Monday, November 25, 2013

NBA Team of the Week: Bradley Beal and the Mediocre Washington Wizards

The Wizards haven't been great, but Alex Theoharides (@Minne_Pop) loves the way Bradley Beal has been playing.

In the 90's, shooting guard was the sexiest position in the NBA. All the best teams had a competent scorer at the 2. The Bulls, of course, had Michael Jordan, who deserves most of the credit for giving the position a rarefied air*. Utah had Jeff Hornacek, while the Knicks had John Starks, Latrell Sprewell, and Allan Houston. Indiana had Reggie Miller, the Pistons had Joe Dumars, Golden State and Sacramento each had Mitch Richmond; and first Portland, then Houston had Clyde Drexler. 

The trend continued into the early 2000's, with Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade establishing themselves as two of the best 2-guards in NBA history, closely followed by Manu Ginobili, Ray Allen, Tracey McGrady (a hybrid wing player, but still), Vince Carter, Joe Johnson and Jerry Stackhouse.

(*Editor's Note: Some may argue that Jerry West, aka The Logo or Mr. Clutch, gave the position it's rarefied air. But I'm a Jordan homer so I am completely on board with this statement.)

The  shooting guard position began to fade in talent and relevance over the last decade, as the NBA instituted rules about hand-checking that made the game faster and more dependent on competent ball handlers than lights-out shooters. Then Lebron James entered the league and suddenly teams decided they wanted to find the next great “wing” rather than true shooting guards. Witness the rise of the Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and now Paul George.

However, slowly, a new crop of shooting guards is emerging. headlined by Washington’s Bradley Beal. Beal is a silky smooth shooter in his second year in the league and is averaging 20.6 points per game, 4.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists. This season, the NBA is surprisingly deep at the 2-guard. Houston has James Harden and his lackluster defense, Miami has the Artist Formerly Known As Dwyane Wade*, the Warriors have Klay Thompson, the Wolves have Kevin Martin, the Pelicans have Eric Gordon (and, I guess, Tyreke Evans), and the Knicks have J.R. Smith (and his alter ego JR Swoosh). Meanwhile, a plethora of young guards continue to develop such as Lance Stephenson, Ben McLemore, Dion Waiters**, and Evan Fournier.

(*Editor's Note: It makes me sick to allow this comment. Just for that, let's thrown in some Wade highlights from the weekend.)

(**Editor's Note: Though, recent news makes it seem like Waiters may have longer to go than he initially showed towards the end of last season.)

Still, Bradley Beal stands out to me as the shooting guard most likely to make the jump into stardom. At 5-8, the Washington Wizards spent the first month of the season losing to teams like Philadelphia and Detroit. However, they have won 3 of their last 4 games, largely due to the success of their back-court of Beal and John Wall, who are averaging close to a combined 40 points per game. Beal has a nearly perfect jump shot and is shooting about 41% from the field and 44% from three point range. After a slow start to the season, he has emerged as a dangerous scoring threat who benefits greatly from Wall's lane penetration and kick outs. Beal's sweet stroke is a big reason why Wall is averaging a shade under nine assists per game, with a season high of sixteen last week against my own beloved Timberwolves.

Currently, the Wizards sit in the 9th seed in a weak, weak Eastern Conference. If Beal continues to emerge, they should be able to leapfrog over the Pistons, 76ers, Bobcats, and Raptors. If that happens, they could end up being a 5-seed in the playoffs. Like I said, the Eastern Conference is terrible. 

But the good news is that basketball is happening again in the nation’s capital; and Bradley Beal looks like a lock to be the Most Improved Player of 2013-14.

Thoughts of a Wolves’ Fan:
  • In light of Derrick Rose and Mark Gasol getting injured on the same night, Mark Cuban discussed the idea of studying HGH to see if it could be used to help players recover from injuries. Personally, I see no downside to the NBA allowing doctors to investigate whether or not HGH can be safely used for injury prevention and recovery.

  • The Clippers offense doesn’t look any better with Doc Rivers at the helm than it did with Vinny Del Negro. Chris Paul gets a lot of love from NBA scribes, but at the end of games he becomes a ball stopper, who looks for his own shot. That kind of basketball works in the regular season, but tends to fail in the playoffs when teams develop defenses designed to stop specific players.

  • Holy shit the Spurs are good!

  • Although trade talk is beginning, don’t look for any trades until after December 15th, which is the point at which free agents signed in the offseason can be moved.

  • Here’s my list of players who could be traded: Omar Asik, Derrick Williams, Alexey Shved, Luol Deng, Evan Turner, Rajon Rondo, Ryan Anderson, Dion Waiters, DeMar Derozan, and Rudy Gay.

  • The best player I watched last week was Dwight Howard, who completely controlled the Wolves on defense.

  • The worst player I watched was Ryan Hollins of the Clippers, who still doesn’t appear to have mastered the art of walking, running or jumping.

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