Monday, January 12, 2009

Michael Beasley "Will Survive"

After a disappointing first two months in the NBA, particularly given the great production from this year’s rookie class, not to mention the big impact that rookie point guard Mario Chalmers has had on the Miami Heat, Michael Beasley looks like he’s starting to find his comfort zone in the Association.

As the #2 overall pick in the draft and the summer league’s leading scorer, Beasley began receiving considerable minutes from the beginning of the season, averaging 33.4 minutes in his first ten games, and despite averaging more than 16 points, often looked lost on defense and unable to hit the glass as consistently as he had at Kansas State, where he averaged 12.4 rpg and set the NCAA freshman record for double-doubles with 28. Beasley’s offense-only approach to the game, combined with the statement that he’d never consistently played man-to-man defense before (seriously?), led Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to cut back his minutes, as he saw just an average of just 20 minutes on the floor over his next 20 games (through January 2), scoring just 11 points per game and grabbing as many as eight rebounds just once in that stretch.

As small sample though it might be, in his last five games, with 3 on the road (including the Lakers), Michael Beasley has improved not only his scoring (18 ppg), but has been more aggressive on the boards (7.6 rpg), racking up his first two double-doubles as a pro (vs. San Antonio and @ Sacramento) and while he still has a ways to go, has been more active on the defensive end.

Beasley’s looked particularly impressive in the Heat’s past two games, both on the road (vs. Sacramento and the Lakers), scoring 23 in each outing, on a total of 20-for-35 from the floor (57.1%), and grabbing 10 boards against the Kings.

Looking back at Miami’s visit to Sacramento, Beasley’s performance to start the fourth quarter was a pleasure to watch for two reasons. First, Beasley’s confidence in the quarter was fantastic- he really looked like he though he, and not Dwyane Wade, was best player on the floor, and did not hesitate to step into every open shot he had, as he scored 9 points on 4-for-4 shooting in the first five minutes of the quarter. Second, and maybe more important, he looked relaxed as it was happening. Beasley began the fourth quarter in Sacramento like he was back in college, not backing away from any shot and expecting every good look to fall. To this point, one very candid moment in the midst of this run showed just how at ease Beasley felt. As the game was coming back from a timeout, Sacramento was preparing to take the ball out of bounds in the backcourt, and Beasley was in the frontcourt on defense. The camera was on Beasley for these few seconds, dancing and lip-singing to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”, which was playing on the arena’s loudspeaker- and he was genuinely having a good time! Now, this wasn’t some young punk goofing off while doing nothing on the floor, Beasley, who’s known to be light-hearted guy, was enjoying a fantastic stretch on the floor and really enjoying the moment.

I may be way off base here, but it really looked as though Beasley was enjoying one of his first “Hey, I really belong here!” moments, in a close game, on the road. That it was a relatively meaningless January game against a sub-.500 team is not relevant. Going forward, once Beasley’s evolved into an outstanding NBA player, it will be the moments like this, when he began to overcome his growing pains, that will have laid the foundation.

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