Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards will be a restricted free agent this summer. Beal enters free agency at an ideal time considering the fact that the salary cap will rise to an estimated $92 million this offseason and the fact that this year’s crop of free agents is relatively weak.
Earlier this week, Beal made it clear that he expects to receive and sign a max offer from the Wizards.
“I want to be valued the right way,” Beal said to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post. “I feel like I’m a max player and that’s what I’m looking for. If Washington can’t meet that requirement then I may be thinking elsewhere. I’m pretty sure that they probably won’t [let me go]. At the end of the day, that’s where I want to be. I think a deal will probably get done but you just never know.”
Castillo soon after reported that, according to people with knowledge of the situation, the Wizards will offer Beal a max offer when free agency opens. However, the Wizards, according to Castillo, will look to come to terms with Beal as soon as possible, while holding off on officially signing him in order to maximize their spending power in free agency. This will allow the Wizards to pursue a max-level free agent, like Kevin Durant, while maintaining the right to sign Beal afterwards using his Bird Rights.
Considering all of this, the substantial likelihood is that the Wizards will retain their 22-year-old shooting guard this offseason. The question, however, is whether Beal is worth such a heavy investment at this point in his career.
Before evaluating Beal’s four-year career in the NBA, it must first be noted that not all max-contracts are the same. A max-contract for Beal will look a lot different than a max-contract for a player like Dwight Howard, who has 12 years of NBA experience under his belt and thus can earn a higher percentage of salary relative to the cap. Also, with the cap rising so significantly this summer, we all need to adjust the way we think about player salaries and contracts in general.
A lot of people were shocked with some of the contracts free agents were offered last season. This included players like Al-Farouq Aminu, who was offered a four-year, $30 million contract, and Khris Middleton, who was offered a five-year, $70 million contract. However, both of these deals will seem like relative bargains moving forward with the cap rising and salaries becoming increasingly inflated. The same may be true for Beal’s deal in a few years assuming the cap continues to climb.
The first thing to note about Beal is how young he is. At 22 years old, Beal is one of the youngest top-level free agents in this year’s free agency class. Consider that Beal is just a few months older than Buddy Hield, who will be one of the top overall picks in this year’s draft.
The flip side is that Beal has already dealt with an assortment of injuries in his short NBA career, including injuries to his wrist, back, ankle, nose, toe, shoulder and pelvis. The most concerning injury is a recurring stress injury to his right fibula. This sort of lower-body injury is worrisome for a young player, especially one who hasn’t put a ton of miles on his body. Nevertheless, Beal insists he is past his injury issues.
“I hear about it all time, but that doesn’t define me as a player,” Beal said. “That won’t stop me from growing as a player and it won’t stop me from being who I am. The injury thing, that’s behind me. I’m moving forward. I’m past it. I’m focused on my career from here on out. Hell, Steph Curry was hurt his first four years. Look at him now. John [Wall] was hurt his first three or four years. Look at him now. I’m not worried about it. People are going to say what they want to say. At the end of the day, it’s not going to affect me or the money.”
While Beal insists that his injury history won’t affect the money—which he is probably right about—it probably should. Beal has never played in more than 73 games in his career and averages just about 62 games played per season so far. While Stephen Curry did in fact struggle with recurring injuries earlier in his career, which he overcame, there are others who haven’t been so fortunate.
Eric Gordon was on a similar trajectory as Beal early in his career. He was a promising two-guard who posted similar, and in several ways, better stats than Beal.
An assortment of injuries have plagued Gordon’s career over the last few seasons. He went from being one of the most promising up-and-coming guards in the league to almost an afterthought. Beal will hopefully have more luck than Gordon on the injury front, but Gordon’s story is a reminder that injuries can derail even the most promising of players.
Assuming that Beal can overcome his injury history, there is a lot to like about his game and his future. Beal has one of the smoothest shots in the league, a skill that is at an absolute premium these days. Beal has shot 39.7 percent from three-point range over the course of his career, and has shot over 40 percent from distance in two of his four seasons in the NBA. Also, Beal posted a career-best 54.7 True Shooting percentage last season.
