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Why Bradley Beal and the Wizards are flourishing without John Wall

Bradley Beal, for most of his NBA career, has had to play in the shadow of Washington Wizards teammate John Wall. But with Wall out for the season with a heel injury, Beal has brought respectability back to Washington.

Since Wall’s last game played this season, Beal is averaging 29.3 points with 5.3 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game while playing almost 40 minutes per night. His game score over that span (21.7), a metric invented by John Hollinger to provide a rough measure of a player’s performance in a given game, is the sixth highest among starters playing at least 300 minutes over the last 10 games. Two of the players ahead of him, Anthony Davis and James Harden, are front-runners for the league’s MVP award. Not convinced? Look no further than Beal’s performance against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday: 43 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds for his second career triple-double. His first career triple-double — 40 points, 15 assists and 11 rebounds — happened earlier this season against the Phoenix Suns on Dec. 22. Only he and Oscar Robertson have two 40-15-10 games in the same season.

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“Made big shot after big shot after big shot, and we needed every bit . . . He competes,” Coach Scott Brooks said of Beal after the Raptors game. “He puts us in the position to win, and that’s what your all-stars are supposed to do."

As a result of Beal’s inspired play, the Wizards are 5-5 with a plus-2.1 net rating over the last 10 games, a complete turnaround from their minus-4.7 net rating before Wall opting for season-ending surgery. To put that in perspective, it’s roughly the difference between the performance of this year’s Houston Rockets (25-18, plus-2.1 net rating) and Orlando Magic (19-24, minus-3.9).

Beal obviously gets more opportunities with the ball without Wall on the court — his usage rate has climbed from 26 percent to 30 percent this season — but his shot selection is different. For example, his rate of opportunities at the rim increases (6.5 to 8.9 attempts per 100 possessions) as do his field goal attempts from beyond the arc (8.7 to 10.1 per 100 possessions), both at the expense of midrange attempts, giving him and the team a higher quality of shot.

Beal’s ability to drive to the basket and create plays around the rim is a trait the Wizards should take more advantage of, regardless of the health of their star point guard. Beal is scoring 1.1 points per possession on moves to the basket this season (only Kyle Kuzma of the Los Angeles Lakers is more efficient among players with at least 40 attempts) and 1.3 points per possession with a 63 percent field goal rate on shots around the basket, placing Beal in the 80th percentile of NBA players. Plus, Beal’s ability to score as the ballhandler in the pick and roll, a play the Wizards use more often than any other aside from a spot-up shot, has been superior to Wall’s during the 2018-19 campaign. Having Beal run the show results in more than 12 more points per 100 possessions.

He has also become a better facilitator, making 12 more passes per game and nearly the same as Wall would on a given night (55.9). His points created by assists per game has risen from 11.5 to 15.9 over the team’s last 10 contests.

Efficient scoring and an ability to make plays has slowly turned Beal into a more valuable player for the Wizards than Wall. Dating back to last year, Beal’s first as an all-star, Washington has outscored opponents by a fraction of a point (plus-0.2) with Wall and Beal sharing the court together. Over that span, with Beal at center stage and Wall on the sideline, the team’s net rating has improved to plus-1.4. With Wall on the court and Beal on the bench, it drops to minus-11.4.

This is all compelling evidence for fans and pundits calling for the Wizards to make big changes either at the trade deadline or during the offseason.

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