Rookie Retrospective: Michael Beasley

Rookie Retrospective: Michael Beasley
Dec 18, 2008, 09:45 am
In our second installment of our new “Rookie Retrospectives” series, we’ll be analyzing the play of the second of three former freshman standouts that are vying for the Rookie of the Year Award. After one of the most impressive freshman seasons in recent NCAA history, no player in this class may have began their career facing expectations as lofty as those Beasley set for himself with his play at Kansas State.

Unlike many of his counterparts, Beasley also has the added pressure of stepping directly into a prominent role on a playoff-contending team. With both of those things in mind, Beasley has shown glimpses of great play; however, these brief stints have been overshadowed by inconsistency on both sides of the floor as he acclimates to the rigors of a full NBA season.

In recent weeks, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra has removed Beasley from the starting line-up and has began using him as a scoring punch off the bench. During this time, Beasley has averaged ten fewer minutes per game, but is still putting up the same per game averages. Perhaps this move to the bench has sparked his competitive drive and marked the beginning of Michael Beasley’s professional maturation.

Rookie Retrospective: Michael Beasley
Power Forward 6’8 ¼, 239, 1989, Miami Heat

Part One: Inside Scoring & Post Skills

“Beasley is doing his biggest damage in the paint, working off the ball, often continuing moves from the elbow or the baseline to finish with acrobatic layups. He’s a flat-out impressive finisher around the rim. He perfectly uses both hands, and his ability to hang in the air with the balance he shows there allows him to work to avoid almost every opponent’s attempt to challenge him. He’s just a majestic player evolving off the ground.”
-U-19 World Championship: Early Rounds 07/20/07

From his one year stint at Kansas State, the Miami Heat expected Beasley to provide a consistent inside scoring threat to accompany Dwayne Wade’s stellar perimeter skills. Yet, through the first month of his rookie campaign, Beasley has attempted everything but attacking the interior of opposing defenses. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Beasley is converting a dismal 48% on shot attempts around the rim, and 32% of his post-moves. Compare that with last season at Kansas State, where he converted 67% of his shot-attempts around the rim, and 52% of his back-to-the-basket opportunities.

Already being undersized for an NBA power forward, and being more of a smooth/fluid type athlete than a freak leaper, Beasley has had a much more difficult time going up against the size, length and athleticism that NBA big men are known for—no longer simply being able to operate as a man amongst boys by bullying his way around the basket. He will have to learn how to go up stronger at the rim and not try to be so cute with his finishes—doing everything quicker and with more purpose than he’s been used to thus far in his career.

Even more concerning for the Heat is that Beasley is taking far more shots from the perimeter than in the post. Whereas last season post-up plays accounted for 33% of his shot-attempts, this year that percentage of attempts has fallen to just 15%. This lack of inside touches has taken away some of the things that made him such an efficient college player. The fact that his free throw attempts are down in a huge way (8.5 to 2.9 per game) and his offensive rebounding has fallen off a cliff (from 4.0 to 1.7 per game) are clearly indicative of the on-going changes Beasley is going to need to make to his game to transition to being a more effective NBA power forward as well as Miami’s need to utilize him in a more effective role.

On the rare occasion that he does catch the ball in the low post, Beasley prefers to face up or turn to the middle of the floor. When he faces up in the low post, Beasley doesn’t have ample room to beat his defender off the dribble. Adding to the problem, he also lacks a “step-through” or “up-and-under” move which would allow him to score more effectively as an undersized power forward. Since he lacks these interior moves, he usually relies on well-contested mid-range jumper over taller defenders.

With his back to the basket, Beasley turns to the middle of the floor twice as often as the baseline. In fact, he is only comfortable spinning baseline on the right side of the floor and hasn’t attempted a baseline move on the left block the entire season. At this stage in his career, Beasley would benefit greatly from watching some Antawn Jamison or Carlos Boozer game film and learning how to effectively use his shorter frame in the painted area.

The transition from college to the NBA is absolutely massive, especially when comparing the dramatic rise in the level of competition big men are forced to go up against on a nightly basis. Beasley clearly has the tools to be a lethal scorer in the NBA, but he’s going to have to adapt to his new surroundings and become much more cerebral about the way he gets his shot off.

