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Video Playbook: Off-Ball Illusionist, Bradley Beal

US Presswire

US Presswire

When it comes to Washington Wizard’s latest lottery selection, Bradley Beal, a particular old show business adage  comes to mind – “A magician relies on cheap tricks, while an illusionist deceives the eye into believing.” Now no matter how much Gob Bluth of Arrested Development may have changed the wording, this particularly saying is still applicable to Beal’s offensive specialty.

I watched Beal’s pro debut against the Cavaliers on opening night, and I was immediately impacted, beholding his beautiful and deadly jump shot when he knocked down an easy transition three. Some NBA players have the aesthetic part of a shot down, but not the accompanying statistical results. Bradley unfortunately was stuck in this furrow for the first part of the year, as he buckled under too much offensive load while not having enough experience. The effortless wonder of that jumper only produced percentages of 35.3%, and 26.9% from three, from October 31st to December 1st.

As time went on for Beal, and with the reincorporation of Nene and John Wall into the lineup, the numbers were starting to reflect the beauty of his form. In contrasting fashion, his numbers since the calender turned January 1st, 2013, come in at 46.3%, and an insanely high 49.2% from three. It was great to witness a young player’s scoring that had such visual appeal, start to match its potential in its results.

Partial credit has to be given to the fact John Wall re-harnessed control of the ball handling duties, leaving Beal with a more off-ball role. A.J. Price certainly doesn’t process the distributing game from a mental aspect like Wall can. Yet there is more to the change than just the fact that Wall is simply better. A large part of the Beal-Wall chemistry cannot be discounted with just the vast difference in role Beal has found in the offense. Out of all half-court sets, Beal’s top two scoring categories (via mySynergySports) are hand-offs (53rd) and coming off off-ball screens where he ranks 75th in PPP. The change into a more comfortable role made the rookie’s focus shift to the deceptive off-ball tricks in his toolbox.

In this first video, Beal’s movement is impressive, but it also comes within an intricate set ran by the Wizards that is equally impressive. The eye picks up on how strategically placed all the off-ball offensive players are, and Beal makes the most of his teammates’ efforts. Initial movements of the play sets up for Brad to go into the left corner, however once he sees Lawson’s hips squared to that particular side, Brad snaps his entire body around like an experienced veteran leaving Lawson in a helpless position. Here is a screen shot of the moment when Beal notices Lawson’s shoulder squared to the corner farthest from the camera:

Beal Misdirection 1

And here is the ground in which Beal gains in this swift cut, the gap widening out to a point where even someone as quick as Lawson can’t fully recover:

Beal Misdirection 2

As the play goes on you notice that the final screen set for Beal is the last nail in the coffin for Lawson’s ability to cover. The only man who could move to cut-off the ball now is Kenneth Faried, however Beal has been out of the Manimal’s peripheral vision the entire time. With  ineffective defensive communication by the Nuggets, Faried loses the opportunity get to Brad until the ball is already gone:

Now, as gorgeous of a play as that is designed, Beal doesn’t need that amount of complexity in order to do his damage. Here he completely dumbfounds Lou Williams in a similar fashion, without the amount of excess screening the other play featured.

With a planted foot and a whip of the head, Beal pulls the string on Lou Williams who is left seemingly motionless on his heels. Even with Tolliver’s best attempts to close out, Brad has gained enough distance from Williams to dribble around the big man and shoot uncontested.

Now, what if Beal doesn’t have the amount of space to pull off the changing direction maneuver? Not only does Beal have the quick cuts to change directions, but he features a gliding stride when he just simply accelerates off the ball. Jimmer Fredette is not regarded as an average defender, however the way Beal gallops has happened many times over the course of the last few months. Beal doesn’t have a brand of unmatched athleticism to burst off the spot, but is just as deadly with streamlined efficiency of getting faster with each step. (Note: Keith Smart‘s look and half shoulder shrug at Jimmer after the basket)

Fredette is left in the dust, and he hasn’t been the only one. The way Beal moves should be considered one of the finest illusions in the entire NBA. So don’t look away when he is off the ball the next time you watch the Wizards or you might miss the deception, just like the defender so often does, before it is too late.

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