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Bradley Beal's Rise A Credit To Unique Blend Of Talent, Maturation

For Bradley Beal, the progression of his talent and skill only needed to balance a properly structured upbringing. His parents and brothers had carefully sculpted a maturity beyond his years, reminding him of the people whom he’d require in life’s quest for intellect. From the moment Beal entered the lives of the Washington Wizards, everyone knew this was a neatly constructed person, a grown man relishing the challenge to conquer his tasks with an inner peace on who he is.

“Listen to your elders,” Beal’s parents and older brothers would tell him. So, he has, whether it is a former assistant in Sam Cassell as a rookie up until last season, veteran players who come and go and, sometimes begrudgingly, the honest and unyielding voice of Randy Wittman.

“You can learn a lot from all the coaches and the vets, so I’m all ears,” Beal says. “When you have a guy in Sam who’s scored 15,000 plus points in his career and who had a successful career, you have to listen to him. He’s won championships before, he’s a coach now, and a great mentor. I even watched him a little bit growing up.

“My family’s always instilled that in me, listening to elders. I’m really family-oriented. Watching my older brothers growing up and everything they’ve been through, all the adversity we’ve been through, that always humbled me. Humbled me, motivated me, to be the best that I can be.”

Beal’s best had been recognized as one of the NBA’s best young shooting guards, and now his best is one of the top at the position outright. While Wall came in the league onto a misfit cast of players, using experience and grueling offseasons on his craft to discover his space, Beal had the luxury of a sureness to him and a more refined roster. So many transactions on and off the court, so many lessons only the league’s competition provides, but Beal’s personality has forever been to stay honest to the grind of the sport, try to obliterate opponents and let that sink in with them.

And nothing has changed.

Beal swears the only business on his mind is the work, the day-to-day improvement, and work has been good. Beal and John Wall join Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson as the NBA’s best backcourts across the country’s coasts. As league executives believe in Beal’s ability to command a maximum salary extension, the Wizards have made clear around the NBA that they’ll do whatever necessary to secure Beal’s long-term deal, sources told RealGM.

So, yes, Beal heard of Thompson’s maximum-level extension with the Golden State Warriors before the season, but he simply shrugs his shoulders. Nothing changed here, Beal promises.

“Money never will change who I am,” Beal told RealGM. “I kind of distance myself from the business part because when you get too caught up in money, it takes your mind off why you really play the game. I play for the love of it. I’m not going to think about contracts or any of that. If that [max] contract is what it is, then it is what it is. But it’s not going to change who I am. Money never will.

“Now, I definitely want to be an All-Star. Who doesn’t? But I don’t set too many crazy, extravagant goals for myself, and the ones that I do, I hold them close to my heart and make sure I focus and lock in.

“We have a solid core here. It’s going to be important for us to keep this core together moving on down the next couple years, because we have something special here. We got a taste of the playoffs, and now we have bigger hopes in mind. Our aspirations are bigger now.”

Beal has played as the sixth man in three games back from a fractured left hand, but his wind and performance stamina have returned and reclaiming his spot in the starting lineup is near. Even as his floor game and passing vision improve, Beal wants more out of himself.

As a team, these Wizards remember hastened shots in the second round series loss against the Indiana Pacers and spent the summer and training camp drilled about the value of each possession, about draining the energy of the defense for quality shots.

“Our ultimate goal is taking care of the ball and moving the ball,” Beal says. “Whenever we move the ball, we usually get whatever we want. Some defenses don’t like to play for 24 seconds. We’re going to do whatever it takes to wear defenses down. We have to continue moving the ball. The least we can do is get a shot up.”

Around Beal, 21, veterans are passionate in the process of a regular season. The 35-year-old Rasual Butler has persevered and produced for an NBA role again. Down the roster, Glen Rice Jr.’s role has been marginal, but the Wizards’ front office has no plan to move the 23-year-old and believes in his ability to produce when given increased minutes. Some of the vets will go through the normal adjustments and trials -- the pain of injury here and there -- but Paul Pierce has been unafraid to become animated in the faces of Wall and Beal while the season is still young.

Pierce will hit critical shots for the Wizards this season, and he’ll strut to the bench and remind everyone his stature.

“They don’t call him, ‘The Truth’ for no reason,” Wall said.

“Paul can adjust to our team on the fly, like that,” Beal said, snapping his fingers.

“This group, this season, is mature,” Wittman said, “and Paul has been a leader throughout his career.”

