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Bradley Beal Needs to Become Better Playmaker to Improve Shooting

For those who’ve been asking, or more accurately beseeching whatever their designated deity may be that Bradley Beal stop taking mid-range shots, their prayers have finally been answered, or at the very least acknowledged. In a recent piece by Bleacher Report’s Josh Martin, Beal shared this bit of happy news:

“I have to do as much as I can as best as I can to eliminate those long twos and get to the basket, get to the free-throw line,” Beal said. “Those are just easy points.”

Although this news should be met with rapturous glee, Beal’s mid-range shooting might be a symptom of a bigger problem. As many of you may know, Beal has an affinity for the mid-range jumper. Unfortunately, it’s a one-sided affair. Last season, Beal shot 33.8 percent from 15-19 feet. That was the sixth-worst mark in the NBA for players who attempted over 100 shots from that range. Here are the other players who shot worse than Beal:

MRShots2

It’s a little surprising that Beal is a card-carrying member of the Mid-Range Broken Shot Club considering his efficiency from three-point range. Beal shot 40.9 percent from three overall, and only shot below average from the left corner:

Bradley Beal's Shot Chart

Bradley Beal’s Shot Chart

It’s not his mid-range shooting alone that is the problem, but the situation that preceded the shot as well. Despite his struggles running the pick-and-roll, Beal initiated the play over a quarter of the time he was on the floor. Last season, he scored .65 points per possession (PPP) as the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll, racking up 175 points, per Synergy. A team’s secondary ball-handler cannot score that little on perhaps the NBA’s most used play. John Wall doesn’t score at a much higher rate, but he finds open teammates; Beal rarely makes those reads:

BradleyBealMidRange

After coming off the pick from Gortat, he sized up Tyson Chandler and fired the jumper. Disregard the fact that Beal made the shot. He had two better options on the play: he could’ve passed to Kris Humphries at the top of the key or Otto Porter, who was cutting to the basket off the screen Humphries set for him. The pass to Porter might have been risky, but Humphries was wide open.

Although Beal hasn’t refined his playmaking, some of his shot settling is due to his teammates. The most-used Wizards lineup was their starting lineup, a lineup that featured only two above-average shooters: Beal and Paul Pierce. When he initiates the high pick-and-roll, defenders just crash down on Beal because of the lack of shooters on the court, and he doesn’t have the vision to manufacture space. 17.6 percent of the two-point shots Beal took were under duress; the closest defender being within two-to-four feet of him.

It’s understandable to believe Beal might grow as a ball-handler, but it’s peculiar why head coach Randy Wittman calls for Beal to run the pick-and-roll so often (a lot of what Wittman does is peculiar, but that’s neither here nor there). The only time Beal has proved proficient in the pick-and-roll was during the 2014 playoffs, when the Wizards scored .926 PPP when Beal ran the pick-and-roll.

That might have been a bit of fool’s gold, though. During Washington’s run, they faced the Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers. Both teams weren’t exactly in the best shape at the time. The Bulls were running on fumes, and Joakim Noah – who was often put in the pick-and-roll by the Wizards –  was playing on one leg, though he seems to be in that state perpetually. The Pacers were healthy, but in the midst of a tailspin that included Roy Hibbert no showing for some of those games.

Obviously I don’t expect the Wizards to stop using Beal as a ball-handler, but if there’s no tangible improvement in that area, recognizing his limitations may be in the best interest of the team. Beal periodically running the pick-and-roll makes sense in terms of his development, but the dedication of numerous possessions to an inefficient play is self-destructive. The sooner the Wizards recognize this, the better off the team and Bradley Beal will be.

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