My Sophomore Crush: Bradley Beal

From Flickr via marie-ll

From Flickr via marie-ll

With the 2013-14 NBA season on the horizon, we’re taking this week to look at the players we love who are headed into their second year in the league. For most, if not all, of these players, expectations are either sky high or at rock bottom. And at the end of the year, what we know about them will likely be far removed from what we thought headed into this season.

Being a top-3 pick in the NBA draft comes with a big paycheck and big expectations, but rarely do those players come into situations where they can live up to the lofty expectations and comparisons placed on them. Bradley Beal came to the Washington Wizards as an excellent shooter in college and garnished comparisons to the likes of Ray Allen prior to the draft. For the first three months of his career he was unable to live up to those expectations. John Wall’s stress injury (fracture?) forced him to miss the first two months of the regular season and, asked to bear the brunt of the scoring load for the Wizards in Wall’s absence, Beal struggled from November until Wall’s return on January 12.

With Wall out, defenses could put their best backcourt defenders on Beal because they were unafraid of what AJ Price, Garrett Temple, and any of the other options the Wizards tried at point guard not named “John Wall” would do to them on the offensive end. Beal struggled as the primary option in the backcourt. He was abysmal as a pick-and-roll ball-handler last year, as he had just 0.56 PPP on 31.2% shooting from the field (14.3% from three-point range) and turned the ball over on 18.7% of his pick-and-roll possessions. His shot chart during John Wall’s absence shows how much he struggled in all areas of the court (aside from shooting from the left corner).

Bradley Beal Pre John Wall

Bradley Beal Shot Chart before January 12, 2013

After Wall returned to action on January 12, Beal’s production picked up dramatically. Beal was able to play off the ball more often and take advantage of the space created on the perimeter by defenses collapsing in on Wall. Beal’s comfort level on the court and confidence grew with Wall’s presence, as evidenced by how drastically his shot chart changed from January 12 to the end of the season.

Bradley Beal Post John Wall

Bradley Beal Shot Chart after January 12, 2013

Beal’s three point percentage jumped from 32.3% before January 12 to 46.6% after January 12. Beal was very effective from the corner all season, but was downright deadly after Wall returned going from 44.9% to 55.8% in the corner. The biggest change came from above the break, where Beal was below average prior to January 12, shooting 25%, and jumped to 40% after.

Part of what changed was Beal being asked to create fewer of this three-pointers off the dribble. 100% of Beal’s corner threes were assisted on after January 12, which was not a big jump from 95.5% before, but his above the break three-point makes went from 85.7% assisted to 95.8% assisted. Wall assisted on 36 of Beal’s made shots after January 12, 21 of which were three-pointers.

Bradley Beal Assisted By Wall

Bradley Beal Shots Assisted by John Wall

Wall’s ability to penetrate allowed Beal to space the floor and become a spot-up shooter, where he is much more comfortable at this stage of his career.

Getting to see Beal play a full season with Wall (hopefully) is an exciting proposition. It will be interesting to see how Beal develops his game to become a more versatile offensive weapon or if he continues to be primarily a spot shooter. The Wizards offense will rely heavily on these two, especially with the injury to Emeka Okafor, and the two have proven to be effective playing off each others’ strengths to hide their weaknesses (Wall’s shooting and Beal’s ball-handling).

While Beal finished the season third among the rookie class  in three-point shooting (behind Chris Copeland and Pablo Prigioni), he was first by a large margin from January 12 on. I expect him to continue this and have a big year in 2013-14 playing with Wall for the entire season and am excited to see how he continues developing his game. Living up to expectations is always difficult for rookies, especially when thrown into a difficult situation, and those that jumped off the Beal bandwagon after three months will be clamoring to get back on after his sophomore season.

Robby Kalland

Robby covers college football for Cox Media and formerly covered the Atlanta Hawks for Hawks.com and SB Nation. He once broke a roulette table in half with Anthony Tolliver and was given a bottle of wine by Johan Petro in the same night.