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How can Virginia basketball’s Reece Beekman become elite?

Taking a look at UVA’s most important player this season and what he has to do for the ‘Hoos to succeed.

Virginia v Michigan Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

The 2023-2024 Virginia Cavaliers will go as far as Reece Beekman takes them. The senior guard is UVA’s lone returning starter from last season and one of only two who played in more than half of the team’s minutes in the 2022-2023 season. He’s the leader on offense as the point guard initiating the attack, and he’s the reigning ACC DPOY on the other side of the ball.

Beekman’s been a stalwart for Tony Bennett and company for his entire career, but perhaps the most pressing question regarding this team’s ceiling is how good Beekman can be in his final year in Charlottesville. He’s steadily improved year over year at UVA, but after nagging injuries limited him in the back half of his junior season following a stellar start to the season, it’s uncertain just how good he can be as the team’s undisputed leader on either side of the ball.

In year four, there are a number of boxes for Beekman to tick, particularly offensively, which could unlock his game and cement him as a first round draft pick in the 2024 NBA Draft.

Maintaining effectiveness on increased offensive volume

The most drastic adjustment for Beekman to make this season will be simply taking on a much higher volume of responsibility within the UVA offense. After having the fourth highest usage last year, the sixth highest as a sophomore, and the ninth highest as a freshman, he will lead the ‘Hoos in usage this season and will have to prove himself capable of initiating the offense nearly every possession that he’s on the floor.

Bottom line, Kihei Clark is gone, this is Beekman’s team, and the ball will be in his hands.

There’s a world where Beekman doesn’t have to dramatically improve his game and he’ll be still plenty good enough to carry this team to a successful season. We saw how explosive of a scorer he was early last year before suffering his first injury. In the six games he played at full strength, he averaged 11.8 points per game, 5.2 assists, two steals, and 57.1% shooting from three. Obviously that’s a small sample size, but it came against some legit teams including Baylor, Illinois, and Michigan.

With Clark and Franklin gone, Beekman’s usage rate should sky rocket from 20.2% to somewhere between 26% and 30%. If he’s as explosive as he was at moments last season and is persistently aggressive attacking the basket, then there’s very little he actively needs to be better at on offense.

Beekman is a menace in the pick and roll with the burst and change of speed to put defenders on his back with even the slightest disruption from a screen. He can read his picking teammate’s defender like a book and knows exactly what to do with the ball depending on the coverage. And he finishes the ball with authority when he isn’t limited by injury.

Frankly, there’s no ball screen coverage that absolutely works against Beekman. Playing drop coverage and going under screens was at one time the preferred approach. But Beekman came in at the 72nd percentile in efficiency on off-the-dribble three-pointers last season per ShotQuality, proving that he’s more than comfortable pulling up when defenses don’t respect his outside shot.

Yes, Beekman shot just 2.4 triples per game in 2022-2023, and while his 35.1% success rate from behind the arc was a sign of further improvement, taking more threes and more difficult attempts will be the next step in his development. Fortunately, he was only a tick worse on off-the-dribble threes last season (widely thought to be harder than catch-and-shoot triples), shooting 34.7% on off-the-dribble shots beyond the arc compared to 35.7% when he only had to catch and shoot.

Continue to dominate in confined spaces

If there’s one unquestionable strength of Beekman’s offensive game it’s his ability to turn nothing into something. No matter where he is on the floor, who’s surrounding him, or how much time is on the clock, he can create a shot for his team in some shape or form.

This is where his explosion out of changes of direction comes into play alongside his generational court awareness and pinpoint passing ability. Beekman is a savant at exploiting angles and capitalizing on his opponents’ mistakes, whether it be the defender guarding him or one defending a teammate.

On the play below, he isolates to an empty backside by refusing the pick, gets his defender flat-footed by crossing back up-court to his right hand before hesitating and shooting right back towards the baseline. He finishes through contact as well as any other 190 pound guard.

Against North Carolina, Beekman’s understanding of the scheme and his teammate’s tendencies flashed alongside his subtle body movements that make such a difference.

After drawing the switch on an elbow pick and roll, he drives to the middle of the floor before spotting Armaan Franklin — a player who thrived as a baseline back-cutter — who was about to receive a flare screen from Ryan Dunn in Virginia’s sides offense. By hesitating and drifting towards the free throw line, Beekman pulled his defender (Armando Bacot) out with him and delayed the UNC defense long enough before needling a bounce pass to Franklin for the easy finish.

It looks simple on tape, but that’s part of what makes Beekman such a deadly multi-faceted offensive player. If he can properly balance creating for others and going hard to the rim himself, then he can have a really stellar season in a much bigger role than he’s played in the past.

Improve in the midrange

Sure, the midrange might be dead to some extent, but there is still value to being able to hit shots from the midrange, especially for players like Beekman who will be counted on to go get a bucket late in games numerous times this season. It’s also an area where Beekman has the absolute most room for improvement, even if the value is less than other areas of his offensive game.

Beekman’s short midrange efficiency (41st percentile in college basketball) and long midrange efficiency (34th percentile) both left something to be desired in his third season. Some of that is merely a result of the reality that midrange shots tend to be the worst case scenario shot that has to be put up to get a shot up. But a pull up middy or a floater in the lane are both lacking elements of Beekman’s game, evidenced by his 27.9% shooting percentage from the midrange.

Fortunately, if there’s an area to be mediocre as a scorer, the midrange is the right one. But if Beekman can either improve as a shooter in the midrange when he can’t get to the rim, or if he can decrease the relative number of two-point jumpers he takes (he shot just three more catch-and-shoot threes than midranges in 2022-2023), then he’d be set to be a more efficient offensive player this season.

Be who he is defensively

While his offensive game continues to expand, Beekman is as good as it gets among point-of-attack defensive guards in college basketball. His length, quick hands, absurd basketball IQ, flawless footwork, and next level understanding of the scheme allow him to stalk opponents like a lockdown corner in football.

He has the speed and shiftiness to stick with and disrupt smaller guards and the length and mastery of angles to frustrate bigger guards. Beekman is also a home run hitter of an off-ball defender who splits two and jumps passing lanes as well as anyone in the country, oftentimes leading to a bucket on the other end.

The biggest defensive shift for Beekman in year four will be that he’s now the leader of the defense. He’s the veteran voice, and he will be responsible for helping to alleviate problems that could arise as a result of an inexperienced frontcourt. Not much should change for him individually, but the microscope will be more focused on him considering that most of the pieces around him have looming question marks over them.

In many ways, the Reece Beekman of last November and early December was the idealized Reece Beekman that Virginia fans had been envisioning as his potential since he committed to play for Tony Bennett. This year, his keys are establishing consistency as the face of the program and as the guy who gets the ball when the chips are down. He’s proven more than capable of performing on the biggest stages before. Now it’s a matter of doing it for a full season.