July 3, 2012 Why Bradley Beal is Not Eric Gordon
Trying to predict the upside or downside of an NBA player is incredibly difficult work. That futile effort is made even more difficult when there’s a much smaller body of work to build upon. It’s why guys like Kwame Brown/Marvin Williams are compared to Shaquille O’Neal/Tim Thomas. The point is that it’s incredibly hard work to begin with, and attempting this with a player like Bradley Beal, the 19 year old shooting guard and Wizards #3 draft pick, is just as difficult. But in the interest of fun offseason articles, I thought I’d give it a try using some advanced-but-basic statistics. Note: the conclusion I came to is simply based on statistical parallels, and it should be noted that no two players are the same. It is more than likely that Bradley Beal will far exceed this flawed prediction further down the road.
Why Bradley Beal is Not Eric Gordon, Ray Allen
There are two names Bradley Beal is most often garnering comparisons with: Ray Allen and Eric Gordon. One happens to be a surefire Hall of Famer, while the other is commanding max contracts during this year’s free agency period. Both Allen and Gordon have made their living in the NBA with their ability to get off high caliber and quality shots anywhere on the court and within the flow of the game. They’re both scorers with very quick releases and crafty games which negates the fact that their athleticism isn’t off the charts incredible. These aren’t bad players to be compared to, but I’m not certain that they’re entirely accurate reads on Brad Beal’s upside.
Let’s get it out of the way right now: Bradley Beal just isn’t Ray Allen. I can see why people want to say that his shooting form is absolute perfection much like Ray Allen’s, but that’s where the comparisons end and they should really should be shied away from. It’s not fair to Beal, and it really just sets him up to be a disappointment. Ray Allen was so much more effective than Beal at his age that the differences far outweigh the similarities.
Allen was an incomparably more effective scorer, for starters. During his first season at UConn, while playing significantly fewer minutes (735 to 1267), Jesus Shuttlesworth was still scoring up a storm. His 429 points in such few minutes seem a tad more impressive than Beal’s 546 playing pretty often on the court. He got to the line at a better rate, too, and after that freshman year he skyrocketed into stardom. I’ve got a beautiful shooting form, too, but I don’t make them like Ray Ray makes them. Looking pretty and being effective are two different things, and because of that I highly doubt Bradley Beal is going to be the same scorer as Ray Allen, ever. So onto the next one…
A lot of analysts immediately compare Beal and Gordon because of the similarities that they have physically. They’re both 6’4ish, very solidly built, shooting guards, and they spent only one year for their respective colleges before punching their ticket to the NBA. Statistically speaking, however, Eric Gordon was a much more accomplished scorer during his college career. Gordon averaged 20.9 PPG on 43.3% shooting during his career at Indiana, whereas Beal stood at 14.8 PPG on 43.5% shooting. That’s a pretty big gap in scoring, but their shooting percentages were very similar (which is where the comparisons come from). The difference between the two is that Eric Gordon was/is a much more aggressive scorer, and as a result got to the line on a more consistent basis.
Eric Gordon knows that getting to the line means easy points, and any effective scorer typically masters the skill of drawing contact very early. This is the biggest difference between the two players, as Gordon’s Free Throw Rate was 65.1% (compared to Beal’s 44.5%). And that ratio is pace adjusted, so it’s glaringly apparent that Beal lags behind in this category (in terms of attempts, 277 to 173 in Gordon’s favor). Even when watching the two, it’s clear the reason behind this discrepancy is clear: athleticism.
Eric Gordon is not an absolutely freakish athlete who can jump out of the gym, but the amount of times you’re going to see him take it to the rack and slam it down vs. Beal? His athleticism isn’t what jumps out at you. He has fantastic body control and balance, which allows him to finish shots using his long arms and positioning to avoid blocks from taller defenders. He needs to learn how to draw contact in, however, because on a night when the outside shot isn’t falling Beal is going to need another way to score points and be effective.
Beal spent almost half of his scoring possessions at the three point line, shooting 46% of his shots from three point range versus 19% on two point jumpers. Even though his shooting stroke is absolutely picture perfect, he still didn’t shoot it effectively until late in the season. John Wall complements Bradley Beal very well in that he slashes, while Beal will linger around the perimeter a whole lot more. Will Beal be more effective as a result? That’s hard to say, but he is going to have to add more variety to his game if he wants to be considered a very good scorer. Part of what makes Gordon so dangerous is that he will attack you in a huge variety of ways. Getting to the line for and-1′s, a crossover dribble, coming off the screen, and pick-and-roll offense.
Speaking of being effective when not scoring, here is another area where Beal and Gordon differ greatly, and why the two players are not the same. In just about every other category except for the scoring column, Bradley Beal is better than Eric Gordon. In rebounding ability, Beal is projected to be amazing in the NBA. His 249 total rebounds dwarf Eric Gordon’s 104, and he more than doubled Gordon in both offensive and defensive rebounds despite playing further from the rim. How useful is that skill?
When you think of great rebounding college guards, not many names come to mind. One that does is Brandon Roy, however. Throughout his entire college career, his average was 5 rebounds per game. Beal has beaten that in year one, and it’s not because he was asked to do less. Beal rebounded whether he was the top scorer or if he had an off night. His 6.73 RPG mark is closer to Jason Kidd’s 6.9 during his sophomore year at Cal in 1994. The fact that we have to reach back a decade to find a comparable rebounding guard says something about his ability. No, he’s not going to be a triple double threat every night, but his rebounding is what makes me ecstatic about him coming to the Wizards (one of the worst rebounding teams in the league last year).
This is actually the one area where Beal and Allen are similar (though I didn’t want to bring this up again). Allen, during his sophomore year of college, averaged 6.8 rebounds per game. Though he did score more than Beal, the two were very comparable in that regard. I’m not going to dwell on this one any more but it should be noted that, while analysts do have high hopes for Beal as a rebounder at the next level, Allen never averaged over 5 rebounds a game during his professional career.
In the end, I think Bradley Beal is going to be a great all-around player, provided that he does work very hard. I think he’s going to be better in more facets of the game than Eric Gordon, but not as talented a scorer. I believe he’ll be able to rebound and pass well like Ray Allen, but he’ll never average 25 or 26 points per game. He’s going to be good, but I’m predicting fringe All-Star, maybe one or two times.
I’m predicting a career similar to…*gulp*
A better Larry Hughes.
Think about it. Larry Hughes played his entire career with ball dominant guards like Ray Allen and Gilbert Arenas (and a young LeBron, who essentially played PG). Wall is actually a much more willing passer than all of them sans LeBron, which bodes well for Beal’s ability to score. I think the comparison is being kind to Beal, because Hughes was a pretty darn good player in his own right. Heck, I even think Bradley is going to be a more effective scorer (though their scoring averages will end up being similar).
Hughes abilities were in his all around game. He could rebound, he could pass, and he was always able to keep the ball moving. His shooting stroke wasn’t all that awesome at all, but he did very well in other facets of the game while not needing the ball. If Beal can become a slightly better version of Larry Hughes, it’s a success.
(Stats courtesy of Statsheet.com and Basketball Reference)