Bradley Beal is 20 years old and is about to enter his third season as starting shooting guard for the Washington Wizards. Coming off a season in which he averaged a highly impressive 17.1 points per game while shooting over 40 percent from the three-point line, Wizards fans should be asking themselves how much better Beal will be next year.
Can he make his first All-Star game? Will he become a 20-point-per-game scorer? Will his defense rise alongside his special ability to create for others?
From what we witnessed in the first two playoff series of his career, Washington has a special player on its hands. Beal ran pick-and-rolls with modest effectiveness against two of the best defenses in the NBA, was aggressive as a scorer (especially in transition) and boosted nearly all his regular-season efficiency numbers.
Heading into next season, Beal should be considered one of the best players at his (very thin) position, and qualifying for the All-Star game will be a legitimate goal.
Beal shot just 41.9 percent from the floor last year (not as bad as it looks considering three out of every 10 shots came from behind the three-point line), and his player efficiency rating (PER) didn't hit league average. But his usage, turnover and assist rates all made a slight improvement from his rookie year.
He's clearly on the right path to becoming more than a one-dimensional, spot-up option. Beal can make teammates better off the dribble and attack the rim, but one area he can stand to boost his shooting efficiency is in the mid-range.
Last season (including the playoffs), 48 percent of Beal's total shot attempts came between 10 feet and the three-point line. As good of a shooter as he is, Beal made around 37 percent of them. He's capable of much better even if the looks are made off the bounce while escaping a defender.
Nearly all of Beal's offensive faults are due to his age (again, he's not even 21 years old), and what he's already shown indicates the possibility of multiple All-Star games (and All-NBA teams?) in his future. Here's The Washington Post's Brandon Parker on Beal's progression on both ends of the floor.
"I feel as though I can come in and make the impact and be the best I can be. That's all I can ask for. I'm granted a great opportunity," Beal said. "Nothing in my game is perfect. I've made some improvement this year definitely in terms of just handling the ball. I think it can get increased. I can get better in different areas passing, rebounding, stealing, playing better defense and everything like that."
Beal did show some signs defensively, hounding Lance Stephenson into a mostly ineffective second-round performance. But working with Team USA, his personal trainer and Wizards assistant Sam Cassell will help him vanquish bad habits, like taking shortcuts while chasing players around screens, as he did during Mike Dunleavy's career shooting night in Chicago's lone playoff win against Washington.
On defense, Beal is pretty good for a second-year player, but there are specific areas of weakness that, once improved, can vault him up among the elite at his position (and an absolute lock for a max contract in 2016).
Let's start with a compliment—Beal cares about defense; he's committed to being in the right place at the right time. But sometimes, he relies too much on manic, youthful hustle—over-helping in the paint or reacting a bit too slowly after "chucking" the pick-and-roll (rotating off his original assignment to bump a rolling big off line).
Here he is dropping way too far in the paint on a Dwyane Wade drive. Marcin Gortat has Miami's guard stifled fine by himself, but Beal leaves his man—Mario Chalmers—to help anyway. The result is a wide-open three-pointer.
Here, Beal is caught in a back screen by New York Knicks guard Iman Shumpert as Pablo Prigioni drives toward the paint. Beal's man, J.R. Smith, is left wide-open behind the three-point line. Moments before this photo was snapped, Prigioni and Carmelo Anthony ran a pick-and-roll on the other side that drew Beal's attention.
It's good that Beal's aware of the ball, but he also needs to be aware of his man—especially when it's a shot-happy, three-point sniper.
Navigating his way through picks has been difficult, especially in a purely physical way. For the most part, he does a fantastic job not only fighting either above or below, but knowing which is the correct option depending on who he's up against (for example, he always went below against the likes of Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley and Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler).
But Beal is also susceptible to getting caught in screens every now and then.
Here he is running straight into a screen set by the Orlando Magic's Kyle O'Quinn, resulting in a wide-open jumper for Arron Afflalo.
Next season, Beal will be 21 years old. Compared to some of the game's other great shooting guards at that age, Wade was still at Marquette, and James Harden was posting per 100 possession numbers on par with Beal's.
It's difficult to imagine a scenario where Beal doesn't become one of the league's very best shooting guards. He can already shoot from all over the floor, get where he wants with and without the ball, pass and finish. If he can continue improving at the same rate on offense and shore up a few of his bad habits on defense, there's really no limit to what type of career he'll have.
If he can stay healthy, Beal's third season will be his best yet.