Part Two: Perimeter Scoring

“ Beasley is a prototypical face the basket modern-day power forward. He is strong, but incredibly quick, possessing the type of agile first step that makes him an absolutely devastating threat creating his own shot from the perimeter. Kansas State is utilizing him a great deal at the top of the key on Isolation plays, where the lefty likes to take his man off the dribble with his smooth ball-handling skills and finish with either with and a variety of pretty floaters and layups. He has incredible body control to get the job done on these types of drives, handling the ball in the open floor like a guard, and at times pulling up off the dribble fluidly from mid-range with the greatest of ease.”
-NCAA Weekly Performers – Freshman Edition, Part One 11/23/07

It became apparent early in Beasley’s freshman campaign that he possesses a special perimeter skill set given his size and athleticism. As predicted, this is the area of Beasley’s game that has made the smoothest transition to the next level. In Miami’s offense, Beasley normally gets his touches in one of two ways: as a spot up scorer working off a teammates’ dribble penetration or as a face-up post player off an entry pass.

When he catches the ball in spot up situations, Beasley usually receives the pass about 20 feet from the hoop. If the defense does not extend to contest Beasley’s first look, he will shoot without hesitation. Thus far, he has been reasonably (although not incredibly) effective for a rookie power forward, hitting on 44% of his shots between 17 feet and the three-point line, as well as 36% of his 3-point attempts. When the defense extends to contest his initial shot, Beasley will put the ball on the floor and attack the basket. In these situations, defenses have done a great job taking away his left hand, forcing him to the right, where he has struggled to score effectively (0.70 PPP); however, he has no trouble being productive when he can penetrate going left (1.22 PPP).

When the Heat run sets for Beasley in the post, he initiates contact on the block, but releases to catch the ball around 15-feet away from the rim so he can have some space to operate facing the basket. This plays to the quickness advantage he enjoys over most defenders and allows him to see the entire floor as he attacks the defense. When he gets a chance to operate one-on-one off the catch, he gets to show off the tremendous feel for scoring off the dribble that we wrote about over a year ago.

Unfortunately, Beasley often stops his penetration early to shoot a pull-up jumper rather than finishing at the rim and earning valuable trips to the charity stripe. He is currently averaging 2.9 free throw attempts per game, ranking him 10th among this year’s rookies. For a player of Beasley’s caliber, this number must improve greatly for him to continue the development of his offensive repertoire. He must work to catch the ball in better position to score as well, not settling for starting his moves 17-18 feet away from the basket, which makes it much easier for the defense to rotate.

Beasley’s perimeter skills are what make him a special prospect at the power forward position, but at this point in his career, he would be best suited trying to get as many attempts around the rim or at the free throw line as possible. Settling for fade-away jumpers from 18-20 feet out is exactly what NBA defenses hope to force, and Beasley is far too talented to fall into that trap every single night the way he often has thus far.

Part Three: Defense

“ Defensively, there is absolutely no way around the fact that Beasley has looked awful so far--not really a surprise considering his reputation coming into college. Even when he tries to put in a legit effort, he looks unfocused--almost completely lost-- constantly out of position, and too often caught with his hand in the cookie jar gambling for steals. He doesn’t always put in that legit effort, though, as it’s not rare to see him looking a bit lazy running the floor to get back, particularly in transition situations. Again, some scouts will shake their heads at these types of things, while others will chalk it up to youth and inexperience.”
-NCAA Weekly Performers 11/23/07 – Freshman Edition, Part One

This is still, as we wrote, the part of Beasley’s game which must develop for him to be a star in the League. At this point, he doesn’t jump off the stat sheet as a defensive difference maker (0.65 STLPG, 0.52 BLKPG), and the film we watched showed several glaring flaws in Beasley’s defensive fundamentals. After analyzing game film, it is evident that Beasley’s biggest defensive problem is losing his man while playing help defense. Rather than staying in an open stance and seeing the ball and his man, Beasley often gets caught facing the ball, allowing his man to sneak behind him on the baseline and into the paint. This puts him in poor defensive rebounding position, and if his man gets the ball, it puts him in a situation where he has to either foul or give up an uncontested layup.

