36 unbothered: What Bradley Beal has to prove with Suns
Sep 22, 2023, 7:02 AM | Updated: Sep 26, 2023, 7:57 am
Devin Booker left the Phoenix Suns’ second elimination game blowout loss in the conference semifinals without saying a word. At least to the media.
He went into the offseason without addressing what happened, both after the game and at exit interviews the next day, only posting a vague social media post “36 unbothered” afterward, two days following the firing of head coach Monty Williams. What was first speculated by fans as a reference to his and Kevin Durant’s added-up jersey numbers was later corrected by Booker: He was just cruising through 36 holes of golf.
Regardless, he unknowingly created a nickname for the Suns’ superstar duo in the process.
A lot happened this offseason. NBA-wide, all eyes are on the Suns with massive change and great expectations.
So to keep us occupied until the Oct. 24 season opener against the Golden State Warriors, which is 32 days away from Friday, Empire of the Suns podcast co-hosts Kellan Olson and Kevin Zimmerman will be joined by Arizona Sports contributor Erik Ruby to dish on 36 key storylines for Phoenix’s 2023-24 season.
Day 32: Bradley Beal
Erik Ruby: Let’s get on the same page, Bradley Beal is one of the better players in the NBA. Not a top 10/20 guy, but that is elite status. Beal is someone who has been a No. 1 on bad teams, and thrived as a No. 2 on mediocre/slightly good teams. Now, the man who averaged 30 points per game twice, will be playing third fiddle, for lack of a better term, to two of the greatest offensive producers the game has ever seen.
Pairing Beal with Devin Booker and Kevin Durant will not only unlock the two who were with the team last season, but it should elevate their newest star addition as well. The biggest thing I see the former Wizard contributing to the Suns is not his shooting from deep, or even his unique mid-range game, but actually his rim pressure. Beal is the perfect description of a three-level scorer, and I imagine his paint presence will surprise most this season. If you compare how few times Chris Paul found himself close to the rim with who he was traded for, you will find a complete 180-degree turn. THAT is what will unlock Booker and Durant truly.
If Beal has a defender in isolation and drives past them, as he does often, his quick-twitch speed and attention-demanding touch around the rim will suck in other defenders, leaving one of Booker, Durant, Deandre Ayton and (fill in the blank) with a mismatch or open look. Once defenders know they have to stay home on their assignent, Phoenix now has one of the leagues’ most prolific and diverse scorers matched up with, presumably, the opposing team’s second or third-best defender. This is undoubtedly a recipe for offensive excellence not only for Beal, but everyone who plays around him.
On defense, Beal has never had a smaller share of offensive responsibilities than he will this season, and while his instincts will not reach Chris Paul levels, his size and length is a noticeable upgrade on the Point God. These two factors ease my mind tremendously when it comes to concerns about Beal locking up on defense. Plus, I’m sure that watching Booker work harder than anyone else on that end will fan the competitive fire inside him. Frank Vogel helps too!
Kellan Olson: Beal is undoubtedly the Sun with the most to prove this season. For who he is as a complete offensive player, he has already become underrated, placed in rankings around the 40s, 50s and even 60s as a guy that I believe should safely be in the 30s.
But as a player, and more specifically as a winning player, that’s really where he has to show something. Beal has never come close to being on a team this good or even one that could theoretically be in the title picture. And the thing is, as the No. 3 on a Big 3, it’s even more important for Beal’s intangibles to be on display. He will not have the ball as much as Booker and Durant, nor should he, even though that’s how you get the most value out of him.
Booker and Durant have already shown how much they still contribute to winning when off it. Can Beal this season? As a defender? Playmaker? Does he grab that key rebound to create another possession, make that important cut to open up a basket for someone else or come up with that vital loose ball? I think he does all that stuff. Others do not. We’ll find out.
Kevin Zimmerman: I think many of us residing in Phoenix are used to thinking of Beal as the East Coast Devin Booker. The super talented perimeter player who didn’t have a point guard and wasted some of his prime years trying to pull an uninspiring roster up. That, as we know with Booker, can tarnish the reputation and talent evaluation of a player.
And then, whenever the Suns would play the Washington Wizards, we’d be reminded: Ah, please save that man.
Turns out, the man and his agent saved him by writing no-trade clause into his contract.
Beal is now free to prove he can play at least serviceable defense. Like Booker next to Durant, Beal can take some weight off his shoulders and aim for efficiency in his shot selection while building his playmaking chops. As if it will be difficult to pass to Kevin Freaking Durant and get rewarded with an assist from that big-brained decision-making.
Here’s the crazy part about what I said above about Beal: That narrative about him is twisted by recency bias.
Beal actually has two more playoff appearances than Booker in his career (45 to 43).
Beal was sidekick to John Wall for most of those, but his most recent playoff appearance in 2021 was decent evidence he can show up under the bright lights and with all the pressure on him. That five-game series against the Philadelphia 76ers saw him average 30.0 points, 4.2 assists and 6.2 rebounds per game with a team that started Russell Westbrook, Rui Hachimura, Raul Neto and Alex Len.