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Ball Don't Lie

Michael Beasley stares down the rim after a missed free throw, because ‘those gremlins are always messing with [him]‘

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Beasley during the infamous staredown on Monday (Getty Images)

For the fourth straight season, following what was a respectable rookie year offensively, Michael Beasley’s game has declined. Signed to a free agent contract by the Phoenix Suns last summer in order to sop up minutes and help prop up the Suns’ Steve Nash-less offense, Beasley has been in and out of the rotation since the first month of the season. He’s taken terrible shots, looked indifferent for the most part defensively, and has hit for just 38 percent from the floor. By all accounts, Beasley has worked hard in practice, but it hardly matters if he’s practicing bad habits.

Or practicing with spirits. As Trey Kerby pointed out, Beasley recently “won” a staredown with the rim after missing his first two free throws in a Suns loss to Oklahoma City on Monday. From Jonathan Dalton at NBA.com:

Suns forward Michael Beasley, after missing two of his first free-throw attempts off the side of the rim, walked down the lane, stared up at the iron and shook his head. “I had to scare the gremlins away,” he said. “Those gremlins are always messing with me.”

Any other player, just about, and you’d slough this off. Just another way of saying “the yips,” or a long way of telling reporters that visualization was key for a player that is only a few years removed from making 80 percent of his shots for the line. And it … worked? Giving the stink eye to imaginary monsters might not count as a workable scenario, but Beasley did make three out of four freebies to finish the game.

We’d leave him alone after that, had we not seen Pro Basketball Talk’s Brett Pollakoff dig up this gem from Beasley’s time spent in Minnesota, as initially reported on by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Jerry Zgoda and archived by Zach Harper at A Wolf Among Wolves:

Did you see Beasley walk forward after missing a free throw in each of the team’s first preseason games, tilt his head and glare at the rim?

Well, here’s the story:

“That’s a college job,” said Beasley, who played one season at Kansas State. “Luis Colon was my college center. He’s a big Spanish guy and when big Spanish guys get mad, they start speaking Spanish real fast. Every time he missed, he’d look at the rim and curse the rim out. So every time I miss, I’m trying to get the gremlin off the top of the rim.”

To begin, you get the gremlin off the top of the rim by shooting the ball directly over the top of the rim, which would then allow it to fall into the hoop and … wait, why am I treating this like this is treatable? The guy thinks there are gremlins on the rim. Roll over American Motors Corporation, tell Phoebe Cates the news.

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Alvin Gentry and his one-time go-to guy (Getty Images)

Though this potentially has little to nothing to do with Beasley’s apparent (and likely joking) belief in free throw-defending gremlins, it is worth pointing out that Suns coach Alvin Gentry was remarkably candid about Beasley’s 2012-13 woes in a fantastic interview with Grantland’s Zach Lowe earlier this week, pointing out that he has as much work to do “off the court” as on.

From the feature, starting with Gentry’s words:

But he’s had a great attitude. And I have to take some of the blame for everything with him. I put a label on him before he even got here — that he was going to be our go-to guy, a guy that’s going to do this and do that. And that’s unfair to him — [saying that] without going through training camp and understanding what he might be for our team. So a bit of all this has to be my responsibility. It was predetermined what he was gonna be before we even hit camp.

It can mean almost anything when coaches point to “off-court” problems. Can you elaborate at all?

I can’t elaborate on it. I think Michael has a good idea, and most of us have a good idea of some areas he has to work on. But we keep that in-house.

For the best, presumably. And while we don’t fully agree with Gentry thinking Beasley as his go-to guy, sight unseen, during the summer, it is worth pointing out that a fully engaged and active Beasley, taking smart shots, could be a dangerous thing. A go-to thing, almost.

He just won’t pull it off. It doesn’t appear that he wants to, and at times has the tools to. Not with those shooting percentages.

Beasley still takes the overwhelming majority of his shots from between 16 and 23 feet away, an area from which NBA players hit about a 38 percent average, but one where Michael hits just 32 percent. Firing shots from that area shows either ignorance about the basic tenets of efficient basketball, or an unwillingness to listen to coaches about the basic tenets of efficient basketball. This is what also contributes, along with the gremlins, to his low free-throw totals — Beasley hits 72 percent from the line, but only gets there once every 12 minutes he plays.

By comparison, the player he was most often aligned with before the 2009 NBA draft — Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant — gets to the line once every 4 1/2 minutes.

It’s true that Beasley has played better offensively at power forward over the last few seasons, if only slightly, and that the Suns have rarely featured him at the four. He gets absolutely destroyed defensively at that spot, though. It’s small forward or bust with this guy, and he won’t stop throwing up busted shots.

There are always the blips that keep us coming back, like when he hit 5 of 6 from the interior and 3 of 5 from that 16 to 23 slot in a win over Chicago on Saturday, a game that saw Beasley score 20 overall and finish the game with a +8 number. Overall on the season, though, he’s an astounding -11.4 points for every 48 minutes he plays with the Suns. The guy’s been a walking NBA blowout, one who followed up that win by needing 14 shots to score 14 points (shooting 2 for 7 from 16 to 23 feet and beyond the free-throw line combined) in a loss to Durant’s Thunder on Monday.

That two-game, 34-point output was more than Beasley put together, combined, in 20 days prior. If he’s still going to go about his business pretending to work as Ray Allen, though, what’s the point? Beasley keeps taking those same long-range shots, they keep going in at rates that are far below the league’s average, and yet he’ll chuck away from the same spot next time as if the result will be different every time. It’s the definition of insanity.

That, I suppose, and believing in free-throw gremlins.

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