for 11th in the NBA. The year before, he was second in the category (2.69 miles) and also second the year before that (2.75 miles). He covered the fourth-most ground on offense last season (1.23 miles).

Minutes played is also a category to note. He was ninth in average minutes played last season (35.8), fifth the season before (36.0) and in 2018-19 led the league in minutes (36.9) while playing all 82 games.

Unseld Jr. mentioning the end of games is also important. Beal's shooting percentages in clutch time (the final five minutes of regulation or overtime when the score is within five points) were lower than his overall season averages across the board last season.

Tired legs means less energy to push off the ground to begin a jump shot. Leg fatigue can also affect balance. All of it matters in shooting.

The odometer has soared for Beal in recent years, but now he appears to have more help. There are others who can create their own shot like Spencer Dinwiddie, Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Calwell-Pope, plus a lot more capable defenders. Those guys would be included in that mix along with Daniel Gafford at center. And Montrezl Harrell is one of the best bench scorers in the NBA.

Maybe Beal doesn't have to do as much anymore. And by doing less, in a way he may be able to make an even bigger impact.