Reece Beekman is one of the top defensive players in the country, but Virginia will need more than elite on-ball defense from one of the ACC’s most promising talents in the 2021-22 season.
The college hoops season is right around the corner. One of the more intriguing themes of the ACC this year centers on the number of impactful second-year point guards. Look around the league, there are a lot of talented guards who enter the season as swing pieces for the overall hopes of their programs.
We started this process with Duke’s Jeremy Roach. Next up: it’s Beekman.
The 2020-21 season for Virginia was a mostly successful affair. The Cavaliers posted a 13-4 conference record and won the ACC regular crown for the sixth time under Tony Bennett. Armed with some of the best tall shooter in recent college basketball history, Virginia ranked inside the top 25 nationally in a variety of offensive categories: adjusted efficiency, free throw percentage (81.6 FT%), 3-point percentage (37.5 3P%), 2-point percentage (54.9 2P%) and effective shooting (55.4 eFG%).
Virginia hit on a blistering 45.2 percent of its long 2-point attempts last season, per Bart Torvik’s shot data, a top-12 number nationally.
The team’s go-to lineup was a force and one of the top five-man groups in college hoops, according to Pivot Analysis:
- Clark / Beekman / Hauser / Murphy / Huff: +128 in 308 minutes, with a net rating of +28.6 points per 100 possessions
Unfortunately, Virginia never quite meshed on the defensive end — despite strong on-ball defenders at the guard spots, a 3-and-D wing in Trey Murphy III and Jay Huff’s rim protection. Now, most programs would be happy with a top-40 defense, which is where UVA landed. That, however, is far below the Bennett standard.
To complicate matters, Virginia’s offense — despite its talent — struggled to generate rim pressure. The Cavaliers shot a great clip from the line, but less than 14 percent of their total points came via free throws.
Of course, the season ended in bizarre fashion, too. Less than 24 hours after Virginia defeated Syracuse in the ACC Tournament (courtesy of a Beekman buzzer-beater), a semifinal matchup with Georgia Tech was cancelled due COVID-19 issues. Virginia moved mountains to get ready for the 2021 NCAA Tournament. That, too, proved to be an uphill battle. The ‘Hoos were upset in the first round by Jason Preston and the Ohio Bobcats.
All in all, this was a fitting, yet entirely unsatisfying, coda to the most challenging season in college hoops history.
Set The Stage
Things are shifting with Virginia; a lot of talent left the program in the offseason, including Sam Hauser, the team’s offensive engine. Murphy was a first round draft pick of the New Orleans Pelicans. Huff landed a two-way contract with the Lakers. Several players transferred out — among them: promising talent Jabri Abdur-Rahim.
During the offseason, Virginia added some quality pieces to the roster via the transfer portal. However, this is also one of the better player development programs in the country. As Bennett looks for answers on offense, he can turn internally, too: Reece Beekman.
Beekman isn’t the most accomplished scorer on the roster; however, he has game-breaking potential thanks to his electric speed with the basketball.
If Virginia is to once again print a top-10 defense, and find its way on offense, then Beekman must play a pivotal role.
Reece Beekman, In Defense Mode
I’ve written plenty about Beekman in the past. I believe in his talent. As soon as he set foot on the floor for UVA, it was obvious: he’s a special defensive player, especially at the point of attack. Beekman gets in a stance and glides with precision and punch. When opposing ball handlers buffer while trying to change directions, Beekman slides in 1080p.
At times, Beekman seems impervious to being screened. Opponents would try to put his man in ball-screen actions with little-to-no success. Beekman’s screen navigation skills are sensational.
This is stuff that NBA scouts should keep an eye on. NBA teams that want to play some type of drop pick-and-roll defense need guards that can handle and navigate a labyrinth of ball screens.
Look what Beekman does on this possession to Clemson’s Chase Hunter. Hunter dribbles for seven seconds. He tries to drive both left and right — with the help of a screen from PJ Hall. Beekman has none of it, though. After those seven seconds, Hunter is right back to where he started. He gives up, and swing the ball to Nick Honor.
