The Evolution of Bradley Beal

Bradley Beal is more than a jump shooter and it's paying dividends for the Washington Wizards.

The recent Wizards have always been John Wall’s team. From the moment he was drafted first overall in 2010 to his game-winning three against the Celtics in game six of last season’s Eastern Conference semifinals, Wall has declared D.C. “his city.” Wall’s public declaration atop the scorer’s table after he hit the prolific game-winner is hard to argue against. Being a perennial all-star point guard with blazing speed, heroic handles, and a deadly pull-up jumper is more than enough to stake claim to the title of best basketball player in the nation’s capital.

While Wall can, and should, claim alpha-male status, his backcourt partner, Bradley Beal, may quietly be surpassing him as the Wizards’ most important player for current and future success. Beal has evolved from young shooter to veteran scorer. The Wizards are reaping the benefits.

First Years (2012-2014): The Shooter

Beal entered the league in 2012 with the label as a smooth shooter. Many scouts and pundits predicted he would slowly develop into the next Ray Allen. Beal had a high, beautiful release that would translate well in the NBA, while also possessing the basketball acumen to run the baseline, work off screens, and hit threes.

In his first few seasons, Beal almost exclusively did just that. The same scouts, pundits, and former head coach Randy Wittman defined him as the Wizards’ shooting threat. For good reason, too. Wall was the one who could drive to the rim, pull up from 15 feet, and take abuse below the rim. Other than the ageless Trevor Ariza and enigmatic Jordan Crawford, the Wizards were lacking deep shooting threats. Beal filled that role. The average distances of Beal’s field goal attempts in his rookie and sophomore seasons were 16.6 and 16.7 feet, respectively (see table below). Ray Allen’s career average was 16.3 feet.

Developmental Years (2014-2016): The Gator

While Beal simply fulfilled the role needed by Randy Wittman in his first few seasons in the NBA, his days at the University of Florida were not solely defined by outside shooting. In fact, Beal only hit 33.9% of his attempts from beyond the arc in his lone season in Gainesville. Alternatively, Beal shot 54.1% inside the arc, throwing down dunks and slashing to the rim with aggressiveness and authority. Beal wasn’t just a shooter in college, he was a scorer. Scouts, pundits, and Wittman identified early Beal’s innate shooting ability, but neglected to promote his development as a dangerous scorer and playmaker all over the court. Beal had more.

The average distances of Beal’s field goal attempts slowly retreated back toward the basket in his third and fourth years to 15.4 and 14.5 feet, respectively. Beal was getting to the rim more. And getting hurt. The additional abuse taken by asserting himself as a complete player wore on Beal, as he only played in 63 and 55 games in his third and fourth seasons because of ailments that included a stress injury to his right leg.

Regardless of the physical outcome of his third and fourth seasons (he’s healthy now), Beal continued to provide evidence on the court that he was ready to showcase his dynamic Florida years at the NBA level. Beal had a 4.1% dunk rate (percentage of FGA that are dunks) in his third season, compared with a dunk rate of just 1.9% his sophomore season. That leap in aggressiveness complements the drop in his average shooting distance from his first and second years to his third and fourth years (15.4 and 14.5 feet, respectively). The table highlights Beal's shooting trends by percentages from various distances and dunk rates: 

                                2-Pt 2-Pt
        % of FGA % of FGA % of FGA % of FGA % of FGA % of FGA FG% FG% FG% FG% FG% FG% Dunk Dunk
Season Age FG% Dist. 2P 0-3 ft. 3-10 ft. 10-16 ft. 16 < 3 3P 2P 0-3 ft. 3-10 ft. 10-16 ft. 16 < 3 3P % FGA Made
2012-13 19 .410 16.6 .656 .176 .093 .068 .319 .344 .424 .595 .344 .277 .384 .386 .033 22
2013-14 20 .419 16.7 .701 .151 .065 .124 .361 .299 .426 .618 .387 .364 .373 .402 .019 20
2014-15 21 .427 15.4 .696 .206 .085 .126 .277 .304 .434 .669 .292 .374 .331 .409 .041 34
2015-16 22 .449 14.5 .661 .229 .114 .139 .179 .339 .481 .639 .451 .405 .357 .387 .029 21
2016-17 23 .482 15.9 .582 .238 .101 .085 .157 .418 .538 .634 .425 .469 .505 .404 .038 48
2017-18 24 .479 13.9 .686 .211 .165 .153 .157 .314 .542 .784 .450 .432 .421 .342 .037 8
Career   .443 15.8 .656 .201 .094 .110 .249 .344 .468 .641 .395 .392 .388 .397 .032 153

Beal’s third and fourth years were defined by his development as a complete playmaker, foreshadowing his elite 2016-2017 production in the playoffs and all-star caliber start to the 2017-2018 season.

Star Years (2016-Present): The Scorer

The current version of Beal projects to be a perennial all-star with Wall. Often the most aggressive player on the court, Beal now regularly passes up contested threes for drives to the rim or slashes to the paint for short, high-percentage jumpers. Not only is Beal getting inside, but also finishing. Beal is taking (11.9 2PA) and making (54.2%) the most two-point field goals in his career (his 2P FG% has increased every year) and is also being used at his highest rate ever (28.5% usage percentage). This increased usage rate is a testament to Beal’s diverse ability to score the basketball.

While Beal is putting up the best two-point shooting line of his career, it means he is taking fewer threes. Last season, Beal attempted a career-high 7.2 per game (and made 40.4% of the attempts). This season, Beal is attempting nearly two fewer, at 5.4 per game (and making 34.2% of the attempts). This early dip in attempts and shooting percentage from beyond the arc is not worrisome. The attempts will appropriately stay down because of Beal’s new identity and his shooting percentage will surely trend upward as the season continues. What’s important is that Beal has clearly made the decision to score the basketball by any means necessary.

This relentlessly aggressive version of Beal was initially spotted in last season’s playoffs. Beal shot 58.9% from inside the arc, showcasing his enhanced ability to penetrate the paint efficiently and effectively. Five times Beal scored over 30 points in the playoffs, including a 38-point performance against the Celtics in game seven when Wall was fatigued and ineffective down the stretch. Beal was no longer a Ray Allen in the corner, but rather a scorer looking to put opponents away at the rim.

Is Bradley Beal the next Ray Allen? Based on Beal’s rise as an elite scorer, the Wizards prefer Brad to continue to create his own legend.

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