Here is Beal’s shot chart for each of his four seasons in the NBA, which shows, for the most part, an increase in volume and overall accuracy:
Any contract for a player as young as Beal has to contemplate future potential. Though Beal may not be worth every penny he’ll be paid early in his contract, he has the talent and potential to one day outperform a max-contract.
Part of the reason this is true is because Beal is more than just a good shooter. Of course, shooting alone is a very nice skill to have, but being limited to that caps a player as an Anthony Morrow or Steve Novak kind of player. But Beal can do more than just hit shots from distance.
Beal was featured heavily in Washington’s offense last season (25.2 percent usage of possessions), often operating in the pick-and-roll (29.5 percent of the time). Unfortunately, Beal wasn’t exactly the most efficient pick-and-roll ball handler in the league, generating just 0.81 points per possession (59.7 percentile) and turning the ball over 15.7 percent of the time.
Despite mediocre efficiency numbers this season, Beal has a strong handle and good instincts. He looks for easy passes out of the pick-and-roll and then will look for his own offense if none of his teammates are open. The ability to play on the ball allows for teammate John Wall to be used off the ball in creative ways, and gives the Wizards a uniquely talented back court similar to what the Toronto Raptors have enjoyed with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
Also, Beal’s comfort level with the ball helps make him a threat in transition. Beal generated 1.18 points per possession in transition this season and often times threw pinpoint passes to streaking teammates for easy layups. Already having John Wall—one of the fastest players in the league—to lead the break is a nice weapon for the Wizards, but having two guards who can lead the break so effectively is a luxury.
So we know that Beal is a strong shooter, developing playmaker and a nice fit next to Wall, but what about his defense?
Earlier in his career, Beal seemed to have the tools and defensive instincts to become one of the better defensive two-guards in the league. For whatever reason—perhaps injuries—Beal has either leveled out or regressed as a defender. Beal, like Gordon, isn’t the longest defender, but has the strength and athleticism to stick with his opponent and force them into tough shots.
Beal is at his best when defending an opponent in isolation, but struggles at times chasing opponents running through multiple screens. Like many young players, Beal often times loses focus on his opponent for a split second, giving them time to get a step ahead going through a screen, which often leads to an open look. This in part explains why opponents shot particularly well against Beal on three-point looks around the top of the arc this season.
Beal ranked 65th among shooting guards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus this season, falling behind guys like Leandro Barbosa and Vince Carter. RPM on its own is not a sufficient means to evaluate a player’s defensive impact, but it can give some context to how that player performed throughout a single season.
Again, Beal has the physical tools to be a good defender, but he needs to improve moving forward. It’s not clear why Beal regressed so much defensively this season, but the Wizards have to bank on him finding some of the defensive tenacity and instincts he had earlier in his career.
Between multiple injuries and a drop off in defensive impact, Beal, at best, is a risky investment on a max-contract. However, signing Beal to a max-deal this summer is a necessary move for the Wizards considering they can still pursue a top-tier free agent, Beal is still deceptively young, he has significant room to improve and he combines with Wall to make a uniquely skilled and effective back court.
If Beal is right and his injury troubles are mostly behind him, then this contract will look like a decent-to-good investment years from now. But if Beal runs into the same extended issues that Gordon and other players have, then the Wizards may ultimately lament investing so much money in an injury prone player.
NBA Daily: The Golden State Warriors Need to Enter Rest Mode
With a bevy of injuries to their stars, the Golden State Warriors should rest up the remainder of the regular season to avoid any playoff letdowns.
After a three-year-long run of dominating the NBA, the Golden State Warriors are showing some cracks in their armor.
Granted, those cracks aren’t a result of a botched system or poor play, but rather the injury bug biting the team in full force as they come down the regular season stretch.
First, it was Steph Curry and the ankle that’s bothered him all season — and for most of his career — when he tweaked it yet again on March 8 against the San Antonio Spurs. Golden State announced he would miss at least four games. Then it was Klay Thompson, who fractured his thumb three days later against the Minnesota Timberwolves — he’ll miss at least two weeks.
Now it’s Kevin Durant. Last year’s Finals MVP suffered an incomplete rib cartilage fracture and was ruled out of Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings. Durant is expected to be sidelined for at least two weeks. The Warriors would go on to lose that contest 95-93.
In about two weeks time, the Warriors went from having one of the most formidable offenses and scoring trios in the entire league, to having Quinn Cook and Nick Young logging starter minutes.
