Long before we had the current iteration of the Knicks, one with draft picks and young assets, New York often preferred to take the approach of star hunting, even when they were well past their prime or were plagued with injuries, in hopes that it would lead to instant success. That strategy lead to multiple head-scratching contracts, losing picks, and ignoring the development of what young players they did have, and as it so often has for other franchises, it failed the Knicks and set them back multiple years.
Now with New York possessing a myriad of first-round picks and a handful of young players with upside, we’re back to constantly hearing about the next star the Knicks may acquire regardless of fit, contract, and age. Just in the last 12 months, we’ve seen names like Damian Lillard, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine, Donovan Mitchell, and Joel Embiid all being floated around as potential targets for the Knicks.
Bradley Beal, as I’m sure many of you have heard, is among those names being mentioned as a player the Knicks are interested in bringing in. And they aren’t wrong to at least look into it. Beal, despite having what some would call a lackluster or disappointing last few seasons, has been one of the better offensive shooting guards in the league over the last seven seasons. Since 2017, the former Florida Gator has averaged 25.5 points and five assists per game on 47.3% shooting from the field, 36.3% from three, and 83.4% from the free throw line.
Beal, who has experience playing next to a ball-dominant point guard in John Wall, could be an excellent candidate to pair with Jalen Brunson. The Knicks’ point guard could benefit greatly from Beal’s ability to space the floor, and he’d likely see his efficiency rise from playing next to a player that can get his own shot and play-make. Beal in turn would also likely benefit from the gravitational pull that Brunson possesses, and the attention that Brunson demands would make life a lot easier for Beal, who hasn’t played with a player of Brunson’s caliber since prime Wall. Pairing the two could lead to a deadly backcourt duo where both players are capable of playmaking, playing off the ball, shooting the three, and going one-on-one to make something out of nothing when needed. That said, there are so many reasons why Beal doesn’t make much sense for the Knicks.
First and foremost has to be the obvious defensive problems the Knicks would surely have. In an age where guards are so athletic and skilled, and offenses are so spread out and explosive, having a combo of Brunson and Beal would lead to a lot of open looks for opposing teams. And with the point of attack defense, something the Knicks already struggle with at times because of Brunson, being so important in today’s game, the Knicks would need three other elite defenders in the starting lineup to have a shot at that lineup working. That obviously isn’t the case right now, so implementing Beal into the lineup would likely mean either acquiring guys that may be unattainable given what the Knicks would have left after getting Beal (both asset wise and financially) or retooling the entire starting lineup, if not the whole roster. And while Beal is a good player, there are only a handful of guys you can justify building your whole roster around, and he’s not at that level.
But let’s just say that Tom Thibodeau finds a way to make it work. Even if the unthinkable were to happen, we can’t forget about his contract, can we? Beal, despite being a solid player, is not worth the massive contract he is currently on. Over the next three seasons, he is owed about $150 million and is currently the fourth highest paid player in the league, trailing only Stephen Curry, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant. Not only is Beal nowhere near the player that those guys are, he is worse than guys like Damian Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, Jimmy Butler, Zach LaVine, Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Devin Booker, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Nikola Jokic, all of whom are getting paid less than him. The Knicks and their fans have unfortunately become all too familiar with bad contracts, and should know one when they see one. And Beal’s contract, which sees him making over $57 million as a 33-year old, is frankly a very bad one.
Now, that may seem odd at first, given Beal’s counting offensive stats. At first glance, Beal’s stats look solid, and even better than some of the guys listed above. But dig just a tiny bit deeper, and you’ll see that he’s missed a significant amount of time over the last four seasons, something you don’t want to hear about when paying someone the kind of money he is getting. Beal has played in more than 70 games in a season just four times over his 11 seasons as a pro. And even more alarming, is the fact that he’s appeared in just 65% of Washington’s games over his last four seasons.
It also isn’t just the injuries either. Since Wall departed Washington in 2020, and Beal became the go-to guy, the Wizards have won just one playoff game. Basketball is obviously a team sport, and the Wizards haven’t necessarily had amazing rosters built around Beal during that time, but he hasn’t proven to be the kind of leader, or star that can elevate a team into the playoffs, which is another thing you don’t want to hear about a player who has the fourth highest salary in the league.
Beal and Brunson backcourt would be ________. https://t.co/BP30gWJIE7— Alan Hahn (@alanhahn) June 13, 2023
And even if somehow the Knicks and the fans were okay with all the aforementioned issues, they would also have to think about what it would take for the Knicks to get Beal. To match contracts, the Knicks would likely have to part ways with one of their core players. Assuming that the Knicks deem Brunson as untouchable and Randle as a key piece going forward, the likely candidates are Mitchell Robinson and RJ Barrett. That makes sense in a vacuum because Beal is clearly better than both of those guys. But considering how Barrett and Mitchell performed in the playoffs, is Beal, given his age and injury history, worth it? I’d say no. New York would also likely have to clear out additional contracts, meaning the Knicks would have little to no wiggle room to fill out the rest of the roster, leaving them with very little depth. Brunson and Randle are very durable, but given Beal’s history of missing games, building a team lacking depth seems like an odd choice. And the only work around this would be to go over the tax, which also makes very little sense given the Knicks still wouldn’t be seen as a true contender.
Beal is obviously a talented offensive player. That’s not something anyone can really question. He is an efficient scorer who can act as a secondary playmaker and take over games from time to time. That said, his lack of defense, inability to consistency raise the level of his team’s play, horrendous contract, and injury history makes him a very unideal trade target especially because acquiring him would likely mean the departure of Barrett and stripping the Knicks of their depth, while only marginally improving the team in the grand scheme of things.
And all of this is even more true, because it’s not like the Knicks have no other options. New York could very well go after a guy like Zach LaVine, who is a better off-ball option and a better defender, while still being cheaper. Or they could sit and wait for a guy like Zion Williamson or the aforementioned Embiid to potentially ask out. Shoot, being patient and making smaller changes like going after a guy like Kristaps Porzingis or Naz Reid makes way more sense. In an offseason that could greatly impact the direction of the franchise, going after Beal may sound like a sexy option, that works out if the Knicks don’t have to give up too much, but with his contract and injuries, it also could end up being worst thing the Knicks could do.