Washington is one of four teams with a legitimate chance to land out of the Eastern Conference and into the NBA Finals, and that is on Beal’s mind. So much jostling for money in the league, and Beal has shown everyone he doesn’t bask in the sentiments of a contract as much as he basks in its allowance to take care of family, its ability to work and ball. From trying times to a contending team, Bradley Beal has been the perfect co-star for John Wall and these Wizards, fresh of talent and his own sense of self.

Holiday Tournaments Are Underway

2K Sports Classic

Iowa lost to Texas and Syracuse, two teams ranked in the preseason Top 25. Losing those types of games doesn’t make Iowa a bad team. But based on the Hawkeyes frontcourt strength, I thought they would have a chance for at least one victory. Unfortunately for Iowa, their guards were ice cold in the two games in New York:

Player

FGM

FGA

Anthony Clemmons

2

11

Mike Gesell

3

15

Josh Oglesby

3

12

Peter Jok

1

4

Trey Dickerson

1

6

Mike Gesell is certainly one of the bigger culprits. As a former Top 100 recruit, a junior like Gesell is supposed to emerge as one of the team’s leaders. Instead his ORtg has plummeted from 106 to 82 in the early going. Oglesby is also ice-cold, as the 40% shooter last year hasn’t been hitting. But Oglesby has always been a bit of a streaky shooter.

The big surprise to me is that Anthony Clemmons is getting so much playing time. Based on his recruiting ranking out of high school, Clemmons has the least upside of Iowa’s guards. And I’m rather shocked that Jok and Dickerson aren’t getting more playing time.

Dickerson was one of the main reasons my model had Iowa so high in the preseason. JucoRecruiting.com had Dickerson in its JUCO Top 10, and I thought he might be an impact player for the Hawkeyes. So far that hasn’t happened. It’s way too early to draw any real conclusions, but so far most of Jucorecruiting.com’s top prospects have been a bit disappointing:

Leading that list is Arizona’s Kadeem Allen. Instead of becoming a major scorer, Allen is redshirting. Meanwhile Baylor’s Deng Deng, New Mexico’s Jordan Goodman, and Kansas St.’s Stephen Hurt have played relatively sparingly, particularly in their team’s biggest games.

LSU’s Josh Gray was supposed to be the super-scorer, but in his first big matchup against Old Dominion he was no match for ODU’s Trey Freeman. Sam Cassell Jr. seems to be UConn’s 4th guard, and after a 2 for 9, foul-filled performance in the Puerto Rico TipOff title game, he isn’t moving ahead in the rotation.

Oregon’s Dwayne Benjamin is shooting a pedestrian 6 of 18 on his 2’s so far, which isn’t good for a big man. But in fairness, Oregon needs his size more than anything, and Benjamin has avoided trouble while grabbing a fair share of rebounds. Memphis’ Trahson Burrell has only played one game, though he did look good. Oddly Memphis doesn’t play its second game until Monday.

The one elite JUCO player that has lived up to the hype is Auburn’s Cinmeon Bowers. Bowers is averaging 16 PPG and 14 RPG so far. That is a bit aided by Auburn’s tempo, but even the tempo free stats look solid. Bowers has an ORtg of 106 while using 29% of his team’s possessions, and an offensive and defensive rebounding rate of 18 and 35 respectively.

Coaches vs Cancer

Duke has participated in a holiday tournament for 10 straight years, won eight of those tournaments, and finished second twice. I could run the table again that shows how Mike Krzyzewski is the best coach in the world before January 1st, but you’ve seen it before. Right now, the Blue Devils have looked nearly invincible. Let’s see where they stand after the trip to Wisconsin in early December.

Hall of Fame Tipoff

Notre Dame vs Providence might have been my favorite game of the season so far. Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant and Providence’s LaDontae Henton aren’t on too many NBA watch lists. They were both three star prospects out of high school. But they’ve become college stars, and on Sunday both players played like they deserve a larger spotlight.

Grant showed an unbelievable ability to both drive to the basket and pull-up with a soft touch. And Grant’s step-back three pointer with the shot-clock winding down with 2 minutes left felt like a dagger. But Henton, on his way to a career high 38 points, would not be denied. Henton posted up, he hit floaters, he hit threes. And with time running down, Henton got to the line and sank the game-winning free throws.

Winning this tournament was huge for Providence. A year ago, the Friars had to win the Big East tournament to feel safely in the NCAA field. This year, with two early wins over likely bubble teams, they’ve already done a ton to build their resume.

