Posted Nov 24 2010 6:09PM
If you are going to hate on the Miami Heat as the NBA's biggest and baddest villains, then you almost necessarily have to love Michael Beasley.
Granted, "hate" and "villains" are strong words -- and given the Heat's surprising 8-6 start, roster holes and chemistry issues, it might be simpler to just mock and ridicule or, worse, feel sorry for them. But odds still are good that the talent will develop and the Heat will become the elite team many folks have feared. So rooting against them figures to be the default mode.
That makes rooting for Beasley only logical. The slender 6-foot-9, ultra-inkified, tightly wound, dreadlocked Minnesota Timberwolves forward was the biggest loser -- from a Miami perspective, anyway -- in Heat president Pat Riley's scheme to corner this summer's free-agent market.
Kevin Love, who has put up startling stats through four weeks this season while starting alongside Beasley, agreed with the premise that being anti-Miami suggests a pro-Beasley stance, too.
"Yeah," Love said. "Because he's doing so well, a lot of people have taken notice of him. Everybody around here is happy for him. Everybody likes a comeback story -- America loves that kind of thing. With Michael, it's not exactly a 'comeback' but when opportunity presented itself, he took advantage of it."
Beasley, through 14 games, was averaging 21.9 points on 47.8 percent shooting with 5.8 rebounds and a 14-of-32 success rate from 3-point range. Until he went clunk in the night Monday at Oklahoma City, the third-year forward from Kansas State had been on a tear, averaging 31.3 points on 53.4 percent shooting in six consecutive games and scoring at least 25 in each one (the longest such streak in team history since Kevin Garnett did it a decade ago). He had a career-high of 42 points at Sacramento to start the hot stretch, scored 35 in Love's memorable 31-31 game against New York and had 33 points with the game-winner on a clear-out jump shot Nov. 17 against the Clippers.
Compared to a season ago, Beasley has boosted his points production nearly 50 percent (21.9 ppg from 14.8) while getting only a 10 percent bump in minutes (32.8 from 29.8). That's the sort of increased output that earns fellows consideration for the NBA's Most Improved Player award.
Then there's the arc of Beasley's young career and how he ended up in Minnesota, left on the curb by Riley and the Heat with a "(Nearly) Free" sign around his neck. Yes, he had been the source of several of his problems in Miami, from his violation of the league's anti-drug policy to some erratic Tweets and overall behavior. Teams that once considered Beasley a dead heat with, or the preferred choice over, Derrick Rose as the No. 1 pick in the 2008 Draft had gone mute.
At just 22, he was having to navigate around a superior teammate (Dwyane Wade) for the first time in his life. Then came the clincher: When the Heat corralled LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join Wade, the organization didn't need to shed Beasley to clear salary-cap space for the superstar free agents. It moved him to free up money to pay Mike Miller.
Miller, a complementary player who had bounced from Memphis to Minnesota to Washington the past three seasons. Miller, a known marksman with a puzzling reluctance to shoot the past two seasons. Miller, who caught his right thumb in a teammate's jersey in a practice last month and hasn't played a minute yet for the Heat.
Beasley had been the Heat's future, until it went out and got itself a better future. And so it sent him to Minnesota for the bargain price -- almost insulting, definitely a statement -- of cash and second-round draft picks in 2011 and 2014. That's why Lakers coach Phil Jackson refers to the Wolves forward now as "that gift they got from Miami."
For Riley, Wade, James, Bosh and the rest to chase championships, Beasley had to go. Which is how it went with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, leaving more than a few folks to root for Jennifer Anniston.
Beasley has downplayed any resentment or disappointment over how things finished in Miami. "The Miami Heat is in my past and the Timberwolves are my future," he said.
Besides, playing well is the best revenge. Beasley slipped and hurt his hip when Minnesota played at Miami on Nov. 2, exiting after just 10 minutes with 11 points. But he'll get another shot at the Heat at Target Center on April 1, by which point all concerned should know how real his resurgence is.
Wolves point guard Jonny Flynn, recovering from hip surgery, was a member of the vaunted 2007 high school class that included Beasley, Love, Rose and Blake Griffin.
"The Mike Beasley I know is the scorer who's going to kill whoever is in front of him," Flynn told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "That's the Mike Beasley I've known since I played AAU ball with him. You play within the confines of what Kurt [Rambis, Wolves coach] wants to do, but you can't lose yourself. I told him you've got to be who you are, there's a reason you were the No. 2 pick in the draft."
Playing in tandem with Love, Beasley generally has been bigger than the small forwards he encounters and quicker than the occasional power forwards assigned to guard him. "Don't get me wrong, his numbers are going to go down to the mean," Love said, "but he's going to find other ways to score because he can. His jump shot is just on right now and it seems everything he's putting up is going in. We're just happy that he's on our team right now."
A critic did emerge over the weekend, when the Lakers' Ron Artest said that Beasley is too one-dimensional, a product of the green light that has been given to him offensively by the Wolves. He is averaging 18.2 field-goal attempts compared to 13.3 a year ago, and only proven gunners Kobe Bryant, Monta Ellis and Carmelo Anthony have launched more shots this season than Beasley's 255.
"They've got to teach him how to play ball," Artest said after Beasley scored 25 points -- on 9-of-22 shooting with six turnovers -- in a 112-95 loss to L.A. "He could be such a good player, but he's doing just one thing. ... He's just going all the way to the hole or he's going to shoot. He's not getting no assists. ... Right now he's just shining. That's not enough."
Countered Beasley: "The reason I do the same thing is because they can't stop it. As soon as they stop it, I'll do something else."
Beasley does need a secondary game. The Minnesota coaches want to get the lefthander working consistently from both sides of the lane, closer to the basket, attacking more from the corners. He isn't making other players better, beyond spreading the defense in his direction, and his own defensive play is flimsy. From the outside, Beasley seems to get way too high in good times, a little too low in bad, to maintain that across 82 games.
But he has taken a step, a pretty significant one, and with center Darko Milicic's little performance bump recently (44 points, 20 rebounds, nine blocks and 19-of-32 shooting vs. the Lakers and the Thunder) might earn Minnesota a reputation as a basketball rehab center.
Just in case, y'know, Greg Oden is looking for a place to start fresh someday.
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