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Whither Mike Beasley?

Benjamin Polk —  March 25, 2011 — 15 Comments

Photo by Marek Wykowski

Michael Beasley’s first quarter against Dallas on Thursday begins like this: he misses a contested jumper off the bounce; he drives to the basket and misses a layup; he misses a flat-footed, contested three; he drives to the basket and gets fouled; he grabs an offensive rebound and misses a jumper; finally, his first shot falls, a driving bank shot at the rim. Later, when Peja Stojakovic enters the game, Beasley struggles to maneuver his way around screens, looks listless and lost in his attempts to find the veteran shooter in transition, is unable to contest Stojakovic’s deep threes. Later, after Beasley sat for most of the fourth quarter in favor of a fiery crew of reserves, he [re]-tweets: “I sure wish coach would just let @RealMikeBeasley play his game!”

Unfortunately, its beginning to look like that was the real Mike Beasley, playing the real Mike Beasley’s game. Earlier this year, when Beasley was draining over 60% of his long jumpers, hitting game winners and providing goofy leadership for his young teammates we wondered if we were seeing a career renaissance before our very eyes, a young talent coming into his own after two seasons languishing on Miami’s bench. But Beasley has regressed back to the mean.

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The title speaks for itself.

These seem to be the options lately for whenever Michael Beasley catches the ball on the perimeter.

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While my partner was gathering details on the resurgence of SuperCoolBeas from Wolves assistant coaches, I spent a few minutes with the man himself. I’ve done my fair share of interviews over the past few years and Beas’ playful candor is as refreshing as anyone I’ve encountered…

You’re obviously scoring in bunches lately. Last year you played one the league’s slowest paces with Miami and now you’re a part of the league’s fastest pace here in Minnesota. Is this tempo more suitable for you?

I’m just playing my game. Everybody keeps asking me where this is coming from, where I’m getting this boost. It’s just me. It ‘aint nothing new. I’ve been doing this my whole life.

There’s been a lot of talk that your numbers are bound to drop and personally, I’m not so sure…

That’s what I’m saying. This is how I play basketball.

I’m trying to fight the good fight for you though.

I feel you, but everybody keeps talking about my recent play. Let’s talk about the Timberwolves and how we’re 3-2 over our last five games. Let’s talk about something that really means something. Whether I score or not is not as important as the team winning.

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Lately the webs (including we here at A Wolf Among Wolves) have been abuzz with talk of Michael Beasley’s hot shooting. How will defenses adjust? How will he adjust to those adjustments, plus his inevitable cooling off? What will happen when he plays a team that plays better defense than Sacramento? We got a few of these answers on Friday night against the Lakers, but I thought I ‘d put these questions to the two coaches who have worked with Beasley the most this year, Reggie Theus and J.B. Bickerstaff (the subtle differences in their answers are pretty interesting, by the way). First Mr. Theus:

I know you’ve been working with Beasley a lot. Can you talk about the way you’ve seen his game change in the past few weeks since he’s started to become more successful?

We talk about straight lines. I saw him as a guy coming in here that shot a lot of off-balance shots. We talked about how a game develops over the course of your career, the differences between an older veteran and a young player. The biggest difference is wasted motion. I said, “Right now you’ve got a lot of wasted motion [even though] it looks good.” And I used myself as an example. I was less flashy but more productive as I got even into my thirties because of the wasted motion.

I was telling him that he does a lot of things that are off-balance, so we talked about straight lines. Drive in a straight line, get your shot in a straight line. We talk about not snapping his arm back, and getting a full extension of his arm [on his jumper]. He’s worked very hard at trying to fit into this system and play within a concept and really find his niche. Because in the beginning of the season we didn’t really know if we had a go-to guy. And that’s something that’s not given, it’s earned. And he’s earned that.

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Stats nerds analyzing stats. Photo by Peter Renshaw

It’s been a banner week for the Timberwolves’ young ballers. 42 point outbursts, 30/30 games, thrilling buzzer-beaters, interviews on NBATV–it’s like another dimension. But here are some sobering numbers to keep things in perspective.

