Charley Rosen's Close Look: Michael Beasley's Talent Betrayed by Focus
The possibility was intriguing: Michael Beasley, riding the crest of a hot streak, seemed ready to mount a serious challenge to Kevin Durant, last season's league-leading scorer.
If Monday's face-off turned out to be less than spectacular, it was nevertheless quite definitive.
Even the most casual NBA fans are well aware of Durant's game: Quick-draw jumpers from near and far, long-armed dunks on the run, savvy decisions, and slithery drives through heavy traffic. But after missing two games with a turned ankle, Durant never quite got his mojo working in Oklahoma City's 117-107 win over Minnesota. He shot only 6 of 16 from the field, but his point total (28) was padded by his making 16 of 17 free throws. That's because the T-Wolves slow-footed front line of Kevin Love and Darko Milicic were routinely unable to rotate quickly enough to avoid fouling K.D.
On the other hand, Beasley was healthy and wealthy, but not always wise.
The young man lacks blazing speed, yet he can usually find a way to drive left to the hoop or at least to an open spot. And driving left is the key to his game plan. He went to his right only four times -- missing three pull-up jumpers, and switching to his left hand to convert a layup.
All told, his springers were way off: he shot just 1 of 7, including two airballs. Moreover, he missed three of the nine layups he took. At first glance, Beasley's numbers were adequate -- 7 of 20 shooting, three assists, five turnovers (although one of these was erroneously discredited to him when a nifty pass hit a cutting Luke Ridnour in the hands), three assists, seven rebounds, and 15 total points.
From the low-post, Beasley missed a spinning flipper and converted a powerhouse baseline drive. But when a switch led to the 6-foot-10 Beasley's taking 6-3 Russell Westbrook into the pivot, he failed to take advantage of the mismatch and instead threw a foolish crosscourt pass that was easily intercepted.
Still, Beasley is the Timberwolves' go-to scorer. Yet with the game on the line in the waning minutes, he failed to see Love all alone directly under the basket and chucked up a wild banker that would have missed even had the basket been three-feet wide. On the next clutch sequence, Beasley airmailed an ill-advised 3-point attempt. It should be noted that he was usually guarded by Thabo Sefolosha, OKC's best wing defender.
Indeed, despite the impressive jump in Beasley's per game scoring totals -- 22.4 this season as against 14.3 during his two seasons in Miami -- he continues to make bad decisions at the worst possible times. Is he a choker? Or just a youngster who's still a stranger in paradise?
In any event, Beasley rarely moved without the ball, preferring to dance around the perimeter and calling for the ball by waving his hands. His handle was too loose, which makes his habit of dribbling into a crowd extremely risky.
Beasley only executed one spin-move and likewise dribbled-left and shot-right once. The point here being that his game lacks both razzle and dazzle. If he's shooting well, then Beasley can fake, go, and plunge into the paint. So for him to be a fail-safe scorer, it's absolutely necessary that his jumpers fall. Moreover, Beasley needs to be much more creative when he does attack the ring.
Yes, he blocked a careless layup attempt by Durant and drew a charge on Westbrook. But he also turned his head multiple times, thereby allowing Sefolosha to score a pair of uncontested layups, and permitting K.D. to make a backdoor cut and turn a lob pass into a resounding dunk.
Actually, Beasley's on-the-ball defense is barely passable, but his concentration vanishes when he's playing on the weak-side: losing touch with his man; not knowing whether to switch, to stay, or to show-and-recover; aimlessly wandering in no-man's land; getting faked off his feet by guards near the bonus-arc; and not even thinking of boxing out in the battle of the boards.
In other words, he's a chump on defense.
In face-to-face oppositions, Durant torched Beasley for nine points, Sefolosha got him for four points, and Jeff Green tallied a bucket. Tack on the six points that the Thunder registered on breakaways created by Beasley's turnovers and he was directly responsible for the hometown team's scoring 21 points. With his own 15 points scored, plus another six resulting from his three assists, Beasley's performance was a wash, and not helpful production from the Wolves' leading scorer.
Since he's not yet 22, Beasley certainly has the time and the talent to eventually fulfill his upscale potential. However, since Beasley is a prime example of how playing in the NBA tends to arrest the emotional development of too many players, it's not a given that he'll eventually be able to grow into his talents.
Otherwise, the Wolves did show some grit in rallying from a 17-point deficit to claim a 6-point lead -- even though they were unable to put the game on ice.
Darko Milicic was uncommonly aggressive and, in fact, his reverse jump-hooks were major factors in boosting his team back into contention. Too bad he seldom touched the ball when the game was up for grabs. Kevin Love is a big-time, 3-space rebounder who's more comfortable at the high-post than he is playing in the shadow of the basket. Unfortunately, neither of these guys can adequately defend.
Ridnour runs the offense much more effectively than does Sebastian Telfair (who is at best a third-string point guard). Corey Brewer can score and defend but can't shoot. Anthony Tolliver has a lively body and an improving long-range jumper.
What the Wolves need is a fleet-footed wing who can create his own shots, and a big man with excellent defensive range.
The team also requires more discipline. As the game progressed, their triangle offense flat-lined and they most reverted to one-on-one sequences.
The bad news is that the Wolves, like Michael Beasley, are still a work in progress. The good news is that, despite their current 4-11 record, there are unmistakable signs that everybody is slowly but surely moving in the right direction.