Michael Beasley has fit in with the 2-time defending champion a lot better than many predicted. What was once a petulant husk of a former college star, is now an engaged and eager-to-please pupil of a champion. How did Beasley integrate so seamlessly with the Heat when all evidence pointed to another opportunity missed?
I’m man enough to admit it: I did not like the Miami Heat’s acquisition of Michael Beasley when I first heard of it. Could you blame me? The same problems that existed in his first tenure with the Miami Heat were still prevalent three years later, following stints with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns. Both were short-lived on account of a failure to adjust on-the-court and off-court issues stemming from marijuana possession.
Beasley came riding into Miami coming off the worst season of his five-year career after recording a PER of 10.8 and an NBA-worst -2.5 offensive win shares. The Suns were garnering only 87 points per 100 possessions when Beasley was on the floor as his role fluctuated between starter and reserve, before the team waived him on account of the arrest.
Recalling how Beasley fit in with the Heat in his first tenure leads one to believe he wouldn’t be able to fit in this time when there’s real pressure as the Heat look to 3-peat. Even if the Heat did offer him a non-guaranteed deal, you almost wished they would have used it to sign a perimeter defender.
Two months later, however, I’m eating crow; a big heaping plate of it.
Beasley has exceeded expectations already. He’s not only scoring efficiently (currently sporting a 63 percent effective field goal percentage), but he’s contributing in the aspects of the game that were seemingly absent in his first five years as a professional.
Defense and moving the ball have suddenly become a part of Beasley’s game. I’m guessing this is because he wants to hold a job, since defense and ball movement is the only way to earn consistent minutes on this team.
His PER of 23.6 is good enough for 14th in the league, second best on the Heat, and he’s finding out how to play within the rhythm of the offense, rather than forcing up attempts or wandering when the ball isn’t in his hands; two persistent problems on the offensive end during his first two years with Miami.
He has started out the year shooting 59 percent from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc on 10 attempts.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign of the early season from Beasley is how he’s been able to integrate himself into a Heat offense that gets him open shots, rather than having the ball stick due to indecisiveness. Although he’s only averaging half-an-assist per game, he’s still making over 16 passes per contest, per SportVu, in the 15 minutes he’s averaging.
It’s all coming with the offense, and it’s also making the Heat that much more dangerous.
Opponents previously just hoped to play the Heat even when LeBron James was on the court, and then try to make a surge when he was off. That may not be possible anymore, though, with Beasley helping to lead one of the deepest bench units in the league.
Excluding James Jones, five of the top six players in net rating (the disparity between offensive and defensive rating) come off the bench. Beasley, Norris Cole, Rashard Lewis, Chris Andersen and Ray Allen all have a net rating of at least 10.
The Heat’s bench is now building leads, instead of just sustaining them. For a three-game stretch during the Heat’s current winning streak, it was the bench that closed out contests that were still in doubt.
Beasley’s role within the Heat’s new elite bench is especially important. In Beasley’s 117 minutes on the court so far this season, the offense is generating 118 points per 100 possessions, and only 110 points per 100 possessions when he’s off. Outside of James Jones, who has a small sample size of three games and 40 minutes, no player has a higher offensive rating when on the court than Beasley.
In terms of two-man lineups, those that include Beasley and LeBron James lead the team in scoring per 100 possessions, posting 130.5 in their 31 minutes of playing time together. Those with Beasley and Dwyane Wade rank fifth, scoring 122.6 points per 100 possessions.
Also, the lineup that has featured Beasley the most at 19 minutes, one that includes Norris Cole, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and Chris Andersen, is yielding only 64 points per 100 possessions, has a net rating of 29.3, and an assist percentage (the percentage of field goals that come via an assist) of 81.8 percent.
Having a versatile player who can create their own shot has been uncommon sight coming off the Heat’s bench over the past three years. That bench has usually composed of shot-blockers and spot-up shooters, but Beasley gives them a dual-threat that can create on their own and for others.
That Mike Miller guy, we have already forgotten about, was capable of such feats, too.
When Beasley is playing how the Heat want him to, he’s moving the ball until the best possible shot is open for the taking. The Heat offense can only execute to its specifications if there is enough ball movement to eventually create an open shot, thus why the team leads in nearly every major offensive category this year and nearly every other year since 2011.
The fear of bringing Beasley onto the Heat was the idea that he may be a disruption to their offense. He had never fit in anywhere else and his role, from number two guy with Miami to pseudo-number one guy in Minnesota, to reserve in Phoenix, had yet to be determined.
It turns out that a second chance while surrounded by the right people, buying into the coaching staff’s system and a healthy does of desperation, could change a man.
Beasley is not forcing his offense. He’s attempting nearly 19 shots per 36 minutes, but there is thought being put into those attempts. Per SportVu, more than half of his points have come off of drives and catch-and-shoot situations, where he’s shooting 75 percent and 53 percent, respectively.
Among players who have played in at least seven games and average at least 14 minutes per game, Beasley ranks 10th in the league in field goal efficiency. And yet he ranks third on the Heat, behind LeBron James and Chris Andersen.
In an effort to prove how efficient the Heat’s offense has been this year, there are four Heat players within the top 15 in field goal efficiency. But I digress.
You can see in this compilation of highlights from the Heat’s win over Milwaukee how well Beasley is creating shots for himself playing off the ball, as well as creating on his own:
Here’s a rundown of each of Beasley’s makes in the game he scored a season-high 19 and shot 8-of-12: alley-oop in transition, hook-shot near the basket off a cut, spot-up three-pointer off a Wade drive, dunk down the lane after staying with the play and moving without the ball again, spot-up three in the corner, drive off a mismatch against a slower defender, another drive on slower defender, spot-up on defender who provided him space.
There are a lot of smart plays being made by Beasley, especially in his movement off the ball and his ability to recognize and exploit mismatches. He’s not just shooting a high percentage because he’s on an extremely hot streak, he’s also doing it because he’s taking better shots.
Per Synergy, Beasley’s numbers become just as incredible when compared to the rest of his career. His 1.12 points per possession ranks him 15th in the league, with his three most heavily utilized scoring opportunities coming off of spot-ups, post-ups, and isolations, respectively.
The sample size, however, is still small as far as using Synergy numbers. He’s only taken 61 field goal attempts overall. Still, it’s extremely impressive from a player who has been regularly deemed one of the league’s most offensively inefficient over the past few years.
In time, the numbers will drop as the sample size grows larger. But the improvement is there and apparent through observing him on the court.
So, what happened? How does Beasley go from recording a staggering amount of negative win shares to ranking within the top 20 in PER nearly a month into the season?
As the old adage goes: “We are products of our environment.” Not everyone in their early 20s is ready for the million dollar contracts and the spotlight, which is what occurred with Beasley. Often, he acted like a kid who has more money and publicity than he knows what to do with.
Plus, he’s been thrown onto teams that haven’t always had a huge veteran presence. The Heat teams he was with originally were composed of mainly young players (Mario Chalmers, Daequan Cook, Joel Anthony), as were the Timberwolves and the going-nowhere-fast Suns from last year.
But if you give that person a primary goal, tutelage and a positive influence surrounding them, chances are they’re not going to act out as they did before when they shared locker-room’s with other immature 20 year olds.
One of the key reasons the Heat picked Beasley up was because they knew he would be on a short leash with a roster composed of veterans who aspire to finish out their careers with a championship. Those vets weren’t going to allow Beasley to disrupt that goal, so they took him under their wing and are molding him into another product of a championship system.