If you aren’t quite old enough to remember Michael Beasley in college, he was something else. His 26.2 points per game were the highest average by a freshman in a major college conference over the last 25 years before Trae Young eclipsed that mark last season.
The trappings of NBA life got the best of Beasley at various points during the ensuing decade, but he’s always been a certified bucket-getter. The Lakers decided to sign him to their final guaranteed roster spot after a redemptive season with the New York Knicks, with the hope that he could provide scoring punch for a team with several inexperienced big men.
It didn’t go as planned, at least at first. A poor preseason relegated Beasley to the end of the bench, as he watched Johnathan Williams and even Ivica Zubac get opportunities ahead of him. The Tyson Chandler signing seemed to push him even further out of the rotation, and a leave of absence due to a personal matter was barely noticed because he wasn’t playing anyway.
Lance Stephenson’s precipitous drop in production after his hot start has given Beasley an opportunity. The Lakers have essentially played four guards on the second unit when everyone is healthy — Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Hart and Stephenson — so Beasley taking Stephenson’s spot has given them a more conventional look, despite Rondo’s absence.
Positions aside, the primary difference between Beasley and Stephenson is decisiveness. Beasley can create his own look just as Stephenson can, but he’s far less likely to consume large portions of the shot clock while doing so, and doesn’t hesitate to finish off of someone else’s creation. He’s a better option than Carmelo Anthony for the same reason.
Brandon Ingram could be the primary beneficiary of Beasley’s inclusion, provided that he continues to get minutes with the second unit once both he and Rajon Rondo return from injury. Ingram had excellent chemistry with Brook Lopez last year on ball screens and handoffs, as Lopez’s ability to pop behind the 3-point line allowed Ingram to exploit less-congested driving lanes. Beasley isn’t the shooter that Lopez is, but does provide a credible threat from distance, and that’s complemented by his surprising ability as a passer.
A flowery portrayal of Beasley’s game wouldn’t be honest or necessary. He has well-documented holes in his skillset, but that’s true of any option that the Lakers have once they get beyond the starters, Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Hart and Tyson Chandler.
Zubac has had his chances, but hasn’t capitalized on them. Moritz Wagner may have something to say about that spot by the end of the season, but just scored his first NBA points. Svi has been flat-out bad (sheds a single tear). Lance has struggled in a way that has taken over games, and not in a good way.
Michael Beasley was once a talented-but-wayward kid, and now he’s the dependable veteran option who can produce within a team concept without screwing things up too badly. Go figure.