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Is Bradley Beal Worth a Max Contract?

So you’d like to get paid, Bradley Beal? Rumor out of Washington is that the Wizards’ 22-year-old shooting guard wants a max contract extension, but the Wizards aren’t biting just yet. Neither are wrong in what they want, but I tend to side with Washington on not being ready to hand out a max contract.

Jason Patt wrote on the topic recently, citing that it makes sense for the Wizards to wait on the contract extension because it saves around $6 million on the cap hit for Beal next summer, when Washington could be wooing Kevin Durant back to his hometown. This is completely reasonable, because it likely will take around $27 million in cap space to sign Durant, and the Wizards will want all the extra flexibility they can get.

So it’s clear that there’s motivation on the part of the Wizards to wait. The motivation on the part of Beal is pretty simple, too. He’s entering the fourth year of his cheap rookie deal, and he wants to be paid like a star after showing glimpses of his potential over the past few years.  I think we can all relate to wanting more money if the performance calls for it.

But is Beal worthy of a max contract at this moment? Based on performance on the court thus far, no. Based on projected performance, yes. They say you should pay for future performance, not past performance, but the Wizards have the benefit of continuing to keep an eye on the situation to determine whether Beal really is going to be a breakout star or not.

I think it’s interesting that, after improving from his rookie season to his second year, Beal’s development remained somewhat flat last year. While many expected him to continue to rise to stardom, he played at pretty much the same level. His true shooting percentage was just 52.1 percent, which tied him with Mario Chalmers. He shot 40.9 percent on three pointers, but he only took 30 percent of his shots from outside (dang those long twos). For comparison, Derrick Rose took 32.5 percent of his shots from downtown.

For his career, Beal has shot 41.8 percent on corner threes, and that area has made up 32 percent of his total three-point attempts. He only put up 25.9 percent of his three-pointers from the corner last season and hit on just 35.8 percent of those, both of which were a career low.

For Beal to be successful, setting him up in the corners needs to be part of the game plan for the Wizards. That falls on head coach Randy Wittman to game plan, and for star point guard John Wall to help execute. Fortunately for the Wizards and Beal, Wall has a strong track record in setting up his players for the corner three-pointer, most notably Trevor Ariza when he was with the Wizards. From an article at Grantland after the 2013-14 season:

“Corner 3s have a tendency to be among the most passive shooting plays on the court. Make no mistake, it’s clearly important that Ariza is able to find open spots and knock down open shots, but it’s also important to note that Wall is more often than not the begetter of those points.

Wall not only has assisted on the most corner 3s this season, but also leads the league in overall 3-point assists. His passes have led to 243 total 3-pointers, and 109 of those have been in the corners. Although his favorite partner in crime in the corners has been Ariza, Bradley Beal and Martell Webster are also very common collaborators. In fact, Wall is involved with three of the top six corner 3 partnerships in the league this year.”

If Wall can consistently help Beal get up uncontested threes from the corner, his scoring and efficiency will go up. It’s an imperfect comparison, but Klay Thompson of the Warriors actually did something of a reverse from what I’m proposing for the Wizards and Beal to initiate his rise to stardom. Thompson took less three-pointers from the corner this last season and operated with the ball in his hands more frequently, leading to more shots from the top of the arc. His percentage of two-pointers that were assisted dropped by nearly seven percent and assisted three-pointers by nearly four percent.

The two are different players, though, and regardless of how it happens one thing is for certain: Bradley Beal needs to finally stay healthy and have a breakout season this year. I don’t think it’d stop him from getting a massive payday if he doesn’t, but it may cast some doubt about what his ceiling is. In that case, Washington may not look as appealing to Durant. And if Durant doesn’t come, the Wizards will really need Beal to blossom into a star, so him not stepping up would be a bummer.

Beal has the physical tools, has a great distributor in Wall and has the opportunity to earn his max contract. The only question is will he?

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