Luckily for the Warriors, they’ve built up a big enough lead in the standings to achieve a 52-17 record, good for second place in the Western Conference. But the issue for the remainder of the season now becomes how healthy will the Warriors be come playoff time?
Curry and Durant have injury histories. Curry particularly has been bothered by this ankle since he entered the league. Without either of them, the Warriors — while still incredibly talented — will be on a completely even playing field with the Houston Rockets, and possibly other teams in the gauntlet that will be the Western Conference playoffs.
The bigger issue on top of the pending injury concerns becomes whether the Warriors should just pack it in for the rest of the regular season, and regroup for another expected title run.
Steve Kerr doesn’t seem to be thinking that way, however.
“All these injuries seem to be temporary,” Kerr told reporters. “A couple weeks, a week, two weeks – whatever. We’re in good shape. We’ve just got to survive this next slate of games and hopefully, start getting guys back and get rolling again for the playoffs.”
That’s true. None of the aforementioned injuries seem to be anything more serious than a few weeks of rest and relaxation. But that’s assuming the best case scenario for these players.
Should we assume that the Warriors are without their scoring trio for the next couple of weeks as their health updates have indicated, that would put their return roughly around April 1. At that time, Golden State would have six games remaining on their schedule. Four coming against playoff teams (Oklahoma City, Indiana, New Orleans, and Utah) with the other two games against Phoenix.
After missing the last few weeks on the court, with injuries that most likely won’t be at 100 percent, tossing their most valuable contributors back into the fray against a slate of playoff teams probably isn’t the smartest idea.
At this point, the Warriors postseason position is locked up. They likely won’t take the top seed away from Houston, and their lead is big enough to keep their second seed intact regardless of who’s on the court. The only thing left now is the determining who Golden State will play in the first round. With the revolving carousel that is the playoff standings out West, that’s anybody’s guess right now.
The only thing that’s certain is whichever team coming into Oracle Arena for that first round will be battle tested and talented based off of the dogfight they had to survive just to make the playoffs. The last thing the Warriors need to be is a banged up in a postseason with their first opponent smelling blood in the water.
In all likelihood, the Warriors — should everything go according to plan — will play the Houston Rockets for a chance to return to their fourth straight NBA Finals. Only this time, a potential Game 7 won’t be at Oracle Arena. It will be in downtown Houston, at the Toyota Center.
An advantage as big as the Warriors’ homecourt can never be understated. Operating in a do-or-die situation away from home will be newfound territory for this bunch. Regardless of talent or team success, at that point, it’s anybody’s game.
It won’t be easy for the Golden State Warriors as they try to extend their dynasty’s reign. This might be their most difficult year yet.
Durant, in his own words, can’t even laugh right now without feeling pain. The league’s only unanimous MVP is operating on one and a half ankles, and the team’s second Splash Brother has an injury on his shooting hand.
Resting up the team’s stars should be the team’s top priority right now, at risk of entering the postseason hobbled. Track record means nothing if the Warriors don’t have their full arsenal at disposal when the games matter most.
Hey, a 16-seed finally won a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament. Anything is possible on a basketball court, and the Warriors should do everything possible to ensure they’re not the next major upset candidate in line.
NBA Daily: Anthony Davis is Shouldering New Orleans’ Playoff Hopes
After losing DeMarcus Cousins to a season-ending injury, Anthony Davis has played MVP-caliber basketball to keep the Pelicans playoff hopes alive.
Nineteen games have passed since DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his Achilles tendon during the New Orleans Pelicans game against the Houston Rockets.
At the time, Cousins was the second leg of an All-Star frontcourt combo with Anthony Davis, playing the best basketball of his career and appeared poised to send the Pelicans to their first playoff appearance in three years.
Immediately following the injury, New Orleans lost five of their next six games. In a crowded Western Conference playoff race, doubt was beginning to set in down in the Big Easy about whether the Pelicans could cope with the loss of Cousins.
Then, fitting in with the always unpredictable and chaotic nature of the NBA, Anthony Davis skyrocketed into other-worldly levels of production, and New Orleans followed suit. Before Friday’s loss to the Washington Wizards, the Pelicans won 10 straight games while Davis averaged 35.6 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.1 blocks, and 2.8 steals per game. Over the course of those 10 contests, Davis topped 40 points three times, and 50 points once.
