The Indiana Pacers are rolling these days, working with a 16-1 record and leading both the Eastern Conference and the NBA in winning percentage, mainly because of a fantastic mixture of internal development and added depth procured during the offseason.
The Miami Heat? It’s fair to say they’re rolling as well, despite a mild three-quarter scare against the Charlotte Bobcats on Sunday. The Heat did not hire a celebrated heady type over the 2013 offseason to add to their depth, in the vein of 2011 acquisition Shane Battier or 2012 acquisition Ray Allen. The team, mindful of its luxury tax issues, even waived playoff hero Mike Miller over the offseason, and probably won’t be adding a player midseason as they did last year with Chris “Birdman” Andersen.
What they did bring in was the top overall pick in the 2007 draft, and the second overall pick in the 2008 draft. While those may seem like fantastic pickups, former high-ranking prospects working just over a half-decade after being drafted into the NBA, understand that the prospects in question are Greg Oden and Michael Beasley. Oden has yet to play a regular season minute after a brief exhibition cameo in October, and Beasley was thought by many to be a lost cause after years of listless play on the court and shameful car and recreational drug habits off the court.
And yet, with help from the Heat coaching staff and with various bits of peer pressure put in place by his two-time champion teammates, Beasley has responded. Michael Beasley, that loping lost cause, is actually having a fantastic season in 2013-14.
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, without patting himself on the back (honestly), credits Miami’s culture and attitude for turning things around. After years on chaotic Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns teams, Beasley needed to re-learn accountability (even calling it a “re-learn” is giving him quite a bit of credit) before the Heat could get into chiding him for that defense, rebounding, shot selection … everything, really.
"With Michael," Spoelstra said, "it was more about, initially, we felt he was part of our family. We drafted him. We spent a lot of time with him, not only during those two regular seasons, but during the offseasons and we just wanted to open up our arms back into our family.
"That was our initial thought when we talked to him. I didn't even talk role. I didn't even talk specifics about anything. I didn't talk about, 'Hey, you're going to learn from these guys.' It was, 'Hey, come back to the family,' and just get back into the routine and we'll take it from there. After training camp, that's about the first time I really started to talk about a possible role with him."
Beasley was released by the Suns in the first week of September after several off court incidents, and terrible play on the court for a slapdash Suns team that was put together improperly by ex-Suns general manager Lance Blanks. Working on a non-guaranteed, one-year minimum contract with the Miami franchise that originally drafted him (only to deal him two years later for the pittance of a second round pick), it was probably smart of Spoelstra to really not get into the nuts and bolts of Xs and Os diagramming with his recovering young player. Waiting a few weeks for the end of training camp to detail that appears to have been the best move – even if Beasley had a strange exhibition season to follow.
As great as Spoelstra is, though, not all of this can be attributed to the coaching staff working wonders. It’s true that the trade that sent Beasley to Minnesota for that second round pick was mostly a cap-clearing move (in anticipation of signing LeBron James and Chris Bosh as free agents, while re-signing Dwyane Wade), but Beasley didn’t exactly shoot the lights out with the Heat from 2008 to 2010. His stagnant, maddening midrange game wasn’t as frustrating and ineffective as it was in Minnesota and (especially) Phoenix, but that didn’t mean Beasley’s play didn’t betray the promise of a player that averaged over 26 points and 12 rebounds in just 31 minutes a game during his lone year at Kansas State.
The teammates and rings have something to do with it too, as does Beasley’s renewed insistence on replicating that K-State game, and going quickly into moves and decisions with the ball. Because Miami’s offense features so much action both on the strong and weak sides, Beasley can’t help but be caught up in it. Unlike Spoelstra’s first two seasons as Heat coach, and his fitful time in LeBron’s first year with the Heat, there’s no standing around in Miami.
For Beasley, the results have been superb. He’s averaging the same 10.1 points per game that he did last year in Phoenix, but in nearly five fewer minutes per game, while shooting 54 percent (up from 40 percent as a Sun) along the way. Beas is shooting the lights out from behind the arc as well, nearly 43 percent, but that hasn’t encouraged him to go haywire from deep – he’s taking fewer threes per minute than he did in Phoenix and his last year with the Timberwolves.
Better yet, his rebounding is up to 8.4 per 36 minutes (his explanation: “[Chris Andersen] and Chris [Bosh] need help. And I ain’t got nothing better to do.”), and his turnovers have fallen off to just 2.2 during that 36 minute term. Beasley wasn’t exactly the worst butterfingers in Phoenix last year, but those stand-and-hold-and-shoot possessions were nearly as bad as turnovers, and Michael supplied plenty of them.
As a result, Beasley has supplied a needed bench cog in Miami’s top-ranked offense, nearly doubling his Player Efficiency Rating (to over 21) along the way. It’s early, but it’s working. We’re only 12 games into this season, but after the 354 games in Beasley’s career that came prior to 2013-14, we’ll take whatever we can get from the guy.
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