Beal is leading the league in scoring at 35 points per game
By Jack Maloney CBS Sports
Over the past few years, NBA offenses and the superstars that led them became more reliant on the 3-point shot than ever. As a quick frame of reference, this season the New York Knicks rank last at 27.3 3-point attempts per game, a mark that would have led the league 10 years ago, and ranked ninth just five years ago.
The rise in 3-pointers has largely come at the expense of the mid-range game, which is derided in many circles as the most inefficient way to score. But one man this season has decided to buck those trends and embrace the mid-range game more than ever. The results have been outstanding.
Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal is playing the best basketball of his career. He recently set a career-high and franchise record with 60 points, and is flirting with the 50/40/90 club while leading the league in scoring at 35 points per game. No one else is even putting up 30 a night.
What’s fascinating is he’s doing it by shooting fewer 3s and more mid-range jumpers. After increasing for three straight seasons, his 3-point attempts have dropped off to 6.4 per game, which is the lowest they’ve been since 2016. At the same time, he’s now taking 7.3 mid-range attempts per game. If it wasn’t for his teammate Russell Westbrook, that would not only lead the league, but be the most anyone has taken since 2018.
Here’s a look at Beal’s shot selection in the last four seasons.
|Season||3-point attempts per game||3-point %||Mid-range attempts per game||Mid-range %|
But as interesting as the numbers are, the video is even better. Beal’s skill level is just unbelievable, and when you break it down, you can see exactly why he’s having so much success with this new approach.
The first thing that stands out, certainly from a highlight perspective, is how crisp his handle is now. He can put together combos at will to create space for himself.
That’s simply unguardable, and Beal is pulling off moves like that on a nightly basis. But it isn’t just about his dribbling, though that does make everything easier.
Another aspect of Beal’s success is the pick-and-roll. A lot of teams around the league play drop coverage, where the big man defender sits back to protect the paint. The idea is that shots around the basket are more efficient, so you’d rather have guys pulling up off the dribble, even if those looks aren’t as closely contested. Because, over the long run, they’ll go in less often.
But against certain opponents, you might as well be holding up a sign that says “free points.” Beal is one of them. He’s so in control, and so comfortable shooting off the bounce that these are extremely easy looks for him. It’s just bucket, after bucket, after bucket.
Perhaps the worst news for opponents, however, is that Beal is also an elite tough-shot maker. So even when they do manage to stick with him, he still often finds a way to score.
What are you even supposed to do?
It would have to be demoralizing to some degree to be a defender tasked with guarding Beal these days. He’s operating at such a high level that he’s arguably turned himself into the best pure scorer in the league, and he owes much of that success to his mid-range mastery.