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4 ways Bradley Beal raises the Suns' championship ceiling

Gerald Bourguet Avatar
August 14, 2023
Here are 4 ways Bradley Beal will raise the Phoenix Suns championship ceiling

A lot has changed since the Phoenix Suns fell short in the 2021 NBA Finals. In a two-year span, Phoenix moved on from Chris Paul, Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Jae Crowder and everyone else except Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. In their place are Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal and a group of highly-regarded veteran minimum signings.

Trading for a player of Durant’s caliber was a no-brainer; trading for Beal was an unexpected maneuver that reinforces Mat Ishbia’s bold approach — not only in terms of paying out four max contracts under a CBA that will penalize teams for doing so, but also in terms of roster construction.

The Suns traded away one of the greatest floor generals of all time — plus his backup — with the belief that Booker, Durant and Beal are dangerous enough as scorers and playmakers to make up for the absence of a traditional point guard. That calculated gamble has some lower on Phoenix’s title chances than expected, despite the Suns now possessing the league’s most talented Big 3.

“He’s one of the best players in the league and he’s in his prime,” coach Frank Vogel told PHNX Sports. “So any time you can get a guy like that, it should only enhance what you’re doing and enhance your chances of winning a championship.”

There’s no question Bradley Beal is one of the best players to change teams this offseason. After spending the last few years wasting away on lottery-bound Washington Wizards teams, Beal feels poised to serve up a reminder of how good he actually is.

His former Wizards teammate and current Suns teammate Jordan Goodwin didn’t mince words about the opportunity in front of Beal.

“He can do anything,” Goodwin said. “He’s one of the best players in the game right now. So you’re gonna get everything — three-level scorer, great leader, and he’s hungry. He wants to win, and he’s excited for this new situation.”

Obviously the three-time All-Star has game, but what specifically does he bring to the table? Just as we’ve done with Toumani Camara, Jordan Goodwin, Bol Bol, Eric Gordon, Keita Bates-Diop, Josh Okogie, Chimezie Metu, Drew Eubanks, Damion Lee, Yuta Watanabe and Udoka Azubuike, it’s time to take a look at expectations for Bradley Beal and figure out where he’ll help Phoenix most.

1. Bradley Beal is another go-to bucket-getter

We’ll start with the obvious: Bradley Beal gets buckets. His scoring numbers dropped to 23.2 points per game over the last two seasons, but he was taking fewer shots than the two seasons prior, when he was a 30-points-per-game scorer.

As Goodwin mentioned, Beal is a true three-level scorer. As much as he can function off the ball, he got used to having to create his own looks after John Wall left, and it helped him grow into one of the league’s craftiest isolation scorers.

According to The BBall Index, the 30-year-old Beal ranked in the 89th percentile in total isolations per 75 possessions last season, and he placed in the 77th percentile in points per possession on those isos. Whether he was covered by quicker guards or lumbering bigs, Beal had little trouble getting to his spots in the midrange:

From the herky-jerk shoulder movements to stopping on a dime with his favorite between-the-legs snapback dribble, Beal routinely lost defenders with crossovers, step-backs and hesitation moves. It was like watching someone in NBA Street rack up combos with a flurry of ball-handling moves before hitting the jumper to fill up their Gamebreaker.

Beal will fit right in with Booker and Durant, given that he took a whopping 46 percent of his non-garbage time shots from the midrange. That put him in the 97th percentile at his position, per Cleaning The Glass. It wasn’t his most efficient area of the floor, since he made a good-but-not-great 46 percent of those looks, but the Suns have made it clear they want Beal to play his game.

“They already told me from day one, ‘We don’t want you to come in and be anybody but yourself,'” Beal said. “‘We don’t need you taking a backseat. Just be aggressive, be who you are.’ And K and Dev and DA are the same way.”

There will be an adjustment process, but Beal’s comfort in crunch-time situations is something Phoenix hopes will transfer over too. Despite the Wizards being a 35-win team, when Beal was on the floor and Washington was actually in close games, “Big Panda” reminded people of how lethal his one-on-one scoring ability could be:

According to, Beal shot 40-for-67 in the “clutch,” where the score was within five points in the final five minutes of a game. He made the 10th-most crunch-time baskets in the league, shooting the highest field-goal percentage (59.7 percent) among all players with at least 60 shot attempts.

Beal chose the Suns because he believed it gave him his best shot to win, and if that penchant for making big shots carries over to more pressure-filled situations, Phoenix will be in a better spot than last playoffs, when there was no cavalry coming to help Booker and Durant out.

“I think that’s one of the biggest decisions that impacted me of coming here, knowing that every single night, I’m gonna be in an important game,” Beal said. “Every single night, I may have a chance of being on television, and every single night, teams are gonna give us their best. So I look forward to that challenge, and also being in the position to where we’re kind of a targeted team.”

2. Bradley Beal eases the playmaking load

It’s important everyone takes note of this: Bradley Beal won’t be the Suns’ full-time point guard, full stop. There are two reasons we can say this confidently:

  1. Booker’s a better playmaker in that regard
  2. The Suns have been pretty transparent about how they’re handling the point

Coach Frank Vogel told PHNX Sports back in June that he’s comfortable with having Booker or Beal at the 1-spot, but the Suns won’t take a traditional approach to that position. Beal, Booker and KD all have the playmaking chops to divvy up the burden.

“We want to play with pace, so we’re gonna have a multiple ball-handler attack in most possessions,” Vogel said. “But I love the fact that both Bradley and Devin have played point at phases of their career and can initiate offense, as can KD.”

Going back through his film from last year, the majority of Beal’s 5.4 assists per game came from simple plays: swinging the ball to an open teammate once the defense got in rotation, finding Kristaps Porzingis for a pick-and-pop 3, or assists of the more “generous” variety where he passed to a teammate who created their own look.

That’s not to say Beal is a slouch in the playmaking department either. As the Wizards’ No. 1 option for years now, he’s been regularly greeted with double-teams and had to learn how to make the right read out of traps. Quite a few of his assists seemed simple enough, but putting defenses in rotation by making the right pass out of blitzes made life easier for his teammates.

Beal was also pretty consistent about finding open shooters on the weak side, ranking in the 96th percentile in potential assists per 100 passes and the 91st percentile in high-value assists per 75 possessions. Corey Kispert owes Beals something nice, since he got a ton of his looks as a result of Beal’s vision.

And while most of Beal’s assists wouldn’t find their way into SportsCenter’s Top 10, he was skilled enough in the pick-and-roll to hit diving bigs where they could capitalize. Deandre Ayton may not be a frequent above-the-rim presence like Porzingis or Daniel Gafford, but it’s easy to envision, DA, Eubanks, Metu or even Bol finishing off feeds like these:

Beal ranked in the 93rd percentile in points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, so the Suns could put opposing defenses in a bind by screening for him with rim-rolling bigs — or even worse, using Booker or KD to screen for him. Beal will often have the shortest defender on him, and switching that player onto iso god, post-up bullies like Book or Durant would be unfair.

It doesn’t matter who’s running the point; the Suns need to spend the season experimenting with different pick-and-roll combinations and lineup configurations to figure out what actions they can rely on come playoff time.

“I see it as being free-flowing,” Beal said of splitting point guard duties with Booker. “I don’t think either of us really have any position. Like, he can create, he can facilitate, he can shoot the ball, he can score the ball, and I can do the same. So it’s not gonna be, ‘Who plays point? Who plays shooting guard?’ I think it’s an interchangeable thing, and whoever gets it goes.”

Even when he doesn’t have the ball, Beal makes life easier for his teammates due to his gravitational pull. He ranked in the 96th percentile in box creation, which is an estimate of open shots carved out for teammates by drawing defensive attention, as well as the 97th percentile in scoring gravity, which takes into account his gravity as a scorer at the rim, midrange and 3-point range to open up playmaking chances.

Beal won’t be the primary focus for opposing defenses in most Suns lineups, but that ability and willingness to open up the floor for others should make the offense even more multi-faceted.

“You have a lot of dynamic scorers who, the biggest box that we check is our unselfishness,” Beal said. “All of us just want to compete, we want to play hard, and the biggest thing is we want to win. I think we all have unbelievable talents that we respect, and we unselfishly push each other to be the best we could possibly be.”

3. Bradley Beal is still a great spot-up threat

For a guy who’s been labeled as a knockdown 3-point shooter, his percentages don’t look great. Beal shot 36.5 percent from deep last season, and he hasn’t shot better than that mark once over the last five years.

However, that’s probably due to how few catch-and-shoot opportunities he’s been getting since Wall and Russell Westbrook left town. Last year, Beal took almost as many pull-up 3s (109) as he did catch-and-shoot 3s (110). He only made 33 percent of those pull-ups, but Phoenix should be encouraged that he still hit 40 percent of his catch-and-shoot tries.

“He’s a guy that you can put the ball on his hands and ask him to go score 30, but can also play off the ball when other guys are going and they’re the ones drawing double-teams and he’s on the backside as an elite catch-and-shoot shooter,” Vogel explained.

Whether it was tough step-back 3s off the dribble or contested spot-up looks, being able to knock down these shots can only help a team’s prospects come playoff time:

In Washington, Beal rarely got high-quality looks. The BBall Index put him in the 14th percentile in “openness rating.” It’d be shocking if that number remains so low once he’s sharing the court with Booker, Durant, Ayton and a litany of 3-point snipers.

“They can go guard Devin and K tonight and I can chill a little bit, not face any double-teams,” Beal joked at his introductory press conference. “A little bit more open shots. I’m gonna work on my catch-and-shoot a little bit more, we’ll be good.”

Beal only made 38.5 percent of his corner 3s, but he still managed to rank in the 89th percentile in points per possession on all spot-up looks. That versatility in being able to hit big shots off the dribble or take them in off-ball situations is huge, and it makes the Suns’ interchangeable Big 3 that much harder to game-plan against.

4. Downhill Beal provides rim pressure on or off the ball

Perhaps the biggest asset of Beal’s game that no one is really talking about is the pressure he puts on the rim — both as a driver and cutter.

With the ball in his hands, Beal averaged 17.8 drives per 75 possessions last year, which put him in the league’s 98th percentile. He also placed in the 76th percentile in total shots at the rim per 75 possessions and the 91st percentile in unassisted shots at the rim per 75 possessions. The ability to get to there on his own will be helpful for a Suns team that ranked dead last in its frequency of shots at the rim.

Cam Payne could get to the rim too; he just couldn’t finish when he did. Fortunately, Beal is proficient around the basket. He shot 71.9 percent at the rim last season, ranking in the 90th percentile, and he made 53.8 percent of his floaters when getting all the way to the hoop wasn’t an option.

Not only does Beal have great body and ball control when he attacks, but he’s stronger than he looks at 6-foot-4. He’s got a knack for nifty reverse layups too, almost using the rim as an extra shield to fend off potential shot-blockers:

Despite only placing in the fourth percentile in rim shot quality, Beal ranked in the 98th percentile in rim shot-making, per The BBall Index. That is some absurd finishing ability, and it wasn’t just his drives to the basket either. One thing that bodes extremely well for his fit in Phoenix is his constant movement on offense.

Beal is a cunning cutter, weaving through off-ball screens and careening around handoffs to get himself going downhill. He ranked in the 89th percentile in points per possession off cuts and dump-offs, as well as the 99th percentile in points per possession on handoffs.

Because they still have Booker and Durant to worry about, defenses won’t be denying Beal the ball like they did in Washington. But even if Beal’s frequent backdoor opportunities become a bit more scarce, this type of nonstop activity will be hard to contend with, especially if teams send doubles at Booker or KD:

The Suns can also utilize Beal’s newfound affinity for screening to create some backdoor looks. As ESPN’s Zach Lowe covered in full detail, the Wizards made it a point of emphasis to use Beal as a screener more often last season, and he ranked in the 64th percentile in points per possession as the roller in pick-and-rolls. That may come in handy on a Suns team where he’s suddenly the third option.

Beal already ranked in the 88th percentile in movement points per 75 possessions last year, so it’s hard to blame him for getting “antsy” just thinking about the off-ball opportunities ahead.

“It’s the first thing James [Jones] said is, ‘Okay, when we played you, we pretty much doubled you when you had the ball,'” Beal recalled. “He’s like, ‘But with you, with us, who are you gonna double-team? What are your rotations gonna look like?’ And so just in that two seconds, I was like, ‘Damn. That makes a lot of sense.'”

The remaining questions

Everyone knows Bradley Beal is great on offense. The first lingering question mark is whether he can stay healthy. Beal didn’t seem concerned about that issue at his introductory presser, chalking it up to minor injuries that he learned a lesson from after trying to return too early.

The second lingering question is whether he can lock in defensively to help the Suns win a title. Vogel, a defensive-minded coach, doesn’t seem concerned.

“He’s a strong defender and a good two-way player and someone that’s really gonna help us,” Vogel said.

Last year, Beal only ranked in the 65th percentile in on-ball perimeter defense and the 63rd percentile in off-ball chaser defense. That means the Suns will need a point-of-attack defender like Okogie or Bates-Diop to handle opposing point guards through the regular season’s 82-game slog.

However, Beal also placed in the 90th percentile in ball-screen navigation, and a change of pace may be exactly what he needed to revitalize his defense. As we saw for years with Booker, it’s hard to bring the intensity on that end when the team has little hope of winning games.

“I know Bradley pretty well, he’s been hungry to have this kind of experience, not be the only guy,” NBA host Rachel Nichols told PHNX Sports. “He’s had all the scoring title-type of — best scorer on the team, all the points, all the money; now he just wants to win, and that’s the kind of guy you want on the team.”

Beal has repeatedly echoed that sentiment, noting how hard it is to win in this league and how easy it is to take for granted the players he’s had — or hasn’t had — around him. Not since Westbrook has Beal had a superstar teammate there to push him, and playing alongside Booker, Durant and Vogel will take that motivation to an even higher level.

“Their mentality is gonna be a lot different than what I’ve seen, so I’m excited for it,” Beal said. “I think it’ll propel my game and it’ll prepare my mentality, and I’m excited for it.”

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