Kihei Clark, Beekman’s backcourt mate for the second straight season, gets a lot of credit for his on-ball defense. That’s perfectly fine; Clark is pretty good in this department. However, Beekman is just on another level. This is the best on-ball defender in a Virginia uniform since De’Andre Hunter left for the NBA.
Finished up UVA/Miami — zero surprise as to why Isaiah Wong had his worst game of the season (1-10 2PA, 4 TOV): Reece Beekman. Masterful defensive performance from Beekman. Damn near impossible to get separation vs. RB 1-on-1 or in chase, even for an elite guard scorer
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) March 9, 2021
During the latter half of the season, Bennett started to deploy Beekman as a one-man stopper for the top opposing perimeter scorer. Beekman successfully handled some of the top guards in the country 1-on-1: Preston, Isaiah Wong, Carlik Jones and David Johnson, among others.
Mentioned in the preview: Reece Beekman has been the better defender on Jason Preston. Preston's 2 FGM came vs. Kihei Clark — post iso, PnR 3 (Clark went under screen) https://t.co/hwENd21dsc
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) March 21, 2021
Beekman’s defense vs. Wong was downright cruel when Miami traveled to Charlottesville. This is the ACC’s top perimeter creator being rendered helpless thanks to Beekman.
As good as Beekman is guarding the basketball, he’s incredibly impactful as an off-ball defender, too. He’s already arrived at a point where opponents must monitor his location at all times. With a pair of wickedly quick hands, Beekman averaged an impressive 1.6 steals per 40 minutes as a freshman.
It’d be a serious mistake to get too cute with the basketball when he’s within arm’s reach, or throw a lazy pass in his general vicinity. Beekman is liable to just take the sucker and run the other way. (Per Synergy: Beekman 1.17 points per transition possession last season, 61.1 FG%.)
Going back to the 2007-08 season: Beekman is one of only 10 ACC freshmen to record a defensive box plus-minus of 3.0 or better and a steal rate of at least 2.5 percent. (This is among players who played in 50+ percent of their team’s minutes.)
Beekman will also use his slithery screen navigation skills when in an off-ball chase role. Watch him completely blow up this Virginia Tech floppy set, while defending Jalen Cone, an insanely nimble and talented movement shooter.
Beekman doesn’t record a steal or a block on this possession. However, his sideline-to-sideline chase of Cone forces Virginia Tech to play deep into the shot clock. Eventually, a mistake is made and a turnover occurs: the ref calls an awful offensive foul on Wabissa Bede. Either way, it’s a win for Virginia’s defense.
One of the bigger 2021 offseason storylines with ACC hoops centered on the possibility of some of the league’s top returning guards adding strength before the start of the 2021-22 season. It may fly under the radar some, but strength is a really important trait for guard prospects.
Beekman played at a listed 174 pounds last season, according to Virginia’s official measurements. However, after a real offseason, with increased access to Virginia’s training program, Beekman is now up to 181 pounds. Assuming that’s legit, then this is a big development for Beekman and Virginia.
Any added muscle will help Beekman on both sides of the floor. He’s already an elite on-ball defender, but with improved strength, Beekman should be able to provide even more resistance at the point of attack.
This is still a nice defensive play against Alvarado, in bowling bowl mode. Nevertheless, if Beekman had a little more power, he could stand up opposing drivers. It would also increase Beekman’s potential as a switcher defender, when needed in a pinch.
(Quick note: Beekman does a wonderful job disrupting a high level without fouling. According to KenPom, Beekman committed just 2.0 fouls per 40 minutes last season.)
Beekman’s pick-and-roll defense is exceptional; this is due to his uncanny ability to evade screens, while sticking with his assignment. It’s a daunting task to gain leverage on Beekman in these scenarios. However, a stronger Beekman would be even more of a challenge to clear with a pick. He could fight through and absorb contact when necessary, while taking away any theoretical advantage creation from the screen.