The first concerns Michael Beasley. Right now, Beasley’s prolific scoring is largely based on hot shooting from from deep two-point territory, generally the lowest-percentage shot in the game. Since the Sacramento game, Beasley his hit 63% of those shots, which is 23 points higher than the league average. Suffice it to say, Kevin Pelton (writing at ESPN Insider) hears the clock ticking on B-Easy’s prolific scoring:

That kind of accurate shooting on long 2s will be difficult for Beasley to sustain. Before [last] Wednesday, he was shooting 42.9 percent from 16 to 23 feet. The league average from that distance is even worse (39.9 percent). While players like Carmelo Anthony and Dirk Nowitzki show that it is possible to make a living with long 2s as a staple, Beasley has not yet proved to be at their level.

Despite his hot shooting, opponents have been mostly conceding Beasley these long looks. The question is: will defenses at some point begin to challenge these shots, or will they simply sit back and wait for him to cool off? Will Beasley respond–to new defensive tactics and his own inevitable cooling–by taking the ball to the basket? Friday’s game against the Lakers would seem to be a good test of all of these questions.

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photo by brianong

Apparently the answer is yes.

Though he’s been quite mum on his return to South Beach tonight, Michael Beasley made sure that everyone heard about a game practically no one saw.  From Ray Richardson at the STrib

Before the game, the board was filled with a checklist of items to remind Wolves players of their responsibilities. Whatever game plan Wolves coach Kurt Rambis had intended was never executed, prompting claims from Rambis of a lack of professionalism in his players and an alarming assessment from a frustrated Michael Beasley.

“I feel like everything we’ve been working on since training camp went out the window tonight,” Beasley said. “As of right now, we’re the worst team in the NBA.”

Wait, there’s more.

“I talk about us being the hardest-working team in the league, and we didn’t show it tonight,” Wolves forward Kevin Love said. “We should have been a lot more aggressive. It’s just not acceptable.”

Rambis took the situation one step further.

“Part of being a professional in this league is finding ways to come out and play hard each and every night,” he said. “That’s the mark of a true team, a professional team and professional individuals, to get the job done every night. Every once in a while is not good enough.”

Beasley was so disturbed with the results that he sat in front of his locker stall staring at the floor with his uniform on. He was the last player still in uniform, but he had a reason. Beasley was preparing to go back onto the court to do some extra shooting.

Despite 29 turnovers resulting in a record 22 steals for the Grizzlies, I wasn’t as upset with the road team’s effort as they were with themselves. This was the second night of a back to back and though Memphis was without its premier post presence in Zach Randolph, they still had their share of mismatches to choose from. Most notably, Michael Beasley on Rudy Gay.

There’s already been plenty of chatter regarding Beas’ true position and Saturday night’s matchup may have taken a few more votes out of the SF column. While he’s able to bully smaller defenders and blow by the bigger ones, when faced with an athlete and scorer of Gay’s caliber, Beasley is left with little recourse on either end of the court.  Granted, Son of Sam had better shot selection than our lovable misfit, but we can’t expect Beas to get taller, quicker or more explosive, right? Just more consistent.

Well, that’s going to take a while. Kurt Rambis tells us that the title of team’s “best player” is up for debate, yet it’s readily apparent that essentially all of the candidates play the same position. Furthermore, they’re all specialists who play the same position. Kevin Love is primarily a rebounder, Anthony Tolliver-who has played some inspired ball-is a defender and Beasley is a scorer, in the looser sense of the word. (Of course Wesley Johnson hasn’t proven himself to be chopped liver either, logging significant minutes at the three spot, Beas’ ‘other’ position.) Point being, Beasley is a man without a position on a team relatively rife with options wherever he may be played. It’s tough for a young man to find his game under such circumstances. And his coach hasn’t even set a rotation yet.

Yet for someone liable to say practically anything at any given time, Beas’ willingness to consistently say and do the right things-so far-is more than encouraging, it may prove inspirational. I can’t imagine that his postgame shootaround (seriously, how many times has that happened?) went unnoticed or unappreciated and perhaps it forced some of our other young men to take stock of their own deficiencies.

