Grizzlies

Better Fit for Memphis: Beal or Booker?

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It’s no secret that the Memphis Grizzlies have long needed a scoring wing. The need has been nearly omnipresent during the franchise’s history, and some fans feel it was the lone thing that kept the Grit ‘n Grind era teams from winning a championship. Rudy Gay was supposed to fill that role, but couldn’t quite provide the team with what they needed to elevate them to the next level. Similar to Gay back then, the ideal wing today would be able to create his own shot and provide steady scoring, while not taking too many touches away from the team’s main stars.

Fans have fantasized about numerous trades involving established star scorers for years. Two of the more popular players currently in these discussions are Bradley Beal and Devin Booker. Both are established, all-star caliber scorers that could fit into Memphis’ system. Neither are currently involved in trade talks, but both play on teams that aren’t anywhere near championship contention, making them easy targets for fan trade proposals.

A few weeks ago, we ran a poll on Twitter asking Grizzlies fans which of the two players they’d prefer. Beal won by a landslide. It’s unrealistic that the Grizzlies attempt to get either of these players, but the question led to some good debates. We decided to take a deeper look into which player would be the better fit in Memphis.

 

 

Bradley Beal Profile

Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri

College: Florida

Draft: 3rd overall, 2012 by Washington

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 207 lbs

Wingspan: 6’8″

2019-20 Averages: 36 min, 30.5 pts, 4.2 rebs, 6.1 ast, 1.2 stl, 0.4 blk, 46/35/84 shooting splits

Devin Booker Profile

Hometown: Grand Rapids, Michigan

College: Kentucky

Draft: 13th overall, 2015 by Phoenix

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 210 lbs.

Wingspan: 6’8″

2019-20 Averages: 36.1 min, 26.1 pts, 4.2 rebs, 6.6 ast, 0.7 stl, 0.3 blk, 49/36/92 shooting splits

The Criteria

For this analysis, we used a few areas to assess which player would be a better fit on the Grizzlies:

  1. Timeline fit
  2. Offensive fit
  3. Defensive fit
  4. Impact on winning

Timeline Fit

The Grizzlies are one of the league’s youngest teams. They’re in a prime position to be competitors over the next decade. In a perfect world, both Beal and Booker could spend that long as a member of the team and be effective. Hypothetically, Beal would join the team at age 27, right in the middle of his prime. He would provide a big boost to the team early, but would inevitably drop off right about the time the Grizzlies’ young players reach their primes. Booker is three years younger, meaning he could be effective for the entire length of time, and his prime would better align with the team’s other stars.

Winner: Booker

Offensive Fit

When it comes to assessing the better offensive fit, you need to determine what the Grizzlies need. And what they need is a player who can be impactful while not taking away from other players on the team, specifically Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. The player should be able to add additional shot-creating, ideal for when plays break down. They should be comfortable playing off-ball and sharing a second-option role alongside Jackson.

The eye test says Beal fits better. He’s spent his career alongside John Wall, and performed well. Booker, on the other hand, has been the lone option for the Suns, and only recently got a point guard that can effectively run an offense (Ricky Rubio). Booker is more used to having the ball in his hands a lot, while Beal has proven more than capable as a primary and secondary option.

The first statistical comparison we came across was isolation scoring. Contrary to popular belief, neither player is great in isolation. Luckily, both average 2.7 iso possessions per game, making the comparison as straightforward as they come. Neither player averages above 1 point per possession in isolation situations. Booker edges out Beal, .94 to .90. Booker also scores more efficiently, posting an effective field goal percentage of 46.2, which is four points higher than Beal’s. However, Beal excels in drawing fouls, getting and-ones over twice as often as Booker. He also turns it over slightly less than Booker, but Booker has a slightly higher score frequency.

The next comparison looks at how each player operates as the ball handler in pick-and-rolls. The Grizzlies utilize the pick and roll fairly often, so it’s important that a hypothetical third option can operate in those sets. Beal is a significantly better fit in this regard. He runs the PnR about three more times per game than Booker, and it’s easy to see why. He scores more points per, and does so much more efficiently. The biggest difference comes in turnover percentage. Booker has a turnover frequency of 21.3%, meaning he is responsible for about one out of every five Suns turnovers on PnR possessions. Beal’s number is closer to one out of every seven. Beal’s foul-drawing advantage carries over here too.

The last offensive category we examined was spot-up shooting. Both players are known as good shooters, which would be a key addition to the team. However, their numbers in this regard were a bit surprising. Beal comes out ahead, being in the 68th percentile to Booker’s 51st, according to NBA.com. Again, Beal is much more efficient, posting an eFG of 52.3 and 1.06 points per possession. Booker posted a 48.6 eFG% and .98 points per. Booker’s turnover percentage is significantly higher, as well.

Winner: Beal

Defensive Fit

Defensive fit is a bit tougher to assess. The Grizzlies have a lot of defensive potential on the roster currently with great individual defenders, as well as a high level of flexibility that helps their team defense. Historically, Memphis’ most successful teams have played elite defense. While the next generation has a different style, defense is still very important. Neither of these two players are known as great defenders, though.

Individual defense can be hard to measure from stats. The eye test leads to believe Beal is a better defender. Booker can be a revolving door on defense. For what it’s worth, Beal isn’t a much better defender, but I would bet he has the edge.

To start, let’s look at each player’s basic defensive numbers. On the surface, both had abysmal defensive ratings last year. Beal posted a career-high 117, while Booker posted a 115, which equals his career average. Unsurprisingly, both players also posted negative DBPM, but Booker was one point better than Beal, posting a -1.4. Block and steal totals provide the biggest difference here, as Beal averages twice as many of both.

From there, we moved to looking at how the two defend on the perimeter. In Memphis, they’d be backed up by some good rim protectors, so I wanted to focus on how effective they are outside the paint. Booker had a surprisingly strong showing in this regard. According to NBA.com, Booker’s opponents shot significantly lower percentages from 15+ feet than Beal’s. Booker held his opponents to 39.3% shooting from those ranges, while Beal’s matchups shot 42.2%.

The last thing I analyzed was each player’s defensive win shares. Beal has a few more years’ worth of total shares, so I averaged each player’s totals to account for that. At 1.8, Beal’s average year scores much higher than Booker’s average of .68. That being said, Booker just posted his best season while Beal posted his worst. It’s impossible to say if those trends will hold up, but it does add some intrigue to the comparison. Is Beal already starting to decline, while Booker rises?

Winner: Booker

Impact on Winning

Impact on winning may be the most important part of this analysis. The Grizzlies are in position to win a lot of games (and hopefully postseason series) in the near future. The addition of either of these players would, ideally, give them an additional boost in that regard.

Player impacts can be tough to measure. Often times the deciding factor is what each analyst values most. Luckily, advanced stats have been formulated to try to make this process easier. For this part, I looked at each player’s passing abilities and their advanced stats.

I decided to look at passing for multiple reasons. It hasn’t been discussed so far and I feel that it’s important. I also think passing numbers can be used to assess how players impact their teammates, which would have an effect on their overall impact on winning. Both Beal and Booker have shown decent playmaking abilities and have improved throughout their careers.

Looking at the basic passing numbers, both players averaged just over 6 assists per game last season. Booker averages roughly one more than Beal per game for his career. However, Booker’s turnovers have grown alongside his assists. He has averaged 3+ in four of his five pro seasons, and averaged 4.1 in 2018-19. Beal averages 2.3 for his career, but has seen a slight uptick in his turnovers as well. He posted his first 3+ average this season.

A deeper look into their passing uncovered some interesting stats. Despite making and receiving a combined 24 passes fewer than Beal, Booker posted stronger advanced passing numbers. Booker averaged 2 more potential assists and created more points through his passing. A higher number of his passes were assists, which implies that he was getting the ball to teammates in great scoring positions.

Upon examining each player’s target breakdown, I found another interesting stat. Booker’s top pass target was Ricky Rubio, who made 42% on his field goals from those passes. Booker’s second-highest target was Kelly Oubre, who gave Booker 1.1 assists per game, highest on the team. Both players received a higher percentage of Booker’s passes than Beal’s top target received from him. Beal’s top targets were Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant. Bryant netted Beal 1.3 assists per game, and shot 56% off of Beal passes. Hachimura didn’t score as efficiently, but Beal’s willingness to pass to the Wizards’ rookie is a good sign, and is worth considering.

The advanced stat portion of this comparison was the easiest. I examined each player’s win shares and box plus/minus. Again, I averaged out win shares to adjust for the difference in years played. In an average season, Beal averages 2 more win shares than Booker. This year, though, Booker accrued just under one more, posting 6 total to Beal’s 5.1. Booker improved in each type of win share (offensive, defensive, total) while Beal took a step back in each. Again, it’s impossible to know what that will mean going forward. In terms of BPM, Beal had another strong year, posting a 2.9, despite his low DBPM. Booker posted a respectable 1.7, and a better DBPM, but couldn’t quite match Beal’s OBPM.

Winner: Booker

Final Verdict

Despite Booker taking three out of four categories, this comparison is closer than some think. Admittedly, most would expect Beal to be the better fit, because he is often depicted as the better player. This analysis, however, has shifted our perception of Devin Booker and what he could offer to the Grizzlies.

The numbers show that Booker is a better defender and passer than people think, and he is improving more than he gets credit for. Beal’s history as a second option still holds a lot of weight when envisioning how the team would look, but Booker might now be the better choice. His improving defense and strong passing numbers are what move the needle. His turnover totals are concerning, but would theoretically decrease as his usage does. He would also be sharing the court with other excellent players, so defenses wouldn’t be able to focus heavily on him.

Follow us on Twitter @Grizz_Lead for the latest Grizzlies news and insight.

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About Richmond Bailey Caldwell

Die-hard Grizzlies fan since 2009. Aspiring basketball writer and coach. University of Georgia sport management alum. Perennial first team all-defense selection.

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