The flip side of that is Florida St. which went 0-2 in this event. With Florida St. losing to both UMass and Providence, two teams projected on the bubble teams in the A10 and Big East, Florida St. can’t afford to simply finish 9-9 in the ACC. The good news is that the Seminoles will have a lot more chances against quality teams in ACC play. The better news is that freshman Xavier Rathan-Mayes had a breakout game on Sunday in his first start. But those losses to bubble teams are going to sting all year.

Puerto Rico Tipoff

Texas A&M has to be very frustrated that Danuel House wasn’t cleared sooner. The Houston transfer played for the first time on Sunday and dominated New Mexico. A&M lost by just two to Dayton on Thursday, and if House had been available, I wonder whether A&M would have won this whole event.

But A&M still has some chemistry issues to work through. I’m starting to wonder if House’s arrival might be the end for Davonte Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald who shot just 29% on his threes last season, is shooting 24% from the floor this season. But it isn’t the shooting percentage that bothers me, it is the shot-selection. Fitzgerald makes a basket and then thinks he can just jack up a random three on the next possession. Now that they have a number of talented scorers, head coach Billy Kennedy needs his players to work together to make sure the team doesn’t waste any more possessions. Last year Texas A&M had the 267th ranked offense in the nation. A&M had some talent limitations, but they shouldn’t have been that awful. Now that A&M has upgraded its overall talent level, Billy Kennedy’s job is to find the right rotation and make sure the right players are taking the majority of the team’s shots.

Meanwhile, UConn rolled out its four-guard lineup as expected in this event. By my unofficial math, Daniel Hamilton played 16 minutes at the 4-spot in the championship game. But his 8 turnovers (among the team’s 19) and the team’s inability to make threes doomed the Huskies. The purpose of the four guard attack should be to spread the floor and attack the basket, but we didn’t see enough of that for UConn to win.

And that was a very good sign for Bob Huggins and his West Virginia team. Huggins has traditionally been an elite defensive coach, but West Virginia couldn’t stop anyone last year. Shutting down the defending national champions shows his defense may be back.

Charleston Classic

We saw in this tournament exactly why Big Ten teams are going to hate their trips to Happy Valley this year. If the Nittany Lions are down eight with four minutes left, they actually like their chances of winning the game. Penn St. was in this situation a lot last year, and with a veteran squad they completely believe they can out-execute in the late-game situation. They nailed the comeback against Charlotte but lost in double OT. They nailed the comeback against Cornell and won. And they even survived against USC (though the comeback happened earlier in that game).

Penn St. probably isn’t very good. A good team would fend off Charlotte, Cornell, and USC a little earlier. But the Nittany Lions won’t be down 15 at home very often. And if the score is close, it doesn’t hurt to give DJ Newbill the ball and hope.

Miami FL rolled and won this tournament easily, crushing Drexel, Akron, and Charlotte.

Was this Really an Upset?

One of the problems with tracking college basketball closely is that lots of “surprising” outcomes no longer feel like major upsets. Case in point: Last Monday, Daniel Leroux and I recorded a podcast and I noted that without Alex Murphy (who will be eligible in December), Chris Walker (who was still suspended) and Dorian Finney-Smith (who was injured), Florida was going to struggle at home against a Miami FL. It might have been a Top 10 upset according to the ticker, but it really wasn’t that monumental when you looked at the rosters.

Had Florida lost at home to Louisiana Monroe, that would have been a lot more epic. But again, Florida was without three players. While Walker dressed, Eli Carter was out with injury. Florida just isn’t a Top 10 team right now. Perhaps when the roster is all together, they will live up to preseason expectations. But few teams could play without three key rotation players and still perform at the highest level.

The more disturbing trend for Florida might not be those game scores, it might be that Kasey Hill hasn’t taken a step forward since last season. Despite being the #11 recruit last season, Hill posted an ORtg of just 99 last season. That was largely driven by his poor eFG% of just 43%. But this year, he’s started off even slower. He’s just 3 of 24 on the season, without a made three.

Are These Upsets Truly Surprises?

Creighton, Indiana and Rhode Island may not be locks for the NCAA tournament, but I had them all in the Top 100 this spring. And it is always hard to win on the road against a Top 100 squad.  Oklahoma, SMU, and Nebraska may have lost on the road to these teams, but we shouldn’t blow these close games out of proportion. In January, these types of upsets, where upper-tier NIT teams upset ranked teams will happen every day.