Every question that was thrown Davis’ way following Cousins’ injury about whether he could shoulder the load of a Pelicans’ playoff run seemed to be answered.
The Western Conference is no joke. Currently, the playoff race is so tight that the 4th-seeded Pelicans are only two and a half games out of ninth place. While Davis has clearly been unstoppable, in order for the Pelicans to maintain their relevance in the playoff picture, he’s going to need some sort of help.
Luckily for him and his team, he’s gotten just that.
During New Orleans’ win streak, Jrue Holiday emerged as the team’s second option, looking more lethal than the Pelicans could’ve ever hoped when they signed him to an extension last summer. Holiday’s averages of 24.9 points, 8.5 assists, and 4.6 rebounds — all while shooting a blistering 43 percent from beyond the arc — positioned the eighth year point guard as Davis’ second fiddle.
This heightened production is the result of head coach Alvin Gentry’s offense finally coming to fruition in its most effective form. Gentry loves to play “pace and space” basketball, and the Pelicans’ No. 11 and No. 9 ranking in pace the last two seasons reflect that. While Cousins is fantastic in his own right, and a cross between the old-school big man and today’s new hybrid big, his insertion in New Orleans’ lineup slowed things down just a bit. Before the injury, the Pelicans were still pushing the fifth fastest pace in the league, but after losing Cousins the team is now pushing the ball faster than any club in the Association. As a result, Davis’ freakish athletic advantages are proving to be overwhelming for opponents.
With 17 games left on the schedule, the Pelicans only have five opponents remaining who are either already in the playoff picture or just outside of it. Matchups against Houston, Boston, Cleveland, Oklahoma City, Golden State and Portland (among others) remain. Continuing the excellence Davis and his teammates are producing is the only conceivable way to imagine the Pelicans hosting a playoff series — or even staying in the playoff landscape for that matter.
The enhanced level of play from Davis and Holiday make the Pelicans a threat to compete every night, assuming the production continues as it did over the course of the team’s winning streak. But the injected play of the team’s supporting cast since Cousins went down is not to be overlooked while surveying New Orleans’ recent success.
Since Nikola Mirotic arrived from Chicago he’s added a scoring and rebounding punch outside of Davis that the Pelicans desperately needed. In the wake of Cousins, he’s finding success inside Gentry’s running system that allows him to shoot over seven three-point attempts a game.
All of the running and scoring the Pelicans have become accustomed to over the last month needs to be orchestrated by someone on the court, otherwise, it can turn into a hot mess quickly. By using Rajon Rondo on the court at the same time as Holiday, Rondo becomes responsible for quarterbacking an offense that needs precision accuracy and execution. At the same time, it allows Holiday to move and rotate without the ball, putting him in a more natural situation to score rather than set up an offense.
Is losing an All-Star player ever ideal for a team’s hopes at making the playoffs? Absolutely not. But when Cousins went down for the Pelicans, followed by their first week of basketball without him, the team quickly looked to be on the outside looking in of the playoff race.
Instead, with just about a month left on the regular season schedule, Davis and Co. are playing well above expectations and are in position to host a playoff series for the first time since 2008 when Chris Paul was running around in a teal jersey.
Davis is an MVP candidate, the New Orleans Pelicans are a playoff team, and Cousins in wearing a walking boot on the sidelines. The NBA is a wild ride of unpredictability.
NBA Daily: A Reinvigorated Bench is Pushing Philadelphia’s Recent Success
Once a major weakness, the Philadelphia 76ers’ bench could provide some much-needed firepower during the postseason.
Consistently winning games in the NBA is one of the harder tasks in professional sports. The rigors of an 82-game schedule, playing consecutive nights, or sometimes three games in four days, can really take a toll on players. In order to be successful, the first order of business would be to have superstar caliber players. But what comes next, competing for 48 straight minutes, is arguably just as crucial.
The Philadelphia 76ers have a few star players in hand. Joel Embiid is already amongst the league’s best, and Ben Simmons seems to be climbing the ladder on a daily basis. But those two didn’t stop the Sixers from dropping multiple games earlier this season where they either had the lead or were in a close battle.
