Put Up or Shut Up Time for Bradley Beal

New Faces: Marcus Thornton, Sheldon McLellan, Tomas Satoransky, Danuel House, Jason Smith, Trey Burke, Andrew Nicholson, Ian Mahinmi

2015-16 Regular Season Record: 41-41

2015-16 Regular Season Accomplishments 5th: Assists. 8th: Steals. 9th: Field Goal Percentage, 2-Point Field Goal Percentage.

Leading Scorer: John Wall, 19.9

Leading Rebounder: Marcin Gortat, 9.9

The Washington Wizards are in the midst of a 36 year Eastern Conference Finals drought, a woefully tragic dry spell they are desperate to bury. What is standing in their way is a consistently efficient, effective, trustworthy defense, an offense that isn’t bogged down with mistrust from their two best players, explosiveness around the rim, and dare I say, maturity.

The Wizards were a terrific offensive team last year. It went unnoticed because a pervasive light is turned on John Wall 24-7, particular his flaws. He turns the ball over too much. He can’t shoot when it counts. He plays with too much of an edge that turns his teammates off so his leadership is questionable. But of the guard crew his age in the league, he’s the best defender of the bunch, better than Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, Jeff Teague and light years better than Kyrie Irving.

The Wizards post players, Marcin Gortat, and the newly added Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith will establish position on the boards but they don’t have superb athleticism in the paint and it doesn’t look like the Wizards rebounding numbers are going to change from 2015-16 where they were 27th in offensive rebounding, 22nd in defensive rebounding and 26th in total rebounding. They were 26th in blocked shots.

But their offense…

To say it lacked imagination with Randy Wittman is to understate it’s predictability. It was hurt by the one dimensional offensive talent of the Wizards stars and the mundane X’s and O’s of their former coach.  Bradley Beal feasts on the perimeter and Wall is explosive getting to the rim but he can’t shoot a lick, not when it counts, not when they need him to so teams sag off on him so he can prove to everyone watching not much has changed for Wall in his five years in the league as far as three point shooting is concerned

  • 2011-12: 7.1%
  • 2012-13: 26.7%
  • 2013-14: 35.1%
  • 2014-15: 30.0%
  • 2015-16: 35.1%

Bradley Beal signed a massive contract and good for him for taking advantage of the economic system. But as Wall correctly pointed out (and was deeply criticized for) Beal has his money now. Time to show up. Like Wall, Beal is also an explosive talent but he has virtually no mid-range game. Both Beal and Wall play hard and are uber competitors but things can get dicey for them and the offense with a couple minutes left to go against a great defensive team that can guard shooters. What then?

The Wizards have yet to crack the 50 win mark in the John Wall era. Beal and Wall, who the team is structured around, come up injured at the worst possible moment. Wall is coming off knee surgery and Beal always finds a way to hurt something. Last season, the man behind me at a Wizards game at Verizon Center yelled out, “Beal is brittle.” Yes. He is.

The Wizards are in a conference that is not so tough anymore. The Heat are rebuilding. The Magic are the Magic; they are never going to get it together. Who trusts any team with Dwight Howard on it? Charlotte is the best thing going in the division with Kemba Walker, the anti-Wall, who can score anywhere and from everywhere.

I’m not the first one to make the John Wall and Chris Paul comparison. Both are high assist guards that linger in the same failed place once the playoffs start. Wall made it known last summer he wanted to be the MVP which meant he wanted to run and lead the team with his offense. But defense from Wall is the best thing he does.  He utilizes his speed and his hands and he’s physical and has a chip on his shoulder. Wall isn’t out there to make friends.

The Wizards are the East Coast version of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson except Curry is a better all around player than John Wall and Klay Thompson is a more efficient shooter than Bradley Beal and at 6-7, a better defender.

The Wizards will be the Wizards. They will entertain. New coach Scott Brooks will give them a defensive identity and empower Beal and Wall just as he did Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The guard matchups when the Wizards play the Warriors, Raptors, Cavs, Blazers will be fascinating.  The Wizards will have their stretch of exciting games but they’re no match for the contending teams in the conference, the Cavs, Raptors, Pacers and Celtics. Does Wall need to improve? Good God, yes. Does Bradley Beal need to get better? Yes. Is this the same Wizards team as last year? No.

The 2016-17 Wizards will be a better team than they were last season. The product has improved. But they lack explosiveness in the front court. They are not equipped, personnel wise, to be a top-4 seed.

Prediction: 45-37.

photo via llananba