Michael Beasley Takes a Step Forward

Michael Beasley
Photo Credit: Mike Ehrmann

It’s never really been about the scoring for Michael Beasley. It’s the scoring talent that got him drafted No. 2 in the NBA Draft and the scoring talent that people still talk about today, but scoring alone was never going to earn him minutes with the Miami HEAT. The team that had one of the best offenses the league has ever seen a year ago and remains the league’s best offensive team today didn’t need points on the board. The team would need more from Beasley – a different Beasley than the one that had been playing for losing teams in Minnesota and Phoenix.

While Beasley came into training camp saying all the right things, on the court things were far from perfect – and they weren’t expected to be. Just as the team didn’t plan for Greg Oden to step in and be ready to play from Day One, asking Beasley to pick up a brand new offense and a tweaked defense in a month of preseason would have been unrealistic. He was simply expected to work hard, learn and make progress. In a blowout victory against the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, Beasley started to show just how willing he’s been to change and learn.

“People have to remember he’s 24 years old,” Chris Bosh said. “People ask us to be mature at an immature age. Now he has more experience under his belt being with us. We’re able to take him under our wings and give him tutelage. He’s received it with open arms.”

He may have also scored 19 points on 12 shots, but at this point in the Beasley’s journey those numbers are inconsequential.

Instead, what mattered were the situations that most people don’t count or track – yet determine whether a player is truly fitting in. Situations like when Beasley is on the weak side of the paint and the opposition has a player diving down the lane about to receive a catch.

Or when Beasley forces his own player to give up the ball and immediately jumps to help when a teammate gets beat off the dribble.

None of this is perfect. In fact in that second sequence above Beasley might not have even been the primary help defender in the context of Miami’s system, but he covered up for it simply by playing hard.

“[It’s] just the activity level,” LeBron James said. “He’s playing hard. We don’t care if you make mistakes when you play hard. And that’s one thing, he’s not always in the right place – none of us are always in the right place – but he’s covering up for it because he’s playing hard. Defensively he’s in tune and he’s getting better.”

Playing hard isn’t always enough when your teammates are counting on rotations to come from specific places on the floor – the better to know where they will have to provide help – but it’s as good a defensive foundation as the HEAT can expect, especially as Beasley makes the right plays elsewhere.

You know how the HEAT traditionally attack the ball handler in the pick-and-roll? You know how a sizeable burden is placed on the big man to pull himself far away from the paint and then immediately recover to his man?

And you know how when the HEAT play teams with lethal roll men they ask a third defender to slide across the paint, chuck the roller off his path and get back to the perimeter without surrendering an open catch-and-shoot opportunity? Beasley showed he’s starting to develop instincts for the more complicated coverage as well.

Small moments that you can miss with a blink, but when the game is over and the coaching staff starts loading up individual possessions to watch on film these moments become gargantuan. The tasks of Miami’s defensive system aren’t the most natural for a basketball player, but if you’re putting in the work to understand those responsibilities then these are the moments when all that work shows up.

Were those moments enough to signify a step forward from Beasley in all areas non-scoring?

“It was,” Erik Spoelstra said. “He just has to continue to embrace the routine. He’s been terrific with his work ethic, his consistency, every single day an hour before practice. Not only him, but James Jones, Joel Anthony, Roger Mason Jr., Rashard Lewis at times and LeBron has jumped in there once. They work very diligently, drilling for an hour pre-practice, on all of our schemes and doing it full speed.

“It’s competitive, those pre-practice sessions, and he’s really been gaining a lot from that. It’s fast-tracked his progress defensively, but also understanding how we play. He just needs to continue to move forward and take advantage of the opportunities when he does get that opportunity to play.”

While there are certainly writers that have spent more time around Beasley and can speak more accurately about his personality, it’s worth noting that Beasley has never appeared to be taking his opportunity for granted. So when he hears what his coach had to say about him, his reaction seemed particularly genuine. “It means that my hard work is not going to vain,” Beasley said. “It means a lot, especially coming from Spo. I’m not doing it for any recognition, or to prove anybody wrong. I’m doing it to help my teammates because at the end of the day I don’t want to let those guys down.”

If Beasley continues down the path he’s on then he won’t come close to letting anyone down, but it’s also important to manage expectations a little bit. There are many veteran players on this team trying to earn minutes, and the HEAT’s rotation can change from game to game. It’s possible Beasley maximizes every part of this opportunity and still doesn’t get regular minutes. That’s part of the buy-in with Miami. As players and coaches will often say, the main thing is the main thing. The players are supposed to be as prepared as possible and the coaches are supposed to put the players in the best position to win a championship.

There’s simply too much that is out of any individual player’s hands. All you can do is control what can possibly be controlled, so for now it’s pretty cool that a young, high-profile player is attempting to shed some bad habits and take responsibility for everything that he can.

“With Beas, he’s really making an effort to fit in and do what we do,” Shane Battier said. “When he’s been in other situations outside of the HEAT, his talent has sort of allowed him to just freelance and I don’t think he’s really been in a system where he’s been forced to rotate and have accountability, especially on the defensive end.

“For a lot of guys who go to that side, it’s hard to sort of come back into the fold of a really disciplined system. But Beas is really, really trying. Really making an effort. We’ve seen great improvements. He’s not there yet, he still has work to do and a lot of things that are instinctual to us he has to get up to speed with, but he’s working. I didn’t know Michael before this, but that’s impressed me about him.”

There’s a long road ahead for Beasley, but two weeks into the regular season can the HEAT ask much more than that?