First Step: Creating & Taking Advantage
While Beekman’s defense stands to benefit with improved strength, so, too, does his dribble-drive game. These are critical growth areas for Beekman: live-dribble playmaking and rim finishing. Beekman is a great defender. That’s obvious. If Beekman makes a leap on the offensive side of the floor, though, then all of sudden he’s one of the top two-way players in the country.
Beekman already has one of the best first steps in college basketball; it’s arguably his most impactful trait. There’s just absolutely zero load time when Beekman decides to drive the ball. He flips a switch and hits full speed in a blink.
This is just gorgeous stuff from Virginia’s inside motion/triangle offense. Beekman sets the rip/back screen for Murphy, which briefly holds Isaiah Wilkins in the paint. As Wilkins lifts to closeout on Beekman, Huff presents a ball-screen opportunity. Beekman quickly rejects the screen and is at the rim before Wilkins can read “Beekman” off the back of his jersey.
When Beekman is able to get those constant paint touches, it forces defenses to rotate and bend. This, in turn, opens things up elsewhere on the floor — lobs to the dunker spot and weak-side spot-up 3-pointers.
On this blocker-mover possession: Beekman curls the initial down screen from Huff, who pops out, a key concept/option of the offense. This flows into a little two-man game with Beekman and Huff. Eventually, Beekman drives left, touches the paint and catches a ball-watching Elijah Olaniyi. Hauser relocates and its a great look for one of the country’s top shooters.
Despite his speed and a spaced floor (thanks to Virginia’s frontcourt shooters), Beekman struggled to finish at the rim as a freshman. Beekman shot just 41.7 percent at the rim in the half court, per Synergy. In addition, he drew only 1.9 fouls per 40 minutes, according to KenPom.
Now, Moses Wright made a lot of would-be finishers look bad last season. (He was so freaking good.) This speaks to how much Beekman can gain with a little more power on his drives, though. Beekman has a step and an angle on Wright, but he isn’t able to explode and finishing through the contact. Instead, Wright gets on top and erases the shot.
A similar possession happened later in this same game, too. Beekman dusts Michael Devoe (a pretty good defender, by the way) with a spot-up drive from the wing. Instead of powering up through Devoe, Beekman opts to go reverse, with the dangerous Wright waiting for him on that side of the backboard.
With his jets and handle, Beekman has the innate ability to create easy advantage. However, he can’t fully capitalize on that advantage in the paint until he has the requisite strength or finishing package.
In this clip above, Beekman twice puts Daivien Williamson in a bind. First, it’s with the initial, probing jab step, which creates a ton of space. If Beekman was confident in his jumper, then he has a wide-open look. (More on this in a moment). Beekman instead keeps his dribble; when Ody Oguama and Williamson try to switch back mid-play, Beekman hits the gas and gets to the cup. Beekman is able to draw a foul here, which is great. In the future, though, it’d be a game-changer for Beekman to be able to finish through Oguama’s contact.
More PnR Reps?
When people think about Virginia’s offense, the first thought usually centers on the methodical blocker-mover offense. It’s a Bennett Family special and a staple at UVA. Plenty of other programs — Pittsburgh, Colorado, Arizona (under Sean Miller) — utilize blocker-mover, too. Hell, even Duke mixed the concept in some last season.
Of course, Virginia moves the target and shifts things around on offense, too. When the Cavs hit a midseason stride last year, it came as Virginia went heavy on its inside triangle/motion (or middle third) offense. This was a great way to leverage the movement shooting abilities of Hauser and Huff, especially. (If anything, Murphy was underutilized in these sets, mostly working as an overqualified spot-up target.)
Two dunks for Jay Huff tonight off empty side ball screens in Virginia's continuity ball screen offense that Tony Bennett continues to keep using more and more as the season progresses pic.twitter.com/c0HvhTpysT
— Jordan Sperber (@hoopvision68) January 30, 2019
This allowed Virginia to take advantage of a plethora of gifted perimeter talents — Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy — along with two elite rim-runners: Huff and Mamadi Diakite.
