A recurring theme early in the season was a palpable fear among Wizards fans that rookie guard Bradley Beal was going to end up a bust. I've been checking in periodically to see how Beal stacks up against similar players -- rookie guards age 20 or younger.
With Beal heading to Houston for the NBA Rising Stars game at All-Star Weekend, now's a good time to take an updated look.
NBA fans know that Beal has been playing better in recent weeks. He preposterously was awarded NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for his play in December -- a bizarre choice given that he played poorly that month. Then in January, he played well, deserved the award, and won it. He's maintained that improved play in February, and become a key figure in the Wizards offense and their season turnaround.
Since 1984-85, 46 players age 20 or younger appeared in at least 500 total minutes in the first 51 games of their rookie season. As I've found in previous look at this subject, the group has largely struggled in its transition to the NBA.
My Player Production Average (PPA) is a good tool for comparing this group. PPA is an overall rating stat I developed that credits players for things that contribute to winning and debits them for things that don't. PPA is pace-adjusted, accounts for defense, and includes a "degree of difficulty" factor based on the level of competition a player faces when he's on the floor. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better, and 45 = replacement level.
Got all that?
The average PPA for this group of players is 73 -- solidly below average for the league as a whole. As a group, they're fairly inefficient offensively, scoring 99 points per 100 possessions vs. a league average that's typically around 106.
Just 6 of the 47 players rated as league average or better through the first 51 games of their rookie years:
Chris Paul, 2005-06 -- 155
Kyrie Irving, 2011-12 -- 138
Tyreke Evans, 2009-10 -- 117
Andre Iguodala, 2004-05 -- 104
Mike Conley, 2007-08 -- 102
Derrick Rose, 2008-09 -- 102
Guys who were close (PPA scores of 90 or better) include: Stephon Marbury, Maurice Harkless, Gilbert Arenas, John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon, Joe Johnson and Brandon Jennings.
Ten players rated below replacement level.
Beal ranks 19th among this group with a PPA of 76. Frankly, it's difficult to make a prediction about his future based on what he's done so far. He's basically average for this group of players. Most of the guys who rate higher have gone on to be good pros, with the possible exception of Jordan Farmar (whose PPA was 83).
Beal's rating is virtually the same as James Harden, who's an All-Star this weekend, as well as Jason Richardson who has had a good career. Then again, Beal's rating through 51 games is identical to Jonny Flynn, who was out of the league in a hurry.
On yet another hand, Beal's production rates better than some players who have gone on to be good players, including:
Mike Bibby, 72
Rajon Rondo -- 70
Tony Parker -- 53
Jrue Holiday -- 51
Kobe Bryant -- 47
Baron Davis -- 46
J.R. Smith -- 35
While it's difficult to make a definitive prediction, there are plenty of reasons for optimism when looking at Beal's prospects. Foremost among them is that he was a productive college player, whose collegiate production was similar to some greats including Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler and Vince Carter.
Looking strictly at what Beal's done as a pro, the thing that jumps out is the steady improvement. Here are some key stats for him month-by-month:
The key to his uptick in January and February was the improved marksmanship from 3pt range. He'll need to continue improving his all-around game, of course, including his ability to score from inside the arc. But, indications are that he's a talented, mature individual who works hard. That's usually a combination that produces success. In Beal, the Wizards may have finally found a building block for their future.