When free agency began on July 1, the first player the Suns met with was forward Michael Beasley. The meeting apparently went pretty well, considering the Suns arranged a second meeting that resulted in Beasley agreeing to a three-year, $18 million deal. The second overall pick from the 2008 draft is seen as a high-risk, high-reward pick-up for a Suns team looking to get younger and more athletic. But who is Michael Beasley really?
In his one year of college at Kansas State, Beasley dominated. He truly was a man amongst boys, averaging 26.2 points and 12.4 rebounds per game for the Wildcats. Beasley arrived in the NBA with huge expectations, but after four seasons he has yet to live up to the hype.
He spent his first two seasons in Miami, averaging an underwhelming 14.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game before being shipped to Minnesota to clear cap space for the arrival of LeBron James and Chris Bosh. With Kevin Love already entrenched at power forward, Beasley was moved to the wing and was given the green light to fire away. He posted a career-high 19.2 points per game, but the bad habits he had in Miami only became worse and what he didn’t do negated the points he put up. Last season was the worst of Beasley’s career, as he put up career-lows across the board, struggled with injuries and was benched. Now he's coming to Phoenix.
To get a better idea of what we should expect from Beasley, I enlisted the help of Stop-n-Pop from Canis Hoopus. S-n-P has watched Beasley closely over the last two years and his knowledge of the game is top notch. Here’s what he had to say about Beasley:
Mike Beasley is not what you probably think he is. He's not the Griffin-esque numbers monster that his K-State stat line suggested in college. He's not a bad guy or a locker room menace. He's also not a very effective volume scorer or dependable first (or second) option on offense. What he seems to be is an immensely talented 3/4 who can score a bit and who will need to embrace rebounding and defense if he wants to have a long career in the NBA. He's also a kind-hearted goofball who tries to do the right thing and sometimes fails. He's pretty easy to root for as a person.
Stop-n-Pop is right on the money here. Beasley’s NOT what most of us think he is, based on the comments I’ve seen here on the Bright Side free agency threads. He's not going to be a go-to 20 ppg scorer for us unless we want to shoot for a top 5 pick. And by all accounts, he's a good teammate who is well-liked by everyone.
Beasley's biggest issue right now is maturity. And I'm not even talking about the incidents with marijuana, or his love of sweets (which is the origin of his nickname Skittles). His immaturity on the court is what has cost him more than anything else so far. In college, he was able to dominate games without even having to put in too much effort. He was just that good. Unfortunately, that led to some bad habits which were exposed once he jumped to the NBA.
Beasley did a lot of his work in the paint at K-State, but being only 6-foot-8 (contrary to the 6-foot-10 he's listed at) and only being athletic (as opposed to freakishly-athletic), he's had more trouble finishing around the basket in the NBA. Because of this, he has a tendency to settle for ill-advised long jump shots. He's also a ball-stopper who so far has not been able to find his own shot in the flow of an offense on a consistent basis.
Beasley was a double-double machine in college, but again, he was mostly coasting on natural talent. He's just not a great rebounder. He doesn't consistently box out and often gets himself out of rebounding position altogether. He's a poor defender who lacks focus and often gets lost out on the court, not unlike Shannon Brown. He's already a bit undersized for a PF and a bit slow of foot for a SF, so a lack of focus is a real problem.
However, the talent that allowed him to excel in college is still there. He has the ability to take over games offensively at times when he's really feeling it. He just needs to learn how to harness that talent and be willing to put in the work necessary to become the player people thought he'd be.
Now, let's dive into the...
Per 36 Minutes:
As you can see in these tables, Beasley's basic stats look decent. But a look at his advanced stats paints a different picture.
Beasley doesn't get a lot of his touches in the flow of a well-executed offense. He's been a 25-plus percent usage player all 4 years in the NBA, and according to MySynergySports.com, he has used more plays in isolation than any other play type in his career. Isolation is one of the most inefficient plays in basketball and it is his go-to move. His shooting percentages are pedestrian, he turns it over more than he assists a teammate and his career ORtg is a paltry 101. He just hasn't been a consistently good offensive player thus far in his career. And considering offense is his specialty, that is troubling.
If you look at the basic numbers like points per game, Beasley had his best year in 2009-10 when he moved to the wing and got a starting gig in Minnesota. However, his advanced stats got even worse and the Wolves did not win many games. Stop-n-Pop believes Beasley's decline was due to three main factors: a downturn in rebounding, more turnovers and more 3-point attempts. The most likely reason for this is the move to small forward and his new role as a go-to perimeter scorer.
S-n-P was not impressed with Beasley in that role as the Timberwolves' top perimeter scorer.
Beasley isn't the type of player you want to hand a lot of offensive responsibilities over to. If he is made a top option, look forward to a lot of extra missed shots, more turnovers, a lot of ball-stopping 5 second jab-step moves, and less rebounding. He was given a decent opportunity on a bad team to take the volume scorer role and run with it, and it didn't end well. He's just not that guy.
This doesn't bode well for Beasley's prospects as a go-to scoring option on the wing, which may be what the Sun ask of him if they aren't able to snag Eric Gordon.
Looking at his offensive numbers on Synergy, he does a lot of things fairly well. He can iso, post up and handle the ball in the pick-and-roll. He can be effective running off screens, crashing the offensive glass and cutting to the basket. His PPP (Points Per Possession) ranks in the top 75 among all qualifying players in most of those categories.
However, he was rarely used as the roll man in Minnesota since he was playing small forward and he was merely decent at it as a power forward in Miami. He is also not a very good spot-up shooter. Those are two areas where he needs to improve if Phoenix wants to play him at the four.
These numbers tell us the potential is there. The trick is finding a way to put Beasley in position to do more of the things he's really good at and less of the things he has done too much of thus far. That's what Alvin Gentry is hopefully able to pull off and something Erik Spoelstra, Kurt Rhambis and Rick Adelman were unable to do. Stop-n-Pop thinks he can succeed if he's not asked to be a top option on offense:
In an ideal world, he's, at best, a 3rd option: a lower usage guy who focuses on rebounding and running the pick and roll to take advantage of his fairly excellent mid-range jump shooting game and athleticism.
I agree. In an ideal situation, the Suns are able to sign Eric Gordon as the top option on offense, with Goran Dragic running the point as the second option. With those two doing most of the ball-handling and creating, Beasley can be used more as a finisher inside and out and a guy who can occasionally bail the team out late in the clock when needed. Both Stop-n-Pop and I believe he's best-suited to play the four, since playing down low would help to negate the three problems he ran into as a perimeter player on the Wolves (poor rebounding, turnovers, long jumpers).
There are certainly reasons for hope with Michael Beasley. However, it's going to take hard work, dedication and a better understanding of Beasley's game - both from the coaching staff and from Beasley himself. If Beasley totally buys in and puts his ego aside, he's going to be a great pick-up. However, that's far from a given, as Stop-n-Pop mentioned here:
If Beasley could ever wrap his head around the idea that he's not the guy he was in AAU ball or in college, and if he could commit his game to rebounding and defense, he'd be a very, very valuable player. However, turning a 25+ USG% guy into this sort of player is a tall ask, especially if a team still thinks that they can coax some hero ball out of the man. Again, he's just not that guy.
Michael Beasley: just not that guy. That has been the story of his NBA career so far. Here's to hoping he will finally see himself as the guy he really is. Because when (or if) that happens and things finally click, good things are sure to follow.