Why Michael Beasley Failed & Can He Bounce Back?

05 Jul

Recently Michael Beasley completed his rookie contract and he didn’t receive any competing offers from his last team. It’s notable because the list of Top2 NBA draft picks in the last 10 years who received the same treatment is short and kind of damning: Hasheem Thabeet, Greg Oden, Darko Milicic and Jay Williams.

So the question is what the hell happened with Michael Beasley’s career so far?

I’ve had a theory so I dived into the numbers, I checked multiple angles on this story and now I’m almost positive it’s true so hear me out before judging why is it ridiculous to think he still can be a good player in the NBA… even though so far his statistics mostly create an urge to shrug shoulders or shake head.

But we have to start with a question “was he worthy of 2nd overall draft pick?” because maybe he was just over-hyped and over-drafted to begin with?

Before the draft Kevin Pelton from basketballprospectus wrote

Subjectively, I like Rose as the top pick, in part because of the way the modern NBA game favors guards, but it’s hard to go against Beasley’s overwhelming statistical superiority.

He wasn’t alone in that assessment. Arturo Galletti’s model from Wages of Wins had him as a clearly #1 in the class by far with one of the highest projections in the database.

John Hollinger based on his Draft Rater wrote

Beasley’s rating is the highest of any player going back to 2002, and it’s the best by a pretty sizable margin. Obviously, this isn’t new information — nobody doubts this guy’s talent level.
But he might be even better than people realize. His numbers were superior even to Kevin Durant’s from a year ago, and Durant had everyone gaga over his performance as a college freshman.
Somehow Beasley didn’t resonate quite as strongly, perhaps because of concerns over his character, but if he keeps his head on straight he’s going to be insanely good.

It’s safe to say that according to his numbers in the NCAA the answer is “he was definitely worthy a second overall pick and you could even argue he should have been drafted first”.

So very talented player joined the NBA and disappointed. It’s so easy to say he was just a knucklehead and focus on his off-court reputation but in my opinion he was put in a position to fail. Why?

There are 3 reasons for it with one common denominator.

1) Scouting Reports.

Because of his size and style he was viewed as a small forward in the NBA. But take a look at this table:

Primary Position Height w/o Shoes Weight Wingspan Standing Reach No Step Vert Max Vert Bench Press Lane Agility 3/4 Court Sprint
Average SF 6′ 6.03″ 213 6′ 10.3″ 8′ 7.9″ 29.5 34.6 10.8 11.37 3.26
Michael Beasley 6′ 7″ 239 7′ 0.25″ 8′ 11″ 30.0 35.0 19 11.06 3.24
Average PF 6′ 7.64″ 234 7′ 0.7″ 8′ 10.5″ 28.6 33.0 13.0 11.69 3.31

When you focus only on size and quickness small forward seemed like a reasonable idea… but IMHO it was also a way to totally waste his upside: as a small forward he was close to average and could handle it just fine but was nothing special there… but as a power forward his combination of athleticism, length and strength could/should be devastating… That’s why he was so dominant on the NCAA level!

More importantly it created a single biggest problem of Beasley’s career…

2) Shot Selection.

Here’s a breakdown of Beasley’s shot selection in the NBA based on Hoopdata:

Layups/Dunks/Tips 2-pt Jumpers Threes
Player Year Tm GP M A FG% % of shots m a FG% % of shots M A eFG% % of shots Shots
M.Beasley 2009 MIA 81 1,9 3,3 56 0,282 3,4 7,4 45,9 0,632 0,4 1 61,1 0,085 11,7
M.Beasley 2010 MIA 78 2,5 3,9 65 0,293 3,2 8,1 39,5 0,609 0,4 1,3 41,3 0,098 13,3
M.Beasley 2011 MIN 73 2,4 3,7 65,9 0,218 4,4 11,1 39,6 0,653 0,8 2,2 54,9 0,129 17
M.Beasley 2012 MIN 47 1,3 2,1 62,4 0,200 2,6 6,3 41,3 0,600 0,8 2,1 56,4 0,200 10,5

He’s really good at the rim and shockingly he has an above average efficiency on both long jumpers and threes! So where’s the problem here? In distribution of attempts! Long twos are the most inefficient shots in basketball and over 60% of Beasley’s shots came from there. That’s why his offensive efficiency is poor despite the fact that he can actually shoot.

The sad part is he wasn’t always like this.
Here’s a breakdown of Beasley’s shot selection in NCAA based on play-by-play data from ESPN:

Layups/Dunks/Tips 2-pt Jumpers Threes
Player Year Tm GP M A FG% % of shots m a FG% % of shots M A eFG% % of shots Shots
M.Beasley 2008 KAN 30 145 218 66,5 0,410 102 225 45,3 0,423 33 89 55,6 0,167 532

He transfered 20% of his attempts from around the rim to jumpers. How did it happen?
Because he played full time power forward in the NCAA!
You may ask here “what’s the difference? Is it only a matter of label?”. IMHO it creates bad incentives: when a player has in front of him someone who is shorter and/or faster, he’ll be more likely to shoot jumpers but when a player has in front of him someone who is longer and/or slower, he’ll be more likely to drive to the basket. That’s exactly the situation for Beasley at SF and PF and I think it’s the reason behind his shot selection.

Maybe even more importantly players at power forward start their plays closer to the basket!

So the question is why he didn’t play at power forward his entire NBA career?
Because of the circumstances…

3) Team Fit.

So far Beasley played with two teams. When he arrived both Miami Heat and Minnesota Timberwolves had:
a) established and good power forward who couldn’t play center all the time [Haslem and Love],
b) center with a big contract who had to play [Jermaine O’Neal and Darko Milicic],
c) easily replacable and cheap role-players at small forward [James Jones, injured Dorell Wright / Quentin Richardson and Wesley Johnson / Martell Webster].

Well, in those circumstances it’s obvious why Beasley couldn’t play power forward full time.

After all this introduction let’s a make jump from theory to practice, shall we?

When you check list of lineups with Michael Beasley which played at least 30 minutes together from you will find that

Among above average lineups all but one have Beasley as power forward.
16 out of 28 below average lineups have him as small forward.

Is it a coincidence? I don’t think so…
Seriously, can someone play this guy at power forward full time? He’s not a small forward!
There’s still a chance he will play well in the NBA!

Unfortunately for this post Beasley agreed to sign with Phoenix Suns who have the same situation as outlined in point 3). Duh. So I can’t exactly sell him as a possible steal of the off-season and I really wanted to ;-)

What do you think? Am I crazy or he can still become a stud?

P.S. There’s a possibility this post also applies to Carmelo Anthony [who had almost identical combine results as Beasley and seems to play better as power forward] though his case is obviously less extreme.
Finally, do you remember how badly Durant struggled at the shooting guard? Didn’t it create similar issues?


Posted by on July 5, 2012 in Unanswered Questions


Tags: , , , ,

14 responses to “Why Michael Beasley Failed & Can He Bounce Back?

  1. Anonymous

    July 6, 2012 at 16:42

    spot on

  2. Justin

    July 10, 2012 at 09:58

    No, I think you’re spot-on. Unfortunately, power forward is a position of high demand, and it’s hard finding time there. Plus his defense is a little worrisome to put him in the frontcourt. I would like to see him as a power forward though. Charlotte is in a position where they should try anything, and they’re one of a few teams with a need at power forward.

    • wiLQ

      July 11, 2012 at 13:24

      I hoped for Celtics [but they drafted two bigs], Sixers [without E.Brand] and Pacers [to replace D.West] but you are right that maybe power forward just became too deep to create opportunity for Beasley.

  3. Anonymous

    July 10, 2012 at 18:36

    I think in general big small forwards are overrated, unless they’re great rebounders. We’ve seen how useful the stretch 4 is (the Spurs plus/minus with a shooter at the 4 vs a non-shooter are massive). Not having a “stretch 3” makes you even more stagnant.

    The Nuggets had one great year with Carmelo at the 3 (3rd on offense), but that was mainly because Nene, Billups, Afflalo, Anderson and Lawson all shot the ball incredibly well (all had TS over .575). Some of that was a result of other coaches worried too much about Anthony, so he definitely gets some credit for appearing to be a great player and thus making it easier on his teammates (Nate Silver wrote about this). But he’d be better off as a full time 4, especially with Chandler to make up for his lack of rebounding and D.

    That interesting paper by Robert Ayer about the best kind of Big 3’s found that having 2 shooting guards didn’t really hurt the team. That makes sense to me. There’s a reason Lebron won the title playing as a 4. With a 24 second shot clock, you need to take good shots when you get it. In college, you can afford to pass up shots a bit more, but in the NBA, where most teams don’t really get their offense started until about 10 seconds into the shot clock, you’ve got 10-12 seconds to find a shot before you have to just get one up wherever you are. That’s not a lot of time.

    • wiLQ

      July 11, 2012 at 13:31

      In general I agree but I think that’s exactly the problem with Beasley: he is asked to provide spacing… which he can do… but it contributes to his terrible shot selection

  4. Anonymous

    August 23, 2012 at 17:25

    Great post. I love posts that describe ways teams can maximize what they have, as opposed to trade suggestions. There’s a slim chance Beasley could be an average power-forward if given the minutes there. Scola’s play has fallen off a cliff, so hopefully the Suns will feel free to experiment. Now if only there was a way to make Wes Johnson productive…

  5. sure thing

    March 1, 2013 at 03:24

    This is an astoundingly well-researched article. You need a job at ESPN or something. I’ve been saying the same thing about Beasley since before he left Miami. Think about this, also: the Heat dumped Beasley so they could pick up Mike Miller, who was paid the same. Miller proceeded to sit out most of the next season injured. Now I have nothing bad to say about Miller after he hit seven threes in the last game of the finals, but statistically who would you rather have? Beasley proceeded to average 20 points per game the next season. And STILL nobody gave him love. What’s up with that? After a 20ppg season, his minutes go DOWN? EH? And not just down, but significantly down. From 32.3 to 23.1. “Son, you played really well last year. So we’re rewarding you by giving 33% of your minutes to a chump. And we’re also going to go ahead and take away your starting role. They gave the starting role to Wesley Johnson, who proceeded to average 6.0 points per game in the same number of minutes as Beasley (Beasley averaged twice as many points).

    When you look at matters objectively, there is only one conclusion: Michael Beasley has been blackballed from the entire NBA. The “establishment” made a decision about him a long time ago. As you say, they set him up to fail. My guess is the reasoning went something like this “Beasley has a bad attitude and he tokes the devil weed without even hiding it; he’s too much of a risk to our wholesome image; even if he has the potential to be better than Barkley or Malone, he isn’t bigger than the game. He is replaceable. Fuck him. We will end this dude. And we’ll make it look like it was his own fault.”

    • wiLQ

      March 1, 2013 at 18:23

      Thank you for the great compliment, just let “ESPN or something” know about it ;-)
      But I don’t think teams TRIED to put Beasley in this position on purpose, they just inadvertedly did, probably because he seemed like a tweener and they didn’t know what to do with him. Note that all 3 teams could have benefited from his better play if only as an additional valuable trading chip. Instead he was traded as a garbage.


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