Another problem for Beasley, as well as most NBA post players, is closing out on quicker perimeter scorers. Beasley’s quickness is excellent for a power forward, but many of his close-outs appear sluggish. Rather than “chopping” his feet several steps before the perimeter player and sitting in a defensive stance, he is often too concerned with the jump shooter, causing him to take longer steps and lunge at ball fakes. If he improves in this facet of the game, Beasley will commit fewer costly mistakes like fouling jump shooters. Ultimately, it will be that improvement, coupled with greater discipline and commitment that will give Beasley the ability to cover small forwards in pinches. Beasley seems to have bought into this on some level, and is becoming a better defender in no small part due to the tough love he’s received from rookie head coach Erik Spoelstra, but he still has a long way to go.

Part Four: Rebounding

“ Had Beasley settled for displaying his typical array of perimeter talent, mixed in with a steady dose of post-ups letting him utilize his quickness on the left block, he might have finished his first three games with a solid 20 and 10. He’s managed to pad his stats incredibly though by crashing the offensive glass like a man possessed, indeed grabbing nearly 9 per game so far. That’s the primary reason why he’s managed to get himself into the 30 and 20 range, which is in itself a pretty incredible feat. Beasley has just been bigger, stronger, quicker and more explosive than all of his opponents so far, allowing him to absolutely dominate the offensive glass. But he’s also stood out nicely with the terrific coordination he possesses, as well as with his awesome hands and reaction time.”
-NCAA Weekly Performers – Freshman Edition, Part One 11/23/07

This is the area where Beasley has disappointed most, primarily because he was such a dominant rebounder at the collegiate level. He has yet to pull down ten rebounds in a single game this season, and ranks 15th among rookies with a dismal 11.2 rebounding rate. The Heat, desperately searching for rebounding help and interior defense, don’t have a player in the top 35 for rebounds per 48 minutes (Udonis Haslem, 12.4 RP48M ranks 38th). Beasley’s rebounding woes stem from both his defensive shortcomings and his role in the Heat offense.

Given his tendency to lose his man while playing help defense, Beasley is often out of position to box out when a shot goes up. This leads to offensive rebounding opportunities for the opposition, and in some cases, uncontested put-backs. Where in college he could often get away with not boxing out opponents and just letting his physical superiority do the job for him, the NBA is obviously a different story.

Another reason he’s struggling on the defensive glass is his physical strength. He’s now competing against players physically equal and often superior to him, and it takes a much greater effort to out-position experienced veterans who boast comparable assets athletically. If Beasley stops backing down from contact and begins to exert himself in a much more physical manner, his numbers will improve; perhaps even to a respectable level. In the meantime, the concerns raised about his smallish measurements before the draft (6-7 without shoes, 6-8 1/4 with) are beginning to look like serious issues at the NBA level.

Because of his perimeter-oriented role in the Heat offense, Beasley rarely attempts to make his presence felt on the offensive glass. He would likely find his way back into the starting lineup if he put forth the effort to gain extra possessions and easy baskets for his team. Until he realizes the full effect these types of hustle plays will have on his team, and he begins to demand them from himself from possession to possession, we can probably get used to Beasley remaining a one-dimensional sixth man.

Part Five: Decision Making

“ We’ve seen a fair share of Beasley-esque plays where he forces the issue and tries to do too much out on the perimeter (for example an ill-advised double-clutch pull-up fadeaway jumper), but he’s been able to make up for his mistakes largely by just rebounding his own misses and putting them back in. Beasley was known to be somewhat of a selfish player in high school at times, and from what we could tell from the game footage we evaluated early on, he’s not quite shedding that label quite yet. The ball-movement often stops once it reaches his hands, and oftentimes it seems like he is going to take the ball and shoot it no matter what, regardless of how the play develops around him.”
-NCAA Weekly Performers -- Freshmen Edition, Part One 11/23/2007

NBA rookies are notorious for being mistake-prone – Michael Beasley is no different. Defensively, Beasley usually hedges ball screens fairly well, but he has shown little effort in rotating back to his man. This lackadaisical rotation often leads to easy post-up opportunities for opposing frontcourt players. Since the Heat are already extremely undersized and often play a three-forward lineup, Beasley’s lack of hustle often hangs teammates out to dry. He has also fouled jump shooters on several critical occasions this season. This happens because he closes out on perimeter scorers very poorly and jumps early at ball fakes rather than sitting in a defensive stance and contesting jumpers after the shooter has committed to scoring the basketball. Much was raised before the draft about the demeanor Beasley appears to display off the court in interview sessions and such, and some wondered whether this would become an on-court issue as well.

On the offensive end of the floor, Beasley’s ball handling and passing statistics are noticeably poor. Of all NBA players, he ranks 175th in turnover ratio at 11.3 turnovers per 100 possessions and 304th in assist ratio, dishing out only 5.7 assists per 100 possessions. The selfishness we documented in Beasley’s high school and college performances has translated itself in some situations because of the increase in isolation plays created by the shorter shot clock. Ball movement still stops once it reaches his hands, and he rarely looks to make the extra pass to open shooters. If he wants to become a more prominent NBA player and warrant more help defensively, Beasley will need to become a more efficient team player and look for help from his teammates in half court sets.

Coach Spoelstra has managed to negate this issue somewhat by bringing him off the bench and turning him loose as the primary offensive option of the second unit, but this is probably not an ideal long-term solution considering where Beasley was drafted.

Part Six: Intangibles

Then How would you describe his arrival and acclimation to college life?

Frank Martin: “It was tremendous. He was unbelievable how he handled all the publicity, attention, pressures and expectations. People here expected him and Bill Walker to be our saviors, guys that were going to bring a national championship to K-State. He had to embrace that kind of responsibility without having any kind of senior leadership whatsoever to help. For him to have done it the way he did—never questioning my leadership—was remarkable. The people in this community just love him. And it’s not because of what he did as a basketball player. It’s because of the way he acted away from the court. Beasley is quick to admit he’s “still a kid” when fielding questions about his character. What’s your assessment of him?

Martin: “I wish my kids will grow up to have his character and I’ve got three of them. He’s phenomenal and he’s a treat to be around. He makes coaching an easy profession. He cares about winning and nothing else. He wants to be the best, so he works at it, but he doesn’t go around thinking he’s the best. He’s receptive to coaching. You could go back and speak to any one he’s ever been a student of, coached by, or played with, and you won’t find one person who will give you a negative comment about Michael Beasley. I was a schoolteacher for many years, and the stuff that he’s done, it was nothing more than a young teenager looking for attention. He’s never placed harm on anybody and he never will place harm on anybody. It’s not in his personality and it’s not who he is. He doesn’t steal, he’s not into drugs and he’s not a gangbanger. He’s a simple kid who enjoys being a kid. He never missed a practice. He’d roll an ankle, but he’d refuse to come out of a drill. He’s an unbelievable person.” interview with Beasley’s college coach, Frank Martin 06/23/2008

Since arriving in Miami, with the notable exception of the marijuana incident at the NBA Rookie orientation session, Beasley has successfully avoided off-court drama and seems to be showing a willingness to improve within Erik Spoelstra’s defensive-oriented team concept. Upon moving to the bench a few weeks ago, Beasley has shown a significant improvement in rebounding, pulling down 12.2 RP48M, up from the 8.7 RP48M he averaged while in the starting line-up. And although disappointed at first with the move to the bench, he rebounded to score 24 points in 27 minutes in his second game as the sixth man. The Heat lost that second game against the Clippers, but Beasley said all the right things to the media and showed a team-first attitude.

"I would take [Friday's] game where I was 0 for 5 and no points and the win before I would take this," he said after Saturday's 97-96 loss to the Clippers. "If that's where I need to play -- sixth, seventh, eighth [man] -- it doesn't really matter," Beasley said.

Continuing to develop his professionalism and relationship with teammates will certainly improve the role Beasley has with Heat. As his maturation process proceeds and Beasley develops a larger role in Miami’s game plan, we will continue to track his future progress as he attempts to become one of the NBA’s biggest stars and more interesting personalities.

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