Speaking of unappreciated, Pat Riley didn’t find Beasley ‘super cool’ at all, routinely questioning his commitment and capability before shipping him our way. But apparently he taught the kid more about leadership than we thought.

This isn’t the worst team in the NBA, just the youngest. And tonight, maybe, just maybe, they’ll be the most motivated.

Well, the Timberwolves’ David Lee flirtation is over, as the former Knick has agreed to a sign-and-trade with the Golden State Warriors. Chad Ford reports:

Lee’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, told that Lee has agreed to a sign-and-trade worth $80 million dollars over six years with the Golden State Warriors…The deal will send Lee to the Warriors for Anthony Randolph, Ronny Turiaf and Kelenna Azubuike among others.

Wow, Anthony Randolph and Amar’e Stoudemire are on the same team. Galaxies will explode; matter will dissolve; Toney Douglas will become a man.

But the Wolves didn’t just mope around tearfully staring at their framed David Lee basketball card. Nope, instead they managed to land Michael Beasley, the second pick in the 2008 draft in exchange, essentially, for nothing:

Sources close to the situation told that the Heat agreed Thursday night to a trade that will send Beasley to the Minnesota Timberwolves, who can simply absorb Beasley into empty salary-cap space and furnish Miami with additional financial flexibility to continue the dramatic transformation of its roster. To complete the trade, Minnesota must only part with a 2011 second-round pick to acquire Beasley. The teams have also agreed to a swap of unspecified future first-round picks.

One reason that this move is awesome is that, until the Three Tenors officially sign their deals, the Heat have only one player on their roster, Mario Chalmers. This is the answer to one of those great heretofore totally irrelevant bored basketball nerd hypotheticals: would you trade your entire team for Lebron, Wade and Bosh? (Yes, apparently).

Now, as his draft position indicates, Beasley is magnificently talented; on age and ability alone you would have to say that the Wolves scored a major coup in accepting Miami’s largesse. On the other hand, he’s a weird dude, who has already been to rehab (either for a mental breakdown, for substance abuse, or both) and couldn’t manage to get through the NBA’s rookie transition program without getting fined $50 grand. Also, so far he hasn’t really been all that good (.516 TS%, 12.8 Rebound %, pretty scattershot defense) and doesn’t really seem to enjoy playing professional basketball. It’s really hard to tell how this will go.

On the other other hand, have you noticed that the Wolves now have a whole lot of forwards on their team? Especially ones (like Beasley, Love and Jefferson) that are a little undersized and that don’t defend all that well? More moves to come, I’ll wager.

If you’re a fan of any one team in the NBA, there are players on other teams that strike fear in your heart. These can be particular to your team — the Trail Blazers’ Wes Matthews has attempted more 3-pointers against the Wolves (125) than any other team and has his best true shooting percentage (.643) against them — but there’s also that more general sense of unease that comes with watching Kevin Durant, LeBron James or James Harden handle the ball against your team in a close game. Anthony Davis is beginning to develop some of that, although the Pelicans’ general inability to consistently get him the ball is tempering it for the time being. These players are, in a word, threats, and that kind of threat is precisely what the Wolves do not have right now and haven’t for quite some time.

At their best, Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love together had some of this, but they had to do it together. Rubio with the ball in his hands is a threat only so long as the players around him can consistently make shots and Love with the ball in his hands is a direct threat only so long as he’s catching it with space to shoot. Neither is capable of engendering that feeling that they could take a defense apart at any moment all by themselves. While it might be dangerous to build your whole offense around the kind of iso-heavy, hero-ball type game implied by this idea of being an offensive threat (viz. Knicks, New York), used correctly, this kind of threat can distort defenses and force them into mistakes.

In his last two games against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Denver Nuggets, though, Andrew Wiggins has shown the promise of developing into that kind of threat. Continue Reading…


The myth of Narcissus concerns an impossibly beautiful young hunter who comes upon a pool of water in the forest and falls in love with his own reflection. Depending on the particular version of the story, Narcissus then commits suicide because he cannot possess his beloved, or maybe starves to death looking at his own image, or misses the playoffs. Basically, if Rick Adelman stumbled upon this youth in the woods entranced by his own image, he’d probably inform him that he hasn’t done anything yet.
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