The 2019-20 team, which also featured Huff and Diakite, ran continuity ball screen, too. However, it was a little surprising to see Virginia not really utilize those side-to-side continuity looks last year. The roster seemed ripe for that type of action. Huff was an elite dive man. With Clark and Beekman, Virginia also had two creators to launch the empty-side ball screens. Hauser and Murphy could work the slots and space the floor.
Instead, when Virginia went to pick-and-roll action last season, it often came out of straight spread pick-and-roll looks.
It’s a simple design: Space the floor with multiple shooters, put the ball in Clark’s hands and run garden-variety pick-and-roll with Huff, who scored a combined 1.39 points per pick-and-roll/pop possessions.
If an opponent caved in on the driver and the roll man, then Virginia would kick the ball out and look to play off that advantage. With precise ball movement and elite shooting, UVA could stay a step ahead of the defense, while opening up second and third-side looks as the ball pinged around the perimeter.
Virginia would also look to run this same spread action — but with a pop instead of a hard roll off the initial ball screen.
When weak-side help defenders collapsed on Huff, Hauser or Murphy would “shake” up and look to collect juicy spot-up shots. Watch Hauser on this possession. When Nate Laszewski sinks in to tag Huff on the roll, Hauser shakes from the corner to the slot for an open look.
On other spread ball screen sets, Virginia would utilize roll-replace action with Huff and Hauser. As Huff screened-and-rolled, Hauser (starting the possession in the paint) would lift from the middle and then look to attack.
Occasionally, Virginia would add a little twist to the roll-replace action. The screen/dive man — in this instance, Francisco Caffaro — would set a second (off-ball) screen instead of rolling all the way to the rim. Hauser is an elite shooter; few players do a better job using pindowns to get to their offense.
A lot of the offensive talent from last season’s roster is gone, obviously. It’ll be tougher to space the floor this season, although the presence of Indiana transfer Armaan Franklin will help.
This is where it becomes interesting to monitor Beekman’s pick-and-roll usage. During his freshman year, Beekman played a lot of minutes, but he was very much a deep secondary option on offense. Beekman posted a usage rate of just 13.6 percent. Only nine ACC players last season recorded 500+ minutes with a usage rate under 15 percent. Of that group, Beekman had the second-lowest usage.
This is reflected in Virginia’s pick-and-roll package, too. Clark was responsible for 70.3 percent of the possessions used by a Virginia pick-and-roll ball handler, according to Synergy. (This accounts for possessions that ended with a shot, turnover or shooting foul.) Beekman, on the other hand, accounted for only nine percent of those possessions.
With the 2021-22 season on the horizon, it begs the question: how much more pick-and-roll equity will Beekman see this season? The answer to that, and how successful he can be in the looks, will set the ceiling for Virginia’s offense.
One of the few limiting factors for Beekman last season was his jump shot. As a freshman, he just really didn’t shoot many jumpers: 9-of-37 on 3-points attempts (24.3 3P%). Beekman scored only 0.62 points per spot-up possession, according to Synergy — on low volume.
Some of this had to do with his situation, though. Virginia plays a low-possession brand of basketball. Each offensive trip down the floor is to be handled with care. Year after year, UVA ranks inside the top-20 nationally in offensive turnover rate. They don’t cough the ball up. That’s by design, not accident. These are smart basketball player functioning in a judicious offense.
Within that context, you want your best players using the possessions. Basketball is a team game, with all five players (hopefully) working in synchronicity. However, it’s still important to emphasize things like usage and shot selection. During the 2020-21 season, a Hauser or Murphy jumper was simply more valuable than one from Beekman.
Beekman bought into his role, too: Focus on defense and play opportunistically in transition. It worked. But that was last year. Things are different now; the new personnel changes will alter the offense.
