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Off the bench, Michael Beasley still shows the talent of the second overall pick he once was

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Drafted second overall in the 2008 NBA Draft behind only Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley came into this league as a scorer, but only as a scorer. And a scorer with question marks, not only surrounding the limitations of his game, but also around his demeanour and character.

In a not-particularly-well-kept secret, the very team that drafted him, the Miami Heat, did so reluctantly. It was regrettably common knowledge that, despite Beasley being the usually-anointed second player in a two-person draft, Heat President Pat Riley did not want to use the second pick on him, eventually doing so anyway, perhaps due to implicit pressure. This is about as uncomfortable of a start as a player can have to their career.

Beasley then did not help matters by being caught smoking marijuana at the NBA's rookie initiation programme.

New York Knicks v Charlotte Hornets

It didn't help that Rose quickly and emphatically surpassed Beasley on the court. Whereas Rose went on to become the league's Most Valuable Player in only his third season in the league, Beasley had already been traded by that time, salary dumped onto the Minnesota Timberwolves so that the Heat could acquire LeBron James and Chris Bosh. 

Beasley survived the final two seasons of his rookie scale contract with the Wolves, then joined the Phoenix Suns on a three year, $18 million contract. However, he was waived barely a week onto year two after being arrested for marijuana possession. The Suns' comments on his way out of the door did not sound good.

Since that time, Beasley has had the career of a journeyman. He has returned twice to the Heat, albeit never for very long, and spent two years in China. Interspersing it all were short stints with the Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets, before spending last year with the Milwaukee Bucks. Now, he's with the Knicks - new year, new team, every year.

It should not be considered a pejorative to be called a "journeyman" - it speaks to being employable and talented, if dispensable. To be so when arriving into the league with Beasley's talent and stature, though, is not a good outcome.

Nevertheless, what Beasley has always been throughout it all is a scorer. He is, in style and somewhat in level, much the same player that he ever was. But the player he always was was more maligned than he ever was poor. That maligning was, of course, borne largely out of his own conduct. But while he has struggled to survive as an NBA player, Beasley has never struggled for NBA talent.

Even if he is still 'just a scorer', Beasley is a good one. And right now, he is in what is probably the best stretch of his career. In 10 December games, Beasley is averaging 17.1 points per game, up from 8.4 in November, itself up from 4.4 in October. And there is always the potential for a big night in there.

Last night, Beasley posted 32 points as the Knicks beat the Boston Celtics by nine. The Knicks were able to win this game despite not having leading wing scorer Tim Hardaway Jr due to injury, and despite superstar player Kristaps Porzingis shooting 0-11 in his return from injury. They won a game they should not have had much business competing in.

Beasley was why. Check the tape.

With this performance, Beasley became just the ninth player ever to record at least 30 points and 10 rebounds in 25 or less minutes. The other eight - DeMarcus Cousins (twice), Arvydas Sabonis, Danny Schayes, Moses Malone, Tom Chambers, Freeman Williams, Len Chappell and Johnny Green. 

There's a lot of Hall of Famers in that list. And although Beasley will (obviously) not be one of them, a performance that puts him in that realm, if only for one night, speaks to the talent he has always had.

Beasley is doing this while continuing to defy the norms for roster construction and player development. At a time that the three-pointer is all-important, and the idea of offensive efficiency defines how teams are built from the ground up, Beasley flies in the face of it.

He is out here, catching the ball on the wing, inside the arc or at the short corner, and holding it. He then jab-steps, holds it a bit more, and considers his options. Sometimes, he turns it into a back-down. Sometimes, he drives to his stronger left hand. More often than not, he just raises up to shoot. And rarely, he will re-feed the guards.

Denver Nuggets v New York Knicks

You aren't supposed to do all that any more. Pace and space is key, and 18 footers don't count as space. In doing what he does, Beasley is bucking prevailing trends. And that, generally, is not good for one's job security.

However, just as offences are keyed to play in a certain way, defences are trained to guard against it. In this era of pick-and-roll icing and endless switching, the face-up wing or mid-range isolation is not nearly as frequent as it was when Beasley joined the league, or for some years prior. Which means opponents are less well versed in where to stand against it,

Neither his talent level nor his playing style are entirely unique, yet in tandem, they are - no one is out here doing what Beasley does as well as he does any more. If they could not do it this well, they would not be allowed to even try.

Beasley is also diversifying his offensive game somewhat, putting forth more defensive effort than usual and showing a better understanding of team basketball. There are obviously still defensive lapses and bad shots to be found; that's the trade-off of his volume scoring. But the incremental improvements are there, and the scoring certainly is right now.

Brooklyn Nets v New York Knicks

This is not to say that Beasley is, for lack of a better term, 'good' now. He is a still volume scorer, and the 32 point games still go hand in hand with the single digit games. The rest of the game is still at best variable, at worst poor - the rebounding is only ever incidental. Performances like this do not put the nearly 29-year-old Beasley into the future, merely the present.

However, any minimum salary player who can turn the outcome of any single game is a remarkable achievement. And twice in a week now, Beasley has done that.

If he is to spend the rest of his career as a hired gun, freelancing year on year and always having to reprove his scoring to offset his limitations, so be it. He has reminded us this week that he is quite a good one.

Topics:
Kristaps Porzingis
New York Knicks
Atlantic Division
Eastern Conference
NBA
Derrick Rose
Chicago Bulls
Central Division
Boston Celtics
Derrick Rose

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