NBA Power Rankings: The idea and reality of Bradley Beal

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In this week’s NBA Power Rankings, Tyrese Maxey has energy and the idea of Bradley Beal squares off with his reality.

Our new look NBA Power Rankings are back, a non-traditional structure for a non-traditional era of professional basketball. The world is no longer just about wins and losses and teams are no longer the primary crucible of basketball power. So each week we’ll be dissecting how basketball power is presently distributed — between players, teams, friendships, diss tracks, aesthetic design choices, across leagues and whatever else has a temporary toehold in this ever-changing landscape.

Who has the power in this week’s NBA Power Rankings?

5

Tyrese Maxey has energy

By all accounts, the James Harden situation will be resolved in the next few hours after this is published and there’s a good chance rookie Tyrese Maxey is in the middle of it, either as a high-value piece headed to Houston or as a sticking point with Philadelphia’s unwillingness to include him complicating things.

Maxey has benefited tremendously from the 76ers quarantine-depleted roster, averaging 21.5 points, 5.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.0 steals over his last four games, shooting better than 50 percent from the floor. It’s allowed him to put his relentless energy on display. Over this stretch, more than a third of his frontcourt touches (44-of-120) have resulted in a drive and he’s shooting 65.6 percent off those drives, with a scoring ratio that works out to more than a point per drive.

Whether Maxey becomes a featured piece in Houston or retreats to Philly’s second-unit as his teammates clear quarantine, it’s clear he’s an electric offensive engine.

4

Myles Turner, getter of stops

Turner has had some strong defensive seasons in the past but he’s on another level this year. He’s leading the league in blocks and posting a career-high steal percentage that’s more than double his mark from last year. And he’s been much more aggressive creating disruptive defensive plays without a huge surge in her personal fouls.

Turner has been solidly on the positive side of the ledger for the two seasons before this but his marks this year are incredible. Project his current pace across Indiana’s 61 remaining games and Turner would finish the season with 151 more steals and blocks combined than personal fouls. Even if there are some games missed or a mid-season regression to the mean he’s on track for a career-best defensive season in terms of impact plays.

3

Charlotte murder hornets

In the past week, the Hornets beat the Hawks, Pelicans, Hawks again and then the Knicks, by an average of 11.1 points per 100 possessions. Their offense has exploded and they’re fully inhabiting their potential as a playmaking hydra — five different players averaging at least 2.0 assists per game, five different players making at least 40 percent of their catch-and-shoot 3s, five different players averaging at least 5.0 drives per game.

LaMelo Ball’s emergence has been key and his passing creativity is the kind of contagious variable that can change the whole dynamic of a team. The way Jason Williams joined the Sacramento Kings and, like a shot of adrenaline, pulled Vlade Divac and Chris Webber into his acid trip vision of basketball. I’m not sure exactly where the Hornets are going but they’re going to get their fast and it looks like it’s going to be an awesome ride.

2

The reality of Bradley Beal

Bradley Beal had himself a week. Last Wednesday, he dropped 60 on the Philadelphia 76ers, needing just 35 shots to do it. He followed that up with 41 against the Celtics and then 34 against the Phoenix Suns. In his last three games, he’s averaging 45.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists. He’s done that while shooting 55.8 percent from the field, 50 percent on 3-pointers and hitting 26-of-29 free throws. And he’s taken his game to new heights as the Wizards appear to be melting down around him.

For the month of January, Russell Westbrook is shooting 32.2 percent from the field and 33.3 percent on 3-pointers, averaging 5.0 turnovers per game. Westbrook is now, mercifully, out for at least a week with a quad injury. But the Wizards have also lost third-leading scorer Thomas Bryant for the season to an ACL injury, while both Rui Hachimura and Mo Wagner have had to enter the league’s quarantine protocols because of close COVID contacts.

The Wizards are now 3-8 with a decimated roster and Scott Brooks firmly on the hot seat. They’ve arguably never looked worse, but Beal has never been better. In fact, the only thing better than Bradley Beal right now is…

1

The idea of Bradley Beal

If you like the looks of Bradley Beal carving up defenses while Ish Smith and Troy Brown Jr. drift around the perimeter, just imagine how good he’d be for your team! While your team’s fringe bench guys stare in slack-jawed amazement!

With Beal surging and the Wizards dissolving, Beal again seems like a trade possibility which is a hook for the attention of nearly every fanbase in the league. He is now living, nay, thriving, in that nebulous gray area where he’s not quite one of your guys but he’s not quite an opponent either. The Wizards’ outlook isn’t changing and so it becomes a powerful feedback loop — the better he plays, the more his trade value is inflated and the more NBA fans fall in love with the idea of him. Who knows what jersey he’ll put on next but for now, it could be any of them!

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