In March we tend to focus on wins over Top 50 squads, but the committee puts a lot of stock on wins over teams ranked 51-100 too. Ken Pomeroy has argued that the emphasis should really be on road wins over these teams, and that’s probably fair. Indiana is going to be a completely different team at home and on the road. At home, you’ll see outcomes like the SMU game where the Hoosiers are knocking down threes at a high clip, and where the crowd feeds the team’s defensive intensity and causes a lot of turnovers. But Indiana won’t be the same team on the road, particularly if the threes aren’t falling. Road games against Top 100 teams are brutal.

Notes

-Even if those outcomes didn’t cause my jaw to drop, Marquette’s home loss to Omaha did. New head coach Steve Wojciechowski is learning that it is hard to teach a team to play fast and play quality defense at the same time. And certainly, Marquette lacks size in the paint. But the Golden Eagles can’t give up 1.28 points per possession at home to a low-level D1 team.

-Georgetown’s Joshua Smith had 12 and 11 rebounds in his last two games. It’s pretty sad when you feel the need to praise a player for his performance against Texas A&M CC and Robert Morris.  But after Smith’s defensive rebounding rate was a paltry 9% last year, even this effort is noteworthy.

-Maryland Terrapin Watch: We haven’t seen enough of Melo Trimble to know if he’ll star at PG this year, but it is worth noting that through 3 games, transfer Richaud Pack has a 21% assist rate. Pack wasn’t necessarily known as a passer prior to Maryland, so this development is worth watching.

Klay For Love Revisited

Considering the surprisingly large gap between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers so far this season, we are starting to hear some chatter about revisiting the heavily rumored trade possibility with Klay Thompson and Kevin Love as the principles before the Minnesota Timberwolves eventually traded him to join LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Tim Kawakami included this in his strong piece that came out on Saturday and it has been in the air in the Warriors’ media room the last few games. 

The best place to start is this: Klay Thompson is playing incredibly well right now. If you want to use more conventional measures, Thompson has his career high in points per game, shooting percentage, three-point percentage and has more than doubled his free throw attempts. In person, Thompson has been more engaged offensively than I have ever seen him and has shown the foundation to justify his increased role. While this appears to be at least slightly above it, if this play becomes the new normal for Thompson, the Warriors should be exceedingly happy with him and the contract they signed him to.

Thompson’s impressive high water marks would be blips on the radar for Kevin Love. Thompson’s career highs in Win Shares / 48 and PER this season would sit second and fourth when compared to Love’s three full seasons as an NBA starter. Thompson’s more than doubled free throw rate has played a huge role in his strong start and it would be the lowest of Love’s career even including this year.

Now, some (including me) will argue that stats like PER overvalue what Love brings to the table and undervalue Thompson because of defense and that certainly has some validity. One of the interesting and underappreciated developments of this season has been a substantial change in Thompson’s defensive assignments. Instead of defending the opponent’s best guard to hide Stephen Curry, Steve Kerr has largely tied Thompson to opposing shooting guards. Warriors beat writer Diamond Leung tackled this topic excellently.

Stephen Curry has also reacted to the challenge of taking on proper defensive assignments with his best season on that end. In fact, in Friday’s game against the Jazz, Kerr usually elected to leave Gordon Hayward (far and away Utah’s best offensive player) to whomever Golden State had at small forward and it worked out well.

For me, the difference between Thompson and Love comes down to two key concepts I use to estimate playoff success: how well can a team prevent an opponent from doing what they do best on offense and how can they adapt to an opponent taking away what they do best.

In the playoffs last year, Chris Paul’s defense helped stifle Curry as much as anyone possibly could and the Warriors struggled to get things going. They still nearly won the series without Andrew Bogut on the strength of their defense and some strong performances, but the team did not possess the creators to function properly when a Curry smothering occurs. Thompson’s play so far has been greatly encouraging but he has not shown the ability to run the show in these circumstances and I would never expect him to. Thompson continues to move along the path towards being an excellent supporting player and there should be absolutely no shame in that.

The most important difference between Thompson and Love continues to be the fact that Love can carry a team offensively. While it may not be the best option for teams like the Cavs or Warriors because of their surrounding talent in the starting lineup, the capability makes a huge difference in the playoffs. When the Spurs can put Danny Green or Kawhi Leonard on Curry to come as close as possible to neutralizing him, Golden State’s best creator in their starting lineup is likely Thompson unless Iguodala replaces Barnes. We saw last year that Iguodala thrives off the ball and struggles initiating so making that the best option proves problematic. I have substantially more faith that Kerr and his staff can create better mechanisms and schemes to reduce these problem spots but they cannot eliminate them against quality teams who game plan with that as their primary goal defensively.

