Bradley Beal in good shape to win scoring title, but needs to play more games

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Chase Hughes
·5 min read
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Beal in good shape to win scoring title, but needs to play more games originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

As the Wizards enter the final third of their 2020-21 regular season, All-Star shooting guard Bradley Beal remains as the NBA's leading scorer, currently averaging 31.3 points per game. Beal has kept his lead despite missing the last five games with a hip contusion.

Beal is not expected to be out long due to the injury - he has regularly been a game-time decision before getting ruled out. But if he doesn't return soon, the math could get interesting for him, as to qualify for rate statistics in the NBA, you have to play a certain number of games.

That number in a normal 82-game season is 58 games or 70 percent. The NBA confirmed to NBC Sports Washington that the 70 percent threshold will also apply to the 72-game schedule of 2020-21.

That would mean Beal has to play at least 50 of the Wizards' 72 games, assuming they complete their schedule through all of the health and safety restrictions relating to Covid-19. So far, Beal has played in 41 games.

The Wizards have 23 games left on their schedule, which means Beal has to play in at least nine of them. That sounds doable, as long as he's back in the next few weeks. But there are some other factors to consider, that could make it not quite as straightforward as it appears.

For one, the Wizards continue to lose games and falter in the standings. They have dropped 11 of 14 since the All-Star break and at 17-32 sit fifth from the bottom of the NBA, meaning they would have the fifth-best lottery odds if the ping pong balls were drawn today.

If the Wizards keep losing, it could make sense to start sitting Beal due to rest, maybe even to shut him down at the end of the year. They could choose to preserve his health if their playoff hopes continue to drift away. But if Beal continues to miss games due to injury, the Wizards could enter a situation where they don't have that option, if they want Beal to win the scoring title, which there are many reasons why they and he should want for that to happen.

Most notably, it could be a huge factor in his Hall of Fame resume. Every single player in NBA history who has won a scoring title is in the Hall of Fame or will be someday (Stephen Curry, LeBron James, James Harden, etc.). And per Basketball Reference's Hall of Fame probability register, winning a scoring title carries some significant weight in predicting candidates.

Beal would also be the first player in Wizards/Bullets franchise history to ever win the honor. The highest scoring average in a single season was 31.6 points per game by Walt Bellamy in 1961-62, back in their first year of existence as the Chicago Packers. But he finished 18.8 points behind the next guy, Wilt Chamberlain, who set an NBA record that year by averaging a preposterous 50.4 points per game. Chamberlain also averaged 25.7 rebounds and 48.5 minutes per game that season.

Another factor could be the lingering unknowns of Covid-19. Though the Wizards have 23 games remaining, there is technically no guarantee they will play all of them. They have already had a major outbreak that cost them games and based on what we know about the virus, it's unlikely to happen to them again. But if one or several of their remaining opponents go through that experience, it could affect the Wizards.

Beal is also one of the few players on the Wizards roster who has apparently not contracted the coronavirus before. He missed one game due to Covid-19 protocol after a postgame interaction with Jayson Tatum in January, but he quickly tested negative and returned. He did not enter protocol later that month when nine Wizards players did and six of their games were subsequently postponed.

It is unclear whether Beal has had the virus, or whether he has been vaccinated to render all of this moot. But if he were to contract it, he could be at risk of missing 10-to-14 days in protocol, per league rules.

Beal is otherwise in solid shape to win the scoring title, however. His 31.3 points per game are 1.4 points ahead of the second player on that list, Joel Embiid.

NBA's leading scorers as of April 7, 2021:

Bradley Beal - 31.3 ppg, 41 GP

Joel Embiid - 29.9 ppg, 33 GP

Stephen Curry - 29.7 ppg, 43 G

Damian Lillard - 29.2 ppg, 48 G

Kevin Durant - 29.0 ppg, 19 GP

Most pertinent about that list is the games played by others on it. Durant, for instance, does not have a chance to qualify for the scoring title despite being in fifth, as the Nets do not have enough games left for him to reach the minimum. And Embiid, who is second, has played even fewer games than Beal. The Sixers only have 23 games left, which means Embiid has to play in at least 17 of them. For a guy with his injury history, that is by no means a guarantee.

Curry and Lillard could end up Beal's best competition for the award and both have been playing well. Over the last month, Curry has been averaging 29.6 points per game, while Lillard has been averaging 27.6 points. Beal has seen his average drop to 25.7 points during that span.

If Beal were to play all of the Wizards' remaining 23 games and average 25.7 points, his season average would dip to 29.3 points per game, which would knock him out of the lead based on the current numbers. But that, ironically, is where missing a few more games could help him. If he carries a lower scoring pace through the rest of the regular season, the more games he plays, the more damage he could do to his overall average.

Beal, however, has shown no real signs of slowing down. He just needs to be healthy and play games. And as long as he gets enough of them, he should be able to make franchise history and give his career resume quite a boost in the process.