A few weeks ago during the team’s road trip, Lakers head coach Luke Walton said he was trying to find minutes for veteran forward Michael Beasley. The former No. 2 overall pick had barely played since arriving in Los Angeles over the summer, but Walton said it would be “tough” to try and get Beasley into the rotation while the Lakers were winning.
The Lakers’ recent two-game losing streak gave Walton an excuse to shake things up, as he began siphoning what had once been Lance Stephenson’s minutes to Beasley during the team’s loss to the Denver Nuggets.
Beasley hasn’t been perfect since then, but he was pretty great in the Lakers’ win over the Phoenix Suns, so when Beasley was asked what woke the team up from their slow start on Sunday, he was honest.
“I guess I did,” Beasley said.
Walton and Lakers forward LeBron James agreed, with both separately calling Beasley’s contributions “huge” towards the team going on a 99-65 run over the final three quarters to come away with a 120-96 victory.
“First quarter we were horrible. Our starting lineup got off to a slow start and then our second unit came in,” James said. “Those guys came in and gave us a huge boost. Beas was great from start to finish.”
“What he and that second group did, as far as cutting that [slow start] off right then, we slowly started taking control again. It was a huge turning point in the game,” Walton added.
Beasley’s 14-point, 4-rebound performance continued a stretch of mostly positive play since Walton found space for him in the rotation four games ago. Over that stretch, the Lakers are even with their opponents when Beasley plays, and outscoring them by 3.3 points per 100 possessions while he’s on the bench.
That may not sound good, but it’s important to note that Beasley is taking the place of Stephenson, who the Lakers are 5.5 points per 100 possession worse when he plays than when he sits. Basically, by helping the team tread water rather than drown, Beasley is allowing the rest of the roster to not stretch beyond themselves.
Beasley has offered that aid by giving the Lakers something they were lacking when Stephenson was in his place: Decisive decision making. For as much as Stephenson has helped at times, his play from game-to-game is like hearing a scream in the distance: You don’t really know if someone is celebrating or being murdered until you see the results.
Beasley offers a bit more predictability; he’s going to get the ball, and he’s going to look to get downhill, whether it’s off of a pump fake:
Decisive pump-and-drives like this are part of what made Beasley effective today pic.twitter.com/zuDCl3ONVX— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) December 3, 2018
Or just because he sees a mismatch:
Here he is again, just going directly downhill instead of hesitating. pic.twitter.com/6ZFhKtoaWX— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) December 3, 2018
In comparison to Stephenson’s “stop the ball and dribble roughly 92 times before flailing to the basket” stylings, it’s a bit more predictable, and therefore potentially easier to play alongside.
But how did Beasley stay ready to contribute despite getting almost no minutes prior to this four-game stretch? He says the answer is simple.
“Professionalism. I love the game. Playing or not playing, tired or not, I play every day. It’s easy for me. My teammates make it easy,” Beasley said. “Just being professional and knowing tomorrow comes.”
It’s the exact mindset Walton has been preaching for the veterans on his roster to have all year, although it sounds like now Beasley will be staying ready because he’s in the rotation and will need to contribute rather than preparing to be thrown in only for emergencies or garbage time.
“I tell all of our guys to be ready,” Walton said. “I know players like to know when they’re going in and feel that comfort of the rotation, but we have a very deep team. Different nights, it’s going to be different guys. As of right now, he’s done a really nice job the last couple of games. I would expect to continue to play him in the future.”
And long as Beasley keeps contributing and the Lakers continue to play well, Walton’s plans probably won’t change any time soon.