If a single sequence could sum up the season of Knicks forward Michael Beasley — or perhaps even his career — it might be the one from the first game of the year, in which he hit a corner jumper but then came down on the foot of Russell Westbrook, rolling his ankle and falling to the floor in pain.
Beasley laid there for few moments as the action flowed to the other end, only to stand up, hobble back to the corner and then raise his hand to signal he was open and ready to shoot once New York regained possession. The play illustrated that Beasley is always ready to shoot — even if he’s about to leave a game because of injury. He always believes he’s capable of a bucket. (A similar scenario unfolded Friday in Milwaukee, where he sought to rejoin an offensive possession by calling for the ball shortly after getting hurt.1 Both examples can be seen below.)
“Like a sniper’s always ready to take a shot. Always ready to take the shot,” Beasley said in a Q&A with the New York Post. “You gotta kind of have that hitman mentality when it comes to this game.”
The highly entertaining Beasley, who refers to himself as “a walking bucket,” might embody the idea of instant offense — reserve players who can get baskets as soon as you plug them in, but don’t really contribute to the defensive end — better than anyone in basketball. Put him in the game, and you know you’re going to get points shortly thereafter. And that likely explains how he ended up with the Knicks, who’ve employed more microwave scoring guards and forwards off the bench2 than just about any other team the past 10 years.
|NYK||M. Beasley||J. Smith||N. Robinson||D. Williams||C. Copeland||A. Harrington|
|PHO||M. Beasley||G. Green||I. Thomas||L. Barbosa||M. Redd||M. Teletovic|
|DEN||J. Smith||W. Chandler||N. Robinson||W. Barton||T. Lyles||A. Harrington|
|MIL||M. Beasley||C. Maggette||L. Ridnour||E. Boykins||H. Warrick|
|DAL||J. Terry||V. Carter||R. Beaubois||C. Villanueva||J. Barea|
Among the traits Beasley shares with many of his offense-heavy predecessors in New York: His stints with various teams have always been relatively short despite his scoring talent. He’s never stuck with one team for more than two years at a time, setting him apart from the average first-round draft pick, who spends an average of 3.8 years with their original team before moving on to a second club, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.3 That raises the question of what, if anything, the 29-year-old Beasley can do to change his well-established reputation as a scorer and not much else.
For fans who rely mostly on the eye test, Beasley’s innate scoring ability feels like nothing short of a necessity for a New York roster that has just two true playmakers in Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. By contrast, those more interested in analytics may find the lefty’s game grating due to his shot selection and his defense — the latter, in particular, should be better, given his prototypical size for a combo forward. (He doesn’t provide enough resistance or get into shooters’ bodies as they drive toward the basket.)
Regardless of where you stand on the former No. 2 overall pick, though, the reality is this: Beasley finds the bottom of the net more than any other NBA reserve on a per-minute basis. In fact, just six players total — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, and Westbrook — outpace him there.
He leans heavily on shots that some would call him foolish for taking. According to data from Second Spectrum and NBA Advanced Stats, Beasley owns the NBA’s eighth-lowest quantified Shot Quality (qSQ),4 which tells you how hard a shot is to make by measuring how likely it is to go in if it’s taken by an average player. “But he’s got great body control,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek told me. “Sometimes you’ll think it’s a wild shot, but he’s so smooth and in control of it. And he makes plenty of them.”
To Beasley’s credit, he’s been shrewd about turning down 3s, instead opting for looks closer to the basket. A career-low 10 percent of his shot attempts this season are long, midrange 2s, and a career-high 63 percent of his tries are coming from inside 10 feet. As such, he’s on pace to finish a third consecutive season shooting better than 50 percent from the field. He’s logging 31 points per 100 possessions, and he already has three 30-point games to his credit, including one in which fans at Madison Square Garden repeatedly chanted “MVP” when Beasley went to the line for free throws.
All of which makes it even more curious that he has essentially lived a nomadic basketball life.
The player himself has been quick to acknowledge that he got into trouble off the court and acted immature early in his career. But he feels that he’s still perceived as undisciplined years later, even as teammates and front offices have been pleasantly surprised by how professional he is.
“He works hard, and is always the first one to the gym, and that’s something I didn’t know about him,” said Knicks forward Lance Thomas, the team’s co-captain and longest-tenured player. “He’s always smiling, having a good time. His approach is a lot better than the average person would think based on all the noise that surrounded him.”
One obstacle to finding a perfect basketball marriage: Beasley’s position and on-the-court style don’t generally lend themselves to playing alongside many of the stars he’s teamed up with. This season, he’s played fewer than 200 minutes with Porzingis (whom he usually subs in for). Similarly, last season in Milwaukee he didn’t often share the court with Antetokounmpo, who played a hybrid forward role. (He cites lack of minutes as part of the reason he chose to move on and sign with the Knicks.) Beasley wasn’t always the most natural fit to play alongside LeBron in Miami, either, since James’s teams have often sought to use a stable of established 3-point shooters to open up paint for the four-time MVP. By definition, needing to play separately from a team’s franchise player means someone like Beasley wouldn’t play more than 15 minutes or so per game, barring that star teammate getting injured or getting into foul trouble.
Any way you slice it, it’s still a bit too soon to know whether Beasley’s never-ending carousel of teams will finally stop for a while in New York, or if he’ll make yet another stop after this season. But even if he does move on, one thing is nearly certain: His buckets will join him in the next city.