The hope for Virginia fans will be some Tre Jones-style shooting development for Beekman. During Jones’ freshman year at Duke, he devoured opposing ball handlers as an on-ball pest — similar to Beekman. On the other side of the floor, though, opponents aggressively sagged away from Jones in an effort to clog the paint vs. Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett.
Jones returned for his sophomore year with an efficient pull-up midrange jumper and a quality spot-up 3-pointer. It made a world of difference, too.
More on Tre Jones: pick-and-roll usage went way up, shooting numbers stayed similar but on more volume
Finished 145 PnR possessions: 0.72 PPP, 38 FG%/40 eFG%
(TOV rate dropped)
Finished 34 PnR possessions: 0.62 PPP, 38.5 FG%, 40 eFG%
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) March 21, 2020
There are some reasons to believe that Beekman can elevate his game. Beekman attempted only 31 free throws in ACC play, but he made 25 (80.6 FT%). That’s a positive indicator.
Beekman also showed some flashes as pull-up shooter, albeit in a very limited sample. On this blocker-mover possession, Beekman goes into an empty-side look with Huff, which NC State switches with Manny Bates.
(Late in the season, after the FSU loss, teams started to switch 1-5 as often as possible vs. Virginia, which primarily forced Clark to take on a larger creation role. The results for UVA weren’t great.)
Opponents will go under every screen on Beekman until he proves that he’s capable of reliably drilling these shots. Beekman’s release is definitely a little funky. His guide hand (left hand) has a tendency to flick off when he releases the ball, as opposed to remaining straight. This can cause inconsistencies and inaccuracies as a shooter.
Keep an eye on his left hand here.
Beekman sticks this 3-ball with Georgia Tech going way under the Hauser screen, but he needs to time and space to load up on this shot.
If he cleans this up and finds water as a pull-up shooter and a mid-30s 3-point shooter, look out. With his electric first step, if teams are forced to closeout even slightly harder, then Beekman will see wider gaps and angles to exploit.
Blocker-Mover: Off-Ball Scoring
While it’s enticing the visualize Beekman working in a primary creation role with lots of pick-and-roll reps, that won’t fully be the case this season at UVA. That’s not to say that Beekman won’t play a much larger role on offense. However, with the presence of Clark, another point guard who is used to having the ball in his hands, and the blocker-mover concepts, Beekman must be ready to play without the ball, too, and attack when open.
Fortunately, Beekman moves well without the basketball. He showed an aptitude for curling hard and probing defenses while coming off pindowns and flares in the blocker-mover.
Beekman’s footwork is exceptional as he tightly curls the Hauser screen and accelerates to the rim.
On this next curl, Beekman comes off the Hauser screen and is ready to attack. Beekman chops his feet just before the catch, takes one dribble and knifes into the paint. This shot gets rejected, but that’s outstanding off-ball screen usage from Beekman.
Beekman can apply his game-breaking quicks to these concepts. Now, he just needs to (figuratively) take this a step further. He should look to take more chances, even if it means forcing the issue on occasion.
Beekman can generate paint touches on these looks, which should force help rotations and loosen things up around the rim for Jayden Gardner and Kadin Shedrick, another interesting lob threat.
This is wonderful late-clock poise from Beekman. As Hauser comes off a pindown and catches a pass, Beekman exits away and off the boomerang screen from Murphy, which gets him to the edge of the defense. Help comes and Beekman hits a cutting Justin McKoy. Unfortuantely, McKoy smokes the layup.
Much of the success over the last decade-plus for Virginia basketball can be attributed to the program’s DNA, which creates a high overall floor. Strong defense, turnover-adverse offense, timely shooting. Possession after possession, grind opponents down.
Virginia can win on the margins. The formula works. That’s clear. What makes this program special, though, are the players. They elevate the entire enterprise. Bennett and his staff are dealing with plenty of roster turnover in 2021. This isn’t the first time they’ve faced this task, though.
More than anything else, it’s an opportunity. As the next chapter gets set to start, Reece Beekman will be at the forefront for the Cavaliers.