Beal, Westbrook aligned on fit: “My job is to make his job easier"

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One week has passed since the Wizards acquired Russell Westbrook, a nine-time All-NBA guard and former Most Valuable Player who has averaged 26.4 points, 9.7 assists and 9.2 rebounds per game over the last six seasons. Excitement and anticipation around the organization and fanbase have been predictably high. Discussions of Westbrook’s reunion with Wizards head coach Scott Brooks and his impact on the team’s crop of young talent have provided plenty of reason for optimism.

But no topic has grabbed more headlines or fueled more debate than how Westbrook will fit alongside Washington’s incumbent star guard, Bradley Beal, who is coming off a career season in which he became one of just five players in the last decade to average over 30 points per game.

As the dust settles on the alignment of the NBA’s newest star backcourt and the fast-approaching season draws nearer, those conversations become less speculative. Beal and Westbrook have begun on-court work together and Brooks’ plan to mold the duo to the rest of the rotation is in motion.

When discussing their on-court responsibility to the other, Beal and Westbrook struck a simple, similar tone:

“My job is to make his job easier,” Beal said during his first media availability of training camp.

Days later, in an interview with the Off The Bench podcast, Westbrook echoed that sentiment.

“My job is to make sure I help him and make the game very easy for him,” Westbrook said.

Neither seem concerned about fit or a lack of chemistry – and for good reason. Westbrook has spent his entire career playing alongside elite scorers and Beal is confident in his own ability to fit his game to the talent around him.

“I’m very adaptable,” Beal said. “I adjust to who is with me, who I’m playing, the new guys we add…I don’t think it will be a problem.”

Brooks is uniquely informed when it comes to both star guards. He has spent the last four seasons coaching Beal through his ascendency in Washington. Prior to arriving in D.C., Brooks spent seven seasons in Oklahoma City (and one in Seattle), taking over head coaching duties during the 2008-09 season. The Thunder’s star rookie that season? Russell Westbrook. During their tenure together, Brooks was named Coach of the Year in 2010, Westbrook made a trio of All-Star appearances and the Thunder earned berths in three Western Conference Finals series, winning one.

Brooks knows well what Westbrook brings to an organization.

“It felt like old times,” Brooks said after Westbrook’s first day in the facility last weekend. “I’ve seen it. I’ve seen the intensity. I’ve seen him raise the group’s level before. I’m sure the players didn't realize that’s what he does, but you can tell that everybody locked in and everybody raised their level up.”

Westbrook’s fit in Washington will depend largely in part on his fit with Beal. On that, Brooks is equally optimistic.

“I think that partnership with him and Brad – they’re about the same things,” Brooks said. “They’re about basketball. That’s their job and that’s what they love to do. All the other things basically come from that.”

Both players are used to playing with the ball in their hands. Westbrook’s 32.69 career usage rate is the second highest in NBA history, trailing only Michael Jordan.

Last season, the Wizards’ offense started – and usually finished – with Beal. He closed the season with a 34.4 usage rate, six points higher than his previous career high and, coincidentally, the exact same rate as Westbrook’s in 2019-20.

Beal averaged 15.1 points per game more than the next highest Washington scorer. He set a new career in assists per game (6.1) and assist percentage (29.1). Beal’s season-long performance cemented his status as one of the league’s premier offensive weapons and proved his ability to shoulder massive amounts of on-court responsibility. But what he gained in volume cost him in efficiency. Beal’s 52.0% effective field percentage was his lowest since the 2015-16 season.

According to NBA.com, Beal faced tight (2-4 feet) or very tight (0-2 feet) coverage on 50.2% of his field goal attempts last season, the highest rate of his career by a wide margin.

Westbrook joining the rotation should lighten the load and provide a gravitational pull that opens Beal up for more open, off-ball scoring opportunities. Last season, Beal shot 38.0% on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, five percentage points higher he shot off the dribble from the beyond the arc.

“Brad is a superstar talent,” Westbrook said. “He proved that and showed that last year with what he had and he’s only going to get better. My job is to come in and continue to uplift him and try to push him to be better and that’s all I’m here for.”

“He’s a true point (guard) and I’m a true two (guard),” Beal said. “I think that, in itself, makes us mesh.”

Beal moving back into more of an off-ball role alongside a world-class sharpshooter like Davis Bertans should leave plenty of space for Westbrook to do what he does best: use his elite athleticism to blow by perimeter defenders and get to the rim. Over the last three seasons, Westbrook has done his best work within three feet of the basket, shooting 61.1, 65.0 and 64.0 percent at the rim.

When defenses collapse on a driving Westbrook, he has proven plenty capable of finding the open man. Since 2016, Westbrook has recorded 156 games with at least 10 assists, the most in the NBA in that time.

Beal and Westbrook are superstar talents, each capable of stealing league-wide headlines on any given night with a box-score-breaking performance. But converting head-turning stats into wins will depend on how they are able to blend with the players surrounding them.

As of today, the Wizards’ roster includes just four players with over five years of NBA experience: Beal, Westbrook, Ish Smith and the newly signed Robin Lopez. Bertans comes in just under the five-year mark with four seasons of experience, but the remaining expected contributors to the team’s rotation all have three seasons or less under their belt. Thomas Bryant, Troy Brown Jr., Rui Hachimura and rookie Deni Avdija highlight a young core that will look to Beal and Westbrook as tone-setters as expectations for the team rise.

“(The young players are) going to see Russell, how he prepares, how he’s locked in, how he is in the locker room before the game,” Brooks said. “He has a great way of communicating. He knows when to put his arm around somebody and he knows when to use a little bit more direction. The thing I like about him, he knows this is about winning.”

“(Westbrook is) someone, just like Brad, that I want to learn from and pick their brains,” Brown Jr. said.

Westbrook was impressed with what he saw from Brown Jr. and the other members of the Wizards’ young talent in the opening days of training camp.

“The biggest thing I have learned is that they are willing to work and listen,” Westbrook said. “The biggest thing they can do is work and listen to Coach Brooks and our coaching staff here because that’s the only way you’re going to get better. Make mistakes. When guys work, I can live with that. You have a group of young guys that want to work hard, that’s here early getting work in before practice, post-practice and creating those habits that are better for them and their own personal careers but better for our team collectively.”

“We have a lot of young, talented guys who are hungry to win and who are hungry to get better,” Beal said. “Russ’s energy and his mental approach to the game will be perfect for us.”