Bradley Beal made his return for the Phoenix Suns on Friday night in a decisive win against the Charlotte Hornets. We didn’t witness elite Beal play in his 30 minutes on the court. He was 3-of-8 from the field, 0-of-2 from beyond the arc, and scored a mere six points. No flashy dunks, no herky-jerky drives to the interior. Just basic basketball at a monitored pace.
That is to be expected in his return from an ankle injury he suffered two weeks prior. The goal for Beal over the next few games — all of which will occur at the friendly confines of the Footprint Center as the Suns are on a six-game homestand — is to re-insert him into the Suns’ lineups and rotations while simultaneously allowing him to work himself back into game shape.
There was nothing spectacular about Beal’s performance on Friday. But he did have seven assists as he focused more on distribution than shooting and scoring. And the player who benefited from this?
Booker is one of the best two guards in the league. He has shown it time and again with his ability to find his spot coming off of screens and deposit the ball into the cylinder at a high clip. But this season he’s been asked to do something different; he has been asked to become the primary facilitator. He has been productive in that regard as he is averaging a career-high 8.1 assists. That is 1.3 more than his previous career high which came in the 2018-19 season.
With playmaking, however, comes a focus on distribution rather than finding your own shot. And when you are the primary ball handler, it becomes more difficult to get to the spots that you are accustomed to scoring from. Plays aren’t being drawn up specifically for you, rather, you are facilitating the sets to set up your teammates.
We’ve seen fewer Booker-based possessions in which he’s coming off the ball this season as a result.
With Beal back in the lineup, although not a great distributor in his own right, it allowed Booker to do Booker things off the ball. Back screens, open shots, curls. Of the 18 shots he took on Friday, 7 of them were classified as either open or wide open. He shot 4-of-7 of those attempts.
“That’s the Bradley Beal effect,” Booker said after the game.
35 points and 7 assists was Booker’s final stat line, which included 5-of-7 from three-point range. Book has had issues with the super shot as of late, shooting 29.2% from beyond the arc in his last 13 games. He attempted 65 three-pointers in that period, with only 23 of those attempts being wide-open.
This is the vision that we have been waiting for executed in real time. The debate will continue as to whether or not the Suns need a true point guard, but if Bradley Beal is healthy on offense, it will open up more of Devin Booker's offensive skill set. He will be able to work his magic off-ball with much more effectiveness, playing weakside while Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal work the left block (a set we are already seeing develop and create issues for opposing teams).