Bradley Beal won't likely ever forget his 19th birthday. It was on that night—June 28th, 2012—that the Washington Wizards made him the No. 3 pick in the 2012 NBA draft, thereby pairing him with John Wall in their backcourt of the future.
Beal won't have quite so much pressure to live up to and through as a rookie as Wall did, especially while surrounded with Washington's new veteran crew of Nene, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. Nor will he be tracked from all angles like fellow 2012 SEC draftees Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who went ahead of Beal in the order.
But there will be plenty of change with which the 19-year-old Beal will deal in his inaugural campaign, and though he may not be as celebrated now as his one-time Kentucky adversaries are, don't forget that it was Beal—not The Brow or MKG—who was the 2011 Gatorade National Player of the Year in high school.
How Beal Fits In
The Wizards will ask Beal to do what he does best from the get-go—shoot the basketball. Washington ranked 27th in the NBA in three-point shooting during each of John Wall's first two seasons.
And things didn't figure to improve in that department after GM Ernie Grunfeld gave up two of the team's best gunners—Nick Young to the Clippers at the trade deadline and Rashard Lewis to the Hornets prior to the draft—and let another (Roger Mason) walk in free agency.
In fact, sophomore-to-be Chris Singleton, who hit 34.6 percent of his shots from distance last season, now stands as Washington's most proficient returning shooter.
That doesn't exactly bode well for a Wizards squad that will have Nene and Okafor clogging the middle and Ariza (a career 31.7 percent three-point shooter) and Wall (23.6 percent) on the perimeter.
As such, Beal will likely be tasked with nailing spot-up jumpers from the wings and launching in catch-and-shoot situations off kick-outs from Wall as a means of spreading the floor in DC.
Likewise, Beal should fit in quite nicely as a wingman for Wall in transition. He was lethal in that capacity in college, particularly when attacking the basket. The Wizards may ask him to float toward the perimeter a bit more on account of his smooth stroke, but as Wall's primary running mate, he'll have plenty of opportunities in both situations.
He should also boost the Wizards' previously-suspect perimeter defense. Per Mike Schmitz of DraftExpress, Beal limited opponents to 40 percent shooting in isolation situations, 27.8 percent on post-ups and 17.1 percent coming off screens. He and Ariza, a lockdown defender in his own right, have the combined ability to make life rather difficult for opposing wings.
Adjustments Beal Must Make at the Pro Level
For all of his strengths as a shooter, Beal still needs to improve his creation and conversion of shots with his own handle. Per DraftExpress, Beal hit just 36 percent of his shots in pick-and-roll situations and a mere 25 percent off the dribble. He did, however, manage to nail a respectable 42 percent of his isolation attempts, though those constituted all of 7.9 percent of his plays at Florida.
Some of Beal's issues in this department stem from his current lack of craftiness when it comes to getting around defenders. Too often did Beal launch contested shots at Florida, in part because he lacked a polished repertoire of moves (spins, crossovers, etc.) with which to free himself from the opposition.
As Grantland's Sebastian Pruiti notes, Beal's issues off the dribble also stem from poor shot selection. More specifically, Beal often settled for jump shots in college rather than taking the ball to the basket—which he's eminently capable of doing, thanks to his athleticism and excellent pump fake. According to Pruiti, Beal shot 57.1 percent on possessions in which he faked and drove to the hoop.
Part of the challenge for Beal, then, will be determining when to drive and when to shoot within the confines of the Wizards' offense. There won't likely be much room in which to operate on account of Washington's general dearth of marksmen.
That same sort of calculus applies to Beal's rebounding, as well. He's terrific on the boards—he averaged 6.7 caroms per game in college—especially for a player of his size and position.
Whether Wizards coach Randy Wittman wants Beal committing himself to rebounding, though, is another story. Beal certainly possesses the strength, tenacity and intuition to clean the glass at the pro level, but doing so may imperil Washington's defensive floor balance on one hand and limit Beal's impact as a threat in transition on the other.
Surely, the Wizards would be wise to simply let Bradley be Bradley, but ultimately, it's Beal who must commit himself to fitting in rather than the other way around.
That shouldn't be too much of a problem though, assuming Beal's reputation as a hard worker and willing teammate properly precedes him. By all accounts—including that of Florida Gators coach Billy Donovan—Beal is a terrific kid with the mental and emotional maturity to succeed in the NBA, despite being all of 19 years old.
The fact that he was the best player on a Gators squad that reached the Elite Eight of the 2012 NCAA tournament but still took a backseat to elder statesmen Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker speaks volumes of Beal's ability to put the concerns of his team ahead of his own, if not adopt them as his own entirely.
Rookie Year Projections
Beal will be the young buck feeling his way along on a team that, over the past year, has been transformed from a hodgepodge of childish nitwits to a flotilla of promising talents anchored by grizzled veterans.
Beal will have plenty of opportunities to shoot the ball for a Wizards squad devoid of perimeter proficiency and, ideally, will pick up more than a few buckets in transition. If Beal averages 12 points, five rebounds and two assists while serving as Wall's long-awaited sidekick, his rookie season will be considered a success.
Even if he's burned from time to time defensively. Beal may have the tools to be a standout stopper at the pro level, but he'll inevitably need some time to adjust to the heightened quotient of talent and competition in the NBA, especially on that end of the floor.
Bovada.lv has Beal's Rookie of the Year odds listed at 19-to-2, behind only Kentucky teammates (and former SEC adversaries) Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Those odds are fair for Beal, considering he's probably the third or fourth option (at best) on a Washington team with fringe playoff hopes in the Eastern Conference.
Speaking of which, a significant step forward in the wins column is to be expected for the Wizards this season, though only in part because of Beal's arrival. A 40-win season may be too much to expect from an organization that's won just over 28 percent of its games over the last four seasons.
However, a 32- to 35-win campaign should be well within reach. The Wizards have just about purged the roster of bad apples from the demise of the Gilbert Arenas era and, in turn, figure to be ready to start fresh next season, with a more positive outlook and a gifted rookie in Beal to justify that optimism.