Bradley Beal is scary good.
After his rookie campaign was overshadowed by the domineering exploits of Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis and personal injury, Beal has started 2013-14 with a bang. And boom. And kapow. Any intimidating sound you can fathom, Beal has made it.
The Washington Wizards have been disappointing as of late, sure, but not because of Beal. Most recently, against the Oklahoma City Thunder, it was Beal who nearly led the Wiz to an overtime victory. It was his 34 points that helped keep them ahead until they blew a late lead.
It has been his onset performance that should have us convinced he's not far from backcourt stardom.
His Jersey is on Fire
Pay little attention to Beal's unimpressive 41.6 percent clip from the floor, because that's misleading.
Through six games, Beal has been on fire from beyond the arc. He's connecting on a blistering 47.6 percent of his long bombs for the season, which is saying something when you consider he's hoisting up seven per night. In fact, of the 11 players currently jacking up six or more threes a game, Beal's conversion rate tops the list.
Overall, he's off to a Stephen Curry-like start to the season, firing at will and improving his efficiency as he moves further away from the basket.
That kind of deadly shooting is invaluable next to a drive-and-kick specialist like John Wall. Defenses cannot simultaneously defend his dribble drives and Beal's deadly touch from beyond the arc. Not effectively.
His long-range acumen has him averaging 21 points per game early on to lead the Wizards, fourth amongst all shooting guards, behind Monta Ellis, Kevin Martin and James Harden. Washington's offense is also scoring 13.9 points per 100 possessions more when he's on the floor compared to when he's off, according to NBA.com (subscription required).
The mere presence of him on the floor does wonders for the Wizards' floor spacing. Just look at how many defenders are compelled to zero in on him when he's moving with the ball in hand:
Washington presently ranks fifth in three-point shooting, up from 10th last season (if their current position holds). Beal's ability to both bomb away and hit the open man off rim attacks of his own makes the Wizards that much more difficult to defend. Think of him as serving the same purpose as Harden, only to a lesser extent.
Big things are headed the Wizards' way on offense and Beal is at the center of it all.
The NBA is thin on dominant shooting guards, especially now.
Players like Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant are entering the twilight of their careers while the K-Marts and Ellis' of the NBA will never be known as elite. Harden is clearly the best shooting guard in the game and after him, the field is wide open.
Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler figure to become stars, as their stock is on the rise. But who else? Seriously, who?
I'll listen to cases made for Iman Shumpert and Lance Stephenson. Gullibility permitting, I might even entertain those prepared to argue on behalf of Dion Waiters. Don't you dare come at me with DeMar DeRozan, though.
Now more than ever, the shooting guard pool is undergoing a significant transition. As players like Kobe and Wade continue to age and inevitably fade, younger guns will rise.
Few are presently equipped to make the leap Beal is preparing to take. Looking across the board, players like Butler, Thompson and Shumpert will be hindered by their respective teams having other, more pressing mouths to feed offensively.
There isn't another shooting guard with star potential who is the featured scorer on his team. Try me—except you won't. You can't. Because there isn't one.
Presently, that's what Beal is—the Wizards' No. 1 option on offense. This isn't a negative critique of Wall's game, either. The point guard is having himself a fine season, but his usage rate (24.4) is lower than that of Beal's (25).
For a player like Beal, that's tough to do. Wall is the team's point guard; the ball runs through him. And yet, Beal is who the offense runs through first and foremost, albeit at Wall's choosing.
In just his second season, Beal is the Wizards' go-to scorer, something none of his blossoming peers will ever be in their current situation.
Star In the Making
Keep an eye on Beal, because he's not done.
Naturally there are things he needs to improve upon, just like everyone else. His defense is spotty—though the Wizards are allowing fewer points with him on the floor—and we generally detest players who cannot clear 40 percent inside the arc.
But Beal has already proved himself a future star at an increasingly barren position. We're at the point where mediocre volume scorers, who are even less efficient than Beal, receive recognition for their on-court prowess. Think J.R. Smith, Jamal Crawford and Ellis, all before this season. The league has been desperate for a top-flight 2 to usher in the new era of shooting guards alongside Harden.
Beal can be that 2.
See for yourself how his production differentials are already skyrocketing:
Of course, it's still early. Things could change. Beal could get injured, his production could decline or he could find himself ousted as the No. 1 option on offense.
Or, he can continue his current trend of development. The one that's shown us he's prepared to help headline the evolution of a shooting guard position in flux.
The one that's left him a rising star.
*All stats in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference unless otherwise attributed and are accurate as of Nov. 11, 2013.
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