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Most Interesting Lakers No. 10: Michael Beasley is forcing us to reconsider him as a basketball player

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Beasley’s on-court production over the last three seasons has overtaken his reputation off of it, and he hopes to continue getting buckets with the Lakers.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at New York Knicks Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s Note: The Silver Screen and Roll staff is counting down the most interesting Lakers heading into next season (The 15 guaranteed contracts plus the two guys on two-way contracts). We continue today with No. 10, Michael Beasley, and will be counting down to the Laker we think is most interesting with a new piece each weekday until we hit No. 1.

Entering his 11th season in the league, Michael Beasley has never not been interesting.

The No. 2 pick in the 2009 NBA draft has been one of most quotable players in the league for years, most recently bringing to light his 29 year-long hot hand or musing on the theoretical capacity of the human brain. Although he would prefer to focus on basketball these days, there’s no denying that your so-called “favorite player’s favorite player” has earned his spot on the Lakers’ Meme Team of offseason signings.

But Beasley is in Los Angeles not because of what he may have become know for off the court, but because of what he can do on it. And what he can do on it is simple: Get buckets.

After coming dangerously close to falling out of the NBA — the former All-American spent more time in the Chinese Basketball Association from 2014-16 than he did stateside — Beasley rediscovered much of his promise as a member of the New York Knicks last year, putting together his most productive season since 2010-11. He averaged 13.2 points and 5.6 rebounds in 22 minutes per game, including scoring double-digits in 13 of his last 16 contests.

The Knicks fans, always kind to their microwave scorers, even showered Beasley with MVP chants in a December game against the Boston Celtics, leading to the newest Lakers’ now famous quote about being on fire since January 9, 1989.

Beasley’s career has experienced a strong uptick since he returned from China. His last three seasons have been the most efficient of his career by a significant margin, with a true shooting percentage of 56.6 percent in that time frame compared to his career average of 51.9 percent. That spike in efficiency has occurred even though Beasley specializes in elbow jumpers from midrange, and his usage is still at his career average of 26.8 percent.

It’s hard to say that Beasley is producing as a result of a system, because he’s changed teams each of the last three years. He is simply becoming a better professional. As he moves past the indiscretions of his youth, Beasley has earned more opportunity, upping his playing time by more than 600 minutes in each of the last two seasons.

It must be gratifying for Beasley to be recruited to play alongside LeBron James in this phase of his career after being shed by the Miami Heat in the summer of 2010 to create cap room to sign the King. (To be clear, it’s not the last phase of Beasley’s career, as he has expressed a desire to play until he’s 43.) Beasley arrives in Los Angeles as the only current Laker to have ever played with James, but that was back during Beasley’s second stint in Miami, before he had remade himself in China.

Now that he’s here, what exactly are the Lakers getting with this iteration of Michael Beasley? Beasley was signed with the team’s 15th roster spot, which means he wasn’t top among the front office’s priorities; as a combo forward, he is already facing an uphill battle behind James, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma just to get minutes. His role this year could go in any number of directions.

It would probably be easiest for Beasley to see minutes as a backup five, ideally slotted next to James as the two “bigs” in those lineups. But, even if the Lakers eschew a conventional center rotation, there is essentially no precedent for Beasley playing as a center: All of his 10 most common 5-man combinations last season with the Knicks featured Kyle O’Quinn or Enes Kanter. In Milwaukee the year before, