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HomeBasketballNBAWinning time is now for Bradley Beal, Phoenix Suns

Winning time is now for Bradley Beal, Phoenix Suns

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Remember in 2014 when a deal was discussed that focused on Kevin Love and Klay Thompson that would have sent Love to Golden State

Imagine Thompson in Minnesota the last decade. Klay would have put up huge numbers, maybe even led the league in scoring once or twice. But he wouldn’t have four rings. Hell, he might not even have four playoff appearances.

You know who that sounds like? Bradley Beal.

Beal in the Sunday trade that sent him to the Phoenix Suns essentially waived a no-trade clause to get out of Washington. The deal saw first-ballot Hall of Famer Chris Paul, Landry Shamet, and second round picks moved to Washington. Beal in 11 years with the Wizards has played in eight playoff series. Thompson in his first four postseasons with the Warriors played in 11 postseason rounds and won a title.

Much of the success of Beal’s Wizards tenure came when the team featured veterans like Trevor Ariza, Nene, or Paul Pierce. John Wall was the star of those teams, and Beal was a second option. Beal has been The Man in Washington much of the last five seasons, four of which have been played with Wall in other cities. The Wizards over that time have made the playoffs once, surviving the 2021 play-in tournament before falling in five games to the Philadelphia 76ers. Beal wasn’t even the engine on that team. That was Russell Westbrook’s squad.

Beal has shown he can put up numbers on below average teams. He averaged more than 30 a game in two straight seasons in 2020 and 2021. The 2020 Wizards finished 25-47 in the first shortened COVID season and 34-48 the next year. Beal feels like the classic Good Stats on a Bad Team player in the mold of DeMarcus Cousins in Sacramento or Adrian Dantley with Utah.

Beal is now at the stage of his career where it’s time to play late into the spring. In order for that to happen, and for NBA watchers to see how productive he is, Beal needs to take on the role Thompson has had with the Warriors the last 12 years.

Thompson is a 20 point per game scorer for his career. He has some of the more memorable big scoring nights in league history. But Thompson does most of his damage moving without the ball. Klay once had a 60-point game where he only put the ball on the floor 11 times. When he’s hot, even Steph Curry defers.

That has to be Beal’s identity in Phoenix. Devin Booker and Kevin Durant will command most of any defense’s attention, and rightfully so. Beal with his new team could produce how Ray Allen did when he got to Boston in 2007. Allen saw his shot attempts go down by more than seven a game, but he still put up more than 17 points a night and hit nearly 40 percent of his 3s.

Beal and Allen have something in common. Both were traded prior to their 12th year in the NBA. Beal is nowhere near the 3-pointer shooter Allen was, but he’ll have a lot of open looks due to the attention Booker and Durant will draw, similar to how Allen fed off Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Beal in Phoenix will still get a chance to run the show, as I’m sure new Suns head coach Frank Vogel will look to stagger the Beal/Booker/Durant minutes to keep them fresh over the course of the regular season and playoffs. 

There are obvious questions about the Beal to Phoenix move.

Beal’s durability, like that of Durant and to a lesser extent Booker, is a concern. Beal over the last two seasons has averaged 45 games a year. His games played last season may have been higher, but Washington shut Beal down when it was out of playoff contention. Over the course of his 11-year career, Beal averages around 63 games a season. Maybe that was just a Washington issue?

The fit will be scrutinized too. Beal became a high usage player the last five years. It may be difficult for him to adjust to not always having the ball. Phoenix’s lack of a “true” point guard won’t be an issue, as Booker thrived in the lead guard role when Paul missed time over the last three seasons. Durant has shown the ability to run an offense too. 

Beal’s contract puts Phoenix in an unenviable position. The Suns now have about $162 million in contracts committed to Beal, Booker, Durant and DeAndre Ayton. That basically leaves only room for minimum contract players to fill out the roster. Phoenix may be an attractive destination, with its proximity to Los Angeles and Las Vegas, but players still want to get paid. Why would a guy like Dillon Brooks, who even with his issues could still make $15-$16 million a year, take a huge pay cut to go to Phoenix. Suns general manager James Jones is going to have to work some magic to fill out that roster.

With all that said, Phoenix is now Denver’s chief competition in the west, and maybe the whole league. The Suns should score at an elite clip. The defensive-minded Vogel should be able to scheme together a decent to good defense. 

If Beal can follow in the footsteps of Thompson and late-stage Allen, the Suns might shine for a while.

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