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Beasley unbound

Benjamin Polk —  November 28, 2011 — 10 Comments

Friends, your 2011 lockout is blessedly over. I’d like to be able to tell you that this means that we can just forget it all and move on. But, for many reasons, we can’t. Owners will continue exploit every possible CBA wrinkle in order to personally embed diamonds into Drew Gooden’s (and Jerome James’, and Gilbert Arenas’) molars. People like the Maloofs will continue to invest in real estate bubbles in unlivable cities. Michael Jordan will continue to distill himself into a chewy white paste of sour self-interest. Certain players will continue to cash their paychecks in Cheesecake Factory bucks (if they existed). Michael Beasley will continue to be Michael Beasley.

I thought of B-Easy often during this lockout and not just because he got busted for weed, fell over in a pickup game, pushed a fan in the face, referred to the lockout as “retarded” and sued both is former agent and his AAU coach. I thought of him because in many ways this lockout was about players like him. The Union is all but required to secure as much money as humanly possible for its members not simply out of greed or charter, but because many players share some or all of his defining qualities. His adolescent education was itinerant and skeletal; he was a special ed kid who floated from high school to high school, carried along only by his serious hoop skills.  He went to college for one year (and probably less, if we’re honest). He probably won’t ever get that massive deal and his career might not last very long. A guy like that really needs Billy Hunter to do some work.

It pains me to say these things because, in my experience, Mike Beasley has been a totally likeable guy. I’ve seen him sing to himself with deep passion; I’ve seen him make a funny and totally not offensive joke about Kevin Love’s grandmother; I’ve seen him eat Skittles like a starving eight-year-old. So let me tell you why I worry that his rank of 109th on #NBARank may be the high watermark of his career.

1) His offensive game is high-volume, low-efficiency, unidimensional and inconsistent. We all know the paradigmatic Beasley possession. He holds the ball on the right wing, simultaneously sizing up his opponent and bleeding the shot-clock to within an inch of its life. Which sizing up is funny because everybody–you, me, the ball defender, the weakside help defender and probably B-Easy himself–knows what will happen next. He will drive left, pulling up at around the free-throw line; he will take a contested jumper. Chances are (about a 63% chance actually), he’ll miss it.  Most of us know the numbers by now: .514 career true shooting percentage; 27.3 career usage rate; bad news.

2) His defense is inattentive, his effort mercurial. His situational recognition–should I help or stay home? Should I sag into the paint or close out on that shooter?–is slow and often poor. And when his shot isn’t falling or the Wolves are struggling, that glint in his eye gets a little dull.

3) The Wolves just drafted a more efficient, more physical, probably more driven version version of him. One of Rick Adelman’s most pressing challenges is to find an effective, balanced frontcourt rotation. And although the rookie learning curve in a foreshortened season will be extra steep, my guess is that by season’s end Derrick Williams will be seeing the lion’s share of the small forward minutes.

We very much hope these things improve; we want a player as likeable and talented as Beasley to succeed, for his sake and for the Wolves’. It’s certainly not unheard of for players t0 become more creative, more driven or more efficient as they mature. But doing all of those things really is a tall order. There is just so much of Beasley’s game that needs to improve and doing so requires such incredible stores of focus, attention and discipline. These, I’m afraid, are qualities that Beasley hasn’t really shown he possesses.

 

Say these words out loud: “the Wolves are 3-0 in the preseason.” What enters your mind?  Do you maybe sense a faint welling of hope in your heart? Do you give a weary little chuckle, telling yourself, “hey relax bro, I’ve heard that song before”? Are you perhaps reminded again of the inherent emptiness of all language? Coach Kurt Rambis, can you help us out?

“It means at some point it won’t mean anything.”

This isn’t working. Left to our own devices again. (That is an actual quote, by the way).  Here are some things we can say:

Defend Brooklyn (Park, I mean Center)

It’s been observed by many that the Wolves are already more competitive defensively this pre-season than at any point last year. Many will tempt you to ascribe this to some kind of moral renewal, an inherent spiritual superiority over last year’s lackluster squad. I’m here to tell you not to give in to that temptation. Do you really think that Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Ramon Sessions, Damien Wilkins and the rest didn’t want to compete, that they just weren’t trying hard enough? Nope, not true. The difference is that these players are, as a group, simply quicker, more explosive, more energetic than last year’s crew.

Try this on. A Wolves second unit in the fall of ’09 may have looked something like this: Sessions, Wilkins, Ryan Hollins, Sasha Pavlovic, Kevin Love. On Tuesday it was more like: Luke Ridnour, Martell Webster, Wes Johnson, Nikola Pekovic, Anthony Tolliver. See, not everything is getting worse.

No matter the cause, against Denver there were long stretches of sustained, aware, active, NBA-ish defense. Big guys protected the rim. Players rotated to open shooters. They got their hands in passing lanes. They helped each other out. Did it help that for much of the game the Nugs trotted out Shelden Williams, Gary Powers and Eric Boateng? Yes it did.

Luke’s Side

While we’re discussing the topic of the newfound spring in the Wolves’ step, the team also looked much more comfortable and fluid in the open floor. Part of this has to do with the aforementioned influx of length and quickness. Part of this was that (tentatively, hopefully) revitalized defense. But part of this was also the presence of one Luke Ridnour.

Now, I remain skeptical of the de-facto exchange of Ridnour for Sessions. But Ridnour–who is very pale and very thin and yet has a lively little bounce to his step–seemed wholly fluent in the offense, comfortable and poised in the open court, willing to attack the defense as a means of opening up passing lanes (rather than, say, blindly and recklessly). Which reminds me: Jonny Flynn hasn’t even set foot on the court yet. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Also, Ridnour’s name is like a combination of Luther Campbell (aka Luke Skyywalker of 2 Live Crew) and Chuck D. (real name: Carlton Ridenhour). This is important to me.

Eazy Duz It

Just yesterday, our friend Myles nicely contextualized this Sebastian Pruiti/NBA Playbook post on Michael Beasley. The gist of the Pruiti post was: Michael Beasley is super-talented but, thanks to spotty concentration and maturity, rather inconsistent.

Against Denver, Beasley improved somewhat on his poor shooting night against New York, but a lot of that inconsistency was still in effect. He did manage to attack the basket from time to time, putting the defense on its heals and drawing contact. But he also spent some time eased back into the driveway mode that Pruiti leans on him for: the ball-stopping, contested flat-footed jumpers; the carelessness with the ball; the fading, off-balance shots.

Beasley, as has been oft-noted, is goofy. He likes a good laugh. He likes to shoot half-court shots during warm-ups. He likes to yell at the Gremlins on the rim when he misses. Does this mean that he’s destined to hoist up the occasional wrong-footed, floating behind the backboard jumper with 18 seconds left on the shot clock? I don’t know, it might.

Hey, Zach Harper, I think its time for a new bees-related Michael Beasley video. How about this one?

We may be through with ’80’s (and early-mid-’90’s) hip-hop, but it is not through with us.