Bradley Beal will almost certainly sign a long-term contract with the Washington Wizards by next summer, though he likely won’t sign a four-year extension by the Halloween deadline. That’s because he wants the maximum salary available and the Wizards have offered him less than that, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, because they want maximum salary-cap flexibility for free agents in July.
Over his first three professional seasons, Beal has exhibited enough flashes of his potential to excite fans and assure the Wizards that he is a foundational piece for their future. He has saved his best for each of his two playoff appearances but the 22-year-old sharpshooter has yet to sustain those flashes over the course of an entire season.
There are a few factors. First, he’s young. He’s entering just his fourth season and the upcoming campaign will be the first time he’s not the youngest player on the Wizards roster since he was joined the team as the No. 3 pick in the 2012 draft. Then there are the various injuries that have cost him 54 games.
But not all of it is completely out of Beal’s control, as frustrated fans and curious observers have noted. The criticism most frequently lobbed at him is his shot selection. While Beal is a standout three-point shooter, he hasn’t been nearly as efficient from midrange. Yet he still has launched a sizable amount of midrange jumpers, or long twos, a shot increasingly avoided by most of the league’s successful teams.
Last season, 37 percent of Beal’s field goal attempts were midrange jumpers – defined as outside the paint and inside the three-point arc. And among players with at least 200 midrange attempts, Beal’s 33.9 field-goal percentage ranked 86th out of 90. That is not ideal. Coach Randy Wittman’s philosophy of taking any open shot as long as you are capable of making it, as well as some play calls, surely contributed to those numbers but there were plenty of times when Beal could’ve stepped behind the three-point line or driven to the basket instead of opting for a difficult and inefficient jumper.
Beal has heard the criticism. He joked about his at times last season. But based on what he recently told Bleacher Report’s Josh Martin, limiting long-twos will be a priority this season.
“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 told Martin in Los Angeles. “Those are just easy points.”
Wizards officials have echoed the sentiment, suggesting that just by going to the free throw line a handful more times per game, Beal can become an 18-point scorer. Beal averaged 15.3 points and just 2.6 free throw attempts per game last season. The numbers increased to 23.4 points and 5.9 free throws in 10 playoff games, when he played the best basketball of his career. He also increased his three-point tries from 4.4 to 6.3 per contest.
Washington’s anticipated expanded use of small-ball lineups, a carryover from the postseason, should make it easier for Beal. There will be more space for him to operate and he’ll probably have more open threes on passes from John Wall after the point guard collapses defenses. But we won’t know for sure until the season tips off.
As for Beal’s contract, the Wizards could give him up to a four-year extension by Oct. 31 but Beal wants the max, which would approximately be $20.9 million for the 2016-17 season — based on the record-setting salary cap projections — and make him the highest-paid Wizard. As a result, Beal, who will make $7.5 million this season regardless, would be in the books for $20.9 million next July instead of the $14 million cap hold he would have if he doesn’t sign an extension and becomes a restricted free agent, consequently giving the Wizards less room to work with in free agency. If Beal decides to wait for the max next summer, the Wizards would be the only team that could give him a five-year deal, the only team that could match any offer another team makes, and they could go over the salary cap to re-sign him because they own his Bird Rights.
Three members of Beal’s 2012 draft class — top selection Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans), No. 2 pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Charlotte Hornets) and sixth pick Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers) — have signed extensions. Davis, who inked the richest contract in NBA history, and Lillard were given the five-year maximum available to them, while Kidd-Gilchrist signed a four-year extension worth $52 million. Beal was the third selection in the 2012 draft.