Furthermore, while some have mentioned that having Love reduces the time for Draymond Green at power forward, I do not see that as a problem at all if structured correctly. Green’s strong play with the other starters would open up the option of giving Love quality time with the second unit where he could get plenty of touches and carry the offense. While the Warriors presumably would have started with a more conventional minutes distribution, that solution likely would have become apparent relatively quickly. The move would have also locked up incredible depth at point guard, power forward and center (where Love can play for stretches) for the foreseeable future. That certainty would have allowed Bob Myers and the front office to focus their scouting and roster moves on the shoring up both swingman spots with talent on roster and potential trade targets.

While the Warriors' front office should be thrilled with Klay Thompson’s strong play and the team looking dominant early in the season, the rationale for making the Kevin Love trade still stands.

Zags Could Finally Be Sweeter Than Sweet

Gonzaga has so much talent on the offensive end that opposing coaches will have a nightmare game planning against them. With a solid defense, Mark Few has a team that can be legitimate national title contenders.

The Basketball Treasure That Nearly Never Was

Anthony Davis is the NBA’s most incredible prodigy (possibly ever) despite a late development in which he almost left the game.

Coach's Corner: The Jerebko Conundrum

The Pistons seem to have enough talent to mould a playoff team if Stan Van Gundy pushes the right buttons. The early returns on Jonas Jerebko’s play in SVG's high-low system have been fantastic.

10 Thoughts On College Basketball's Opening Weekend

Surprise roster news, rotation patterns, preseason predictions being right/wrong, building chemistry, hype and more as the college basketball season begins.

Cheat Codes

Just as Chip Kelly is rethinking the quarterback position, Erik Spoelstra has kept enough components of his system on offense to withstand losing LeBron James.

Coach's Corner: Stagnant Suns; Let 'Em Shoot

How the Suns replaced floor spacing and passing with more scoring by letting Channing Frye and Ish Smith leave and adjusting to that, while the Celtics tried to stop the Mavs by letting Monta Ellis shoot.

Five Player Defense (And Offense)

Five-player lineups for college basketball remains largely uncharted, but we examined data for Wisconsin to project what we can expect this season.

Forced To Learn On The Job, Solomon Hill Showing Promise

Solomon Hill played sparingly as a late first-round pick on a championship contender, but things changed very quickly this offseason.

Coach's Corner: Beware Of The Wolves, To Foul Or Not To Foul

The Wolves' roster is one of the few in the league that can be adjusted on a game-to-game basis to counter whatever the opposition throws at them, while we look at fouling up three.

Russell Westbrook Unleashed

The Thunder ran out of steam in the fourth quarter, but the first game of the Russell Westbrook experience was everything people hoped it would be. Westbrook is going to mount a full-fledged assault on the rest of the league and there’s no player more fun to watch in that scenario.

2014-15 NBA Season Tiers Preview

The Spurs, Clippers and Cavaliers enter the season as Tier One teams, while the Bulls, Raptors, Thunder, Warriors, Rockets and several other Western Conference teams are in that second tier.

Leroux's 2014 NBA Offseason Review

The Cavs, 76ers, Spurs, Nuggets, Hornets and Suns were amongst teams to have a great offseason, while the Thunder, Magic, Kings, Lakers, Pacers and Knicks had bad ones.

Internal Improvement Candidates: Southeast Division

Tobias Harris, Norris Cole, Cody Zeller, Otto Porter and Dennis Schroeder are five players in the Southeast Division that could offer their teams a boost by taking the next step in their development.

How Lance Stephenson Left Behind Pacers For Hornets

Before Lance Stephenson attended the Hornets' meeting and was handed team material on that July night in Las Vegas, pleas were made to find salary space and a shorter-term deal with the Pacers.

Internal Improvement Candidates: Central Division

Andre Drummond, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Dion Waiters, Tony Snell and Solomon Hill are young players of the Central Division that can offer their teams improvement from within.

Projections, The Year After A Breakout Season, And The Importance Of Scouting

The dilemma we often face when projecting players is what to make of players with a huge improvement in performance and also when you learn things by watching games that will dispute the numbers.

Why Anthony Davis Will Be The NBA's Golden Ticket

Only one NBA team has the true golden ticket: a young elite player that they can say with certainty will be there throughout the tumultuous time of an increasing salary cap.

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