The body language police were out in full force this past week. ESPN’s broadcast of the Phoenix Suns and the Brooklyn Nets last Wednesday night had numerous storylines. Kevin Durant was returning to Brooklyn, a franchise where he never reached his full potential. Mikail Bridges and Cameron Johnson were playing host to the team that traded them just over a year ago.
ESPN found one more subplot, and it was one I think they were off. Way off.
When studio shows are occurring, they do their best to fill the time. Sometimes they grasp at straws. With Michael Wilbon and Kendrick Perkins sitting at the desk, one of the topics of discussion was the body language of Bradley Beal. Pregame they were pushing the narrative that Beal was disengaged on the offensive end
At the half, Perkins noted that Beal “is still frustrated. His body language is horrible in the game. He was the last one to walk off the floor.”
Can't talk ball with everyone.— Cameron Cox (@CamCox12) February 1, 2024
Perk picks out two plays of Beal and says he's "just standing around" and that he's not engaged and has bad body language... yet he doesn't show any plays of Beal chasing down defenders or hustling back all half?
HE WAS THE LAST ONE TO WALK OFF… pic.twitter.com/UXUusXMUPL
Oh, the clickbait.
I don’t think that there’s an issue with Bradley Beal's body language. I don’t think that, as Perkins insinuated, Beal is upset. That doesn’t mean Perkins is entirely wrong, either.
Think about the season that Bradley Beal has had. After all of the hype, after all of the hope, and after all of the promise, he entered the season with an injured lower back. It is a debilitating injury that can truly affect your mental well-being. Your back and core control every aspect of your body, and when it’s injured, it can take you into dark places. Not saying that that happened for Beal, but speaking from experience.
And then he rolls his ankle in front of the crowd against the New York Knicks. Another mental blow on top of a physical blow as he is simply looking to jumpstart his season and start the integration process alongside Devin Booker and Kevin Durant.
He returns, and he’s playing well. The Suns are winning ball games. From the time he returned to the game against the Indiana Pacers, he’s averaging 19.1 points and 14.9 shot attempts. Doesn’t sound like someone who is disengaged to me. He is playing third fiddle on a highly potent offense. There have been no snide remarks or frustrating comments about being the third wheel. It’s an area that Bradley Beal is enjoying, it appears.
Then he takes an offensive foul off of Myles Turner’s elbow and cracks his nose open. Nasal fracture, clunky mask, another injury.
Bradley Beal gets elbowed in the face by Myles Turner pic.twitter.com/KOCsfiTQF3— Cage (@ridiculouscage) January 27, 2024
So yeah, Beal has had a rough few games since then. Prior to the Nets game, the Suns lost to the Magic. Beal was 4-of-13 from the field, had 9 points, and was 0-of-5 from three-point range. Perhaps that is the only game Perkins researched in preparation for the Suns v. Nets.
Beal is now going through it. He is shooting 12.5% from three on 24 attempts in four games with the mask. Side note, he was raked across the face again last night against the Hawks, a game where he went 0-of-7 from deep. So this road trip has been rough on the peak of Brad.
Back to the initial point. Beal isn’t disengaged but that isn’t to say that he couldn’t be doing more on the offense end, especially in the fourth quarter. I’m talking shot attempts. I’m talking about movement. That is where Perk is right.
We see this across the NBA, and it’s not just unique to the Suns. For the first three quarters of a game, teams play a certain way, utilizing fluidity and pace to dictate their offense. But when the game starts to become close late, they resort to isolation basketball. Certain players are getting paid an exorbitant amount of money to execute, and it is these moments in which they earn that paycheck.
Obviously, one disadvantage of this is it takes other players out of the game, both literally and from a feel standpoint.
Yes, even the Boston Celtics have this problem. Go ahead and watch them. It becomes the Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown Show as they begin taking turns on step-back threes late in games. No team with stars is impervious to this type of basketball.
Something that could improve is more off-ball movement from Brad Beal.
He is not the primary facilitator in the fourth quarter, or even the secondary. It is Devin Booker and Kevin Durant who are executing the offense. But when they start to get into isolation mode, outside of setting high screens off of Nurkic, there isn’t much movement off the ball.
This is where Bradley Beal can feast.
He’s quick, he’s athletic, and he possesses a physicality that allows him to win one-on-one matchups off ball. It is something that we would like to see more of. Off ball Beal, hustling and disrupting defensive sets. It might shade a defender away from Booker or Durant, who will eventually take the shot, or it could set him up to come off of a back screen for a wide-open three or cutting baseline for an easy two.
That’s a solution to many problems and would quite the rumblings of ESPN crews desperate for narratives.