A major reason for that: the Sixers’ bench was thin. Razor thin at times, while the team dealt with injuries.
When the trade deadline approached at the beginning of February, and Philadelphia was in the middle of a playoff race, they were viewed as a team that could potentially make a move for a key veteran off the bench to ensure a postseason berth.
The deadline came and went, and president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo stood pat, unwilling to give up any assets for a rental. A frugal move, but not one that would help the Sixers realize their playoff dreams after declaring them as such for the entire season.
There’s another plus about having star players in the NBA, though. Usually, veteran guys gravitate towards them, viewing stars a way to be part of something meaningful. In the case of Philadelphia, they experienced that for the first (and second) time over the last three weeks since beginning their rebuild.
After securing buyouts with the Atlanta Hawks, Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova decided to head north to Philadelphia for a playoff push. Ilyasova spent the first half of last season with the Sixers before being traded away, but he returns to a much different situation.
“It’s always great to be back here,” Ilyasova said. “It was a helluva speech Brett Brown made to get me here. We’re playing good basketball. It’s a tremendous job that they did compared to last year and they play as a unit.”
Tremendous growth almost puts what the Sixers are doing lightly. In terms of their starting unit of Simmons, J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Embiid, they rank near the top of the league with their 18.9 net rating. For comparison’s sake, that’s more effective than Golden State’s starting five.
Ilyasova and Belinelli were brought on board to complement the winning basketball Philadelphia’s starters have already established. On Friday night against the Charlotte Hornets, the team’s newest bench weapon came up in a big way.
In his first game back at the Wells Fargo Center, Ilyasova played a big role in the Sixers’ come from behind win, scoring 18 points while adding four rebounds and three assists. Outside of the team’s starters, he registered the highest plus/minus rating on the team.
“Tonight you were going to see him and Dario a lot with each other,” Brown said of Ilyasova’s performance. “You see him have the ability to make great passes from that pick and roll spot. I put him and Joel in some pick and rolls and they delivered. You saw him take a massive charge at the end of the game that he got rewarded for.”
Following back-to-back wins over Cleveland and Charlotte, the Sixers find themselves holding onto the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference. On top of that, Philadelphia is just two games behind Cleveland for the 3rd seed with 21 games remaining in the regular season.
Now that the Sixers have players like Ilyasova and Belinelli to add to their regular reserve group, Brown is excited to tinker with the team’s versatility moving forward. Having the benefit of a 6-foot-10 point guard in Simmons leads to constant mismatches on the court, and the Sixers’ head coach doesn’t want to forget that moving forward.
“All over the place,” Brown said. “Whether it’s (Ilyasova) making a three, or him passing to Joel, or him taking a charge. Him coexisting with Dario Saric. I think that flexibility, that versatility, is what excites me the most about him. It’s not like we don’t know each other, we know each other very well. He knows the system quite well. There’s still lots to refamiliarize him with.”
This late in the season, adding Ilyasova deserves just one explanation from Brown.
“He’s a massive pick up at this stage in my eyes,” Brown said.
Along with the recent additions, the Sixers also have a rotating carousel at the backup center position. Whether it’s Richaun Holmes or Amir Johnson that subs out Embiid, the team’s growing fluidity in their rotations have Brown pleased with the results.
“I think that we have something unique,” Brown said. “You know you gotta juggle and figure out with Richaun and Amir. I thought Richaun was a little down tonight, and so Amir sat back-to-back. You have those options available, and that’s a team. That’s what a team is about. If you can get a team to believe in what I just said, then you’ve got it all.”
Brown went on the boast about his team’s “legitimate locker room” saying they’re one of the most cohesive bunches he’s seen during his time in the NBA. Brown added, “I’m lucky to coach it.”
With just over a month remaining in the regular season, a hotly contested playoff race, and plenty of games to play, the Sixers are far from finishing what they started.
But with the upward trajectory of their recent play, coupled with the new bench additions, the team from Philadelphia that just spent years in the NBA’s basement is on the cusp of achieving what they set out to do at the beginning of this season.
“I think it’s a collective, progressive growth born out of rough times early in the season,” Brown said. “And now sort of delivered into March that we’re really close to achieving something in our eyes that’s special and was a declared goal. And that is to play in the playoffs.”