Bradley Beal hopes to become MVP-caliber player; how can he get there?

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Beal hopes to be MVP candidate; how can he get there? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said he's only coached a handful of players who have consistently improved year after year over the course of five or more seasons. Bradley Beal is one of them

Having just finished up his Age 27 season, one in which he led the East in scoring for the second straight season and started the All-Star Game, Beal is now entering another summer looking to add more to his game. As for what he would like to improve specifically, Beal will need some time to determine that.

But he does have an idea of the next level he would like to reach.

"Obviously, I’ve had a good year. Made All-Star, hopefully make All-NBA; whatever the case may be. Eventually, I want to be an MVP-caliber player. So, maybe that’s what’s next. Just continue to push myself to be in better positions to succeed," Beal said.

There are three finalists for the 2020-21 NBA MVP award: Stephen Curry, Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid, with Jokic as the favorite in betting odds. So, how can Beal join that group next season?

The Wizards winning more games would certainly help. Washington finished 34-38, while the teams of all three finalists had winning records. Embiid's Sixers and Jokic's Nuggets were among the NBA's five-best teams in the regular season. Curry's Warriors were eighth in the West, just as the Wizards were in the East, but that was in the West. They went 39-33 while playing a more difficult schedule.

Curry also edged Beal in the scoring title race while carrying his team after the injury to Klay Thompson. He set a career-high in scoring (32.0 ppg) while posting his third-most efficient season (60.5 eFG%).

Beal's numbers, though, would look MVP-like on a contender. He averaged a career-high 31.3 points to go along with 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists. Put those on a 50-plus win team where he's the best player and he's at least in the conversation.

Related: Russell Westbrook looking forward to future with Wizards

Beal also mentioned his three-point percentage as an area for improvement. He shot 34.9 percent from deep, the lowest clip of his career, on 6.2 attempts per game. While Beal first established his reputation in the NBA as a deadly shooter, his percentages have dipped in recent years as he's taken on a larger play-making role in the offense. He's more accurate on catch-and-shoot plays than off the dribble.

Beal didn't point it out himself, but another part of his game that could improve is his performance in clutch time. While Beal carried a 48.5/34.9/88.9 shooting line overall during the clutch, those numbers fell to 47.5/24.0/84.7 in the clutch, which is defined as the final five minutes of regulation and overtime when the game is within five points. 

There were a few games this season where Beal probably looked back on, wishing he could have made more plays in the closing minutes and seconds. He did make some big shots, and has made plenty in his career, but the Wizards generally need to be better at late-game execution and he can help that cause with his scoring. It's one way Beal can make it obvious he's a separator between wins and losses.

Beal had a better year defensively than he did in 2019-20, in part because he had a lot more help with rim protection behind him. The Wizards got better on that end of the floor in just about every category, and Beal was part of that effort.

The Wizards could help him this offseason by adding some defense on the wing, that way Beal doesn't have to guard taller players like Jayson Tatum when the team needs a late-game stop. Beal took on that challenge and deserves credit for doing so, but as the Wizards add more defensive personnel, he could get better with more manageable matchups.

Any discussion about how Beal can get better this offseason needs to be qualified with the reminder he is already very good, one of the 10 or so best players in the NBA. He doesn't need to get better, he's already elite and the Wizards are lucky to have him.

But that's not how Beal views himself and his career. He wants to get better and maybe competing for MVPs is indeed the next step.