The 2020-21 season hasn’t gotten off to the best start for ACC men’s basketball — in a variety of ways. But some of the bright spots this year have come from a strong freshman class. One of those rookies — Reece Beekman of Virginia — is really beginning to showcase an intriguing two-way game, while building a reputation as one of the best perimeter defenders in the country.
Defense: Thriving at the POA
This year’s Virginia team may not go down as a vintage Tony Bennett defense; however, the Cavaliers are still very good on that end of the floor, and that starts with Beekman. (Jay Huff’s presence at the rim is critical as well, obviously.) Simply put: it can’t be much fun to be covered by Beekman. He’s long, smooth laterally in either direction and plays with an excellent center of gravity.
Beekman has incredibly quick hands, too. Package all of those attributes together, and there are the makings of an elite point-of-attack defender.
He’s only a freshman, but Beekman’s understanding of screen-roll defense is rather advanced. At times, Beekman moves his feet so well, he’s able to avoid being screened — instead he just glides over the top of a helpless would-be screener, as no advantage is created.
This is the type of defense that can short-circuit an offensive possession.
However, when Beekman is in fact screened, and moved a half-step behind the action, he can make up for it with gorgeous rearview pursuit and contests on pull-up attempts.
Watch here: Aamir Simms (an excellent screener) gets a piece of Beekman; with Jay Huff in drop coverage against the pick-and-pop action, it’s on Beekman to bother any pull-up look from Nick Honor.
Beekman is able to contest Honor’s attempts without fouling. So far this season, despite his aggressive nature on defense, Beekman is committing only two fouls per 40 minutes.
File all of this under the reasons for why Beekman is such an appealing prospect for the next level. Beekman profiles as a defender that can guard ball screens, while also creating events as a team defender. There’s just a lot of value for Beekman on the defensive end of the floor.
While Virginia’s defense doesn’t produce many turnovers (16.4 percent TOV rate), Beekman has proven to be one of the top steals artists in the country — both on an off the ball. Beekman averages 2.6 steals per 40 minutes; he ranks 47th nationally with a steal rate of 4.2 percent, per KenPom.
According to Bart Torvik’s data, Beekman is one of 22 players currently with a defensive box plus-minus of 4.0 or better and steal rate of 4+ percent. Beekman is one of only three freshman in that group — along with projected top three 2021 pick Jalen Suggs of Gonzaga and Syracuse stud Kadary Richmond.
Going back to the 2007-08 season, only 10 ACC rookies have finished with a defensive BPM above 4.0 — including three one-and-done lottery picks from Duke: Zion Williamson, Wendell Carter Jr. and Justise Winslow. (NC State’s Manny Bates accomplished this last season, too.)
Beekman’s rotations are seamlessly tight; he constantly hits his spots flying around the court, helping on the back side of pick-and-rolls and UVA post doubles. As a one-pass-away help defender, Beekman is opportunistic with his digs — looking to reach into the cookie jar for steals against unsuspecting ball handlers.
Given his prowess on the basketball — along with his ability to jump passing lanes and dig on the wing — Beekman projects as a defender that opponents will eventually need to game plan around, if they haven’t already.
Turnovers For Touchdowns
With Beekman in Defense Mode, there are so many different ways for an opponent offensive possession to go sideways. However, Beekman is at his most disruptive station when he creates “turnovers for touchdowns,” as former NBA forward David West would say.
In three of Virginia’s last four games, Beekman has stolen the ball from an opponent and used that turnover to create his own transition offense: dunks and layups.
This recent run started in the Wake Forest game: Beekman deflected a pass from Jonah Antonio to Davien Williamson. After beating Williamson to the ball, Beekman flow by everyone in transition and finished things with a two-handed chin-up.
One week after recording a career-best five steals vs. Wake Forest, Beekman recorded three steals against Notre Dame — including a “Hey, where’d he come from?!” interception off a nonchalant Trey Wertz inbounds pass.
Over the weekend, Virginia utilized an offensive explosion to demolish Clemson. The team’s 3-point shooting garnered plenty of (deserved) attention; however, Beekman, who attempted only one 3-pointer, took this game over for stretches of time.
Early in the second half — Beekman denies the initial handoff action between Simms and Al-Amir Dawes, then retreats to the weak-side of the floor to help against spread ball screen action. With Simms blanketed, Honor forces a pass that’s deflected by Kihei Clark and scooped up by Beekman for a grab-and-go layup.
The victory over Clemson marked the sixth game this season that Beekman has recorded 2+ steals. This included another steal-and-score when he jumped the passing lane off an ill-advised kick from Olivier-Maxence Prosper. Beekman’s feel for the game is really special.
“I zoom right by ya”
As a secondary piece on offense, Beekman has taken on a lower-usage role: just 14.2 percent usage, which is microscopic. Virginia’s attack runs through the inside-out tandem of Sam Hauser and Jay Huff — both guys posting and roaming the arc for 3-point looks — with Clark as the primary initiator. Of course, Trey Murphy III has been absurdly efficient on the wing as well: 26-of-50 3PA (52 3P%).
With that said, the offensive flashes from Beekman have been freaking impressive. There’s dangerous offensive potential in Beekman, starting with his electric first step: plant and go.
Beekman has the ability to change gears at the drop of a dime, too, shifting from idle to third before anyone can blink.
From Virginia’s inside triangle/middle third offense: in one fluid motion, watch Beekman refuse the ball screen from Huff and race by every line of Wake Forest’s defense for the lefty finish.
Keep in mind: Beekman catches the ball and is able to rocket into that driving layup from a standstill position.
While Beekman possesses this type of burst, there’s a smoothness and overall ease to his game. He doesn’t speed himself up and play recklessly; Beekman harnesses his speed and deploys it when necessary. By mixing tempos with hesitation handles — and head/eye manipulations — Beekman keeps on-ball and help defenders off balance. He’s deceptive on both side of the floor.
Before to Beekman’s rejection of another Huff ball screen (in early offense), the freshman guard looks off both Alex Hemenway and Simms, the drop/help defender. As both Tigers lean to Beekman’s left, he snaps back with a vicious crossover. (This is a Tyrese Maxey-esque drive to the hoop.)
Look at the flawless weight transfer here from Beekman, which left Hemenway reaching for ghosts while Beekman attacked the rim and finished though contact over Simms.
Later in the second half, Beekman rejects another Huff screen with another left-to-right crossover. With PJ Hall hugged up on Huff, Beekman is able to instantly assault the second line of Clemson’s usually stiff half-court defense. This causes a defensive no-no from John Newman, who helps off the strong-side corner. The result is an open corner 3 for Tomas Woldetensae (41.4 3P%).
Virginia has scored 1.86 points per possession when Beekman passes out of the pick-and-roll, which ranks No. 2 nationally, according to Synergy.
Over 85 percent of Beekman’s 2-point attempts (29 of 34) have come around the rim this season, per Bart Torvik. If defenders leave their top foot exposed in one-on-one situations, Beekman will attack it and put pressure on the basket.
Look where Beekman jumps from on this swooping layup, and how much ground he covers in the air, hovering.
Even in tight quarters, Beekman can still slither around defenders in isolation situations. When defenses collapse, Beekman will spray out to the opposite corner.
Reece Beekman: Going With The Flow
The Dec. 30 road win over Notre Dame in South Bend marked a shift in Virginia’s season. Not only was that Virginia’s first game post Gonzaga; it was also the start of the team’s five-game winning streak. Four of those five victories have been of the double-digit variety, too.
During that stretch, Virginia has outscored opponents by 74 points, with a net rating of +26 points per 100 possession, according to Pivot Analysis. The lineup of Clark, Beekman, Murphy, Hauser and Huff — which has started the last four games — is +51 in 69 minutes, dating back to the first Notre Dame matchup. That lineup has scored 1.38 points per possession over the last five games — +52.8 net rating.
That Notre Dame game, however, also marked a pivot point in Virginia’s offensive flow. UVA carved up Mike Brey’s club that night with its middle third/inside triangle offense. Since then, Virginia has continued to lean heavily on those inside motion concepts, along with spread pick-and-roll and some blocker-mover.
Virginia vs. Clemson
UVA with 3 rim finishes (+1 foul) off back cuts, with Huff working out of the high post, including 2 on ATOs
UVA: 13 possessions of blocker-mover (my count), but 6 of those came over the final 4 mins/garbage time. Continue to ride middle third + spread PnR
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) January 18, 2021
With this approach, Virginia’s offense scored better than 1.1 points per possession in four of those games; the lone exception (1.02 PPP) came against Boston College’s zone.
That middle third attack is strong; it primarily involves Hauser, Huff and Clark working together in the middle of the floor, screening and playing off one another. More specifically, it helps Virginia target money areas on the floor, while letting Hauser and Huff screen for one another, which is a real problem for most defenses.
On some of those possessions, Beekman is relegated to a spot-up role — spaced to the corner while Huff and Hause dance in the middle of the floor. That’s not optimal, but it’s also mostly fine.
Murphy, however, is built for this role: 1.52 points per spot-up possession.
Beekman’s jumper — off the catch or pull-up — isn’t exactly a strength at the moment, although he shook free for an open 3 against Wake Forest.
(When Virginia goes to its spread pick-and-roll with Clark and Huff, and Hauser as the lift man, Beekman can be pushed to the fringes of offensive usage, too. This is one of the things to keep in mind when managing multiple playmakers on the court at the same time. Hopefully, Beekman will get more playmaking share as the season goes along.)
On some of these possessions, though, the action breaks out from the middle and flows into second-side offense, which allows Beekman to spring into life as a powerful swing pick-and-roll/pop initiator.
The fun factor really dials up, though, when Beekman is utilized as one middle spokes in the whirring interior action.
Beekman has only three field goal attempts coming off screens this season, according to Synergy. At this point, his movement shooting skills remain largely untapped. However, Beekman is a graceful mover without the basketball; that’s been evident from the jump this season.
When Virginia runs its base blocker-mover offense, Beekman has done a solid job connecting actions off the move. Beekman curls hard off the down screens in these sets — looking to get into the paint and create efficient offense.
Case in point: Beekman sprints in the direction of the screen, but as he comes off the pindown, the 6-foot-3 guard is able to decelerate and curl into the teeth of the defense.
Here’s another blocker-mover set. Beekman comes off the pindown flip from Kadin Shedrick and curls into the middle of the lane, again. However, as the help defense collapses on him, Beekman makes the correct read — lofting a pass into space for Kody Stattmann, coming off the boomerang screen from Murphy. Stattmann drives baseline against a hard closeout and hits Woldetensae for an open 3.
That’s a great possession. Obviously, the result is ideal: three points. (Yay!) But the process is sound, too: the ball changes sides of the floor multiple times, the defense is put into rotation and an open shot is created.
What’s the next step?
It will take more time for his finishing skills to develop at the rim. At only 174 pounds, adding weight and strength will go a long way. According to Synergy Sports, Beekman is shooting just 50 percent at the rim in the half court.
On top of that, Beekman has drawn just 1.9 fouls per 40 minutes, which has translated into only 1.6 free throw attempts per 40 minutes. Beekman has just 12 total free throw attempts this season.
Obviously, Virginia’s pecking order on offense plays a big role here. Plus: as is customary, this UVA team has a really low free throw attempt rate: 21.8 percent (No. 340 nationally). Add it up, and it’s no surprise that Beekman hasn’t gotten to the line all that often. But that’s another area for growth.
He’s too explosive of a player to settle for less than two free throw attempts per 40 minutes. Virginia has guys that can put pressure on the rim — Clark off the dribble, Huff on cuts and dives to the basket. However, Beekman coming fully online would give the ‘Hoos another asset to generate low-hanging fruit offense around the hoop.
The diversity in Beekman’s finishing will need to improve, too. Sharpening up the floater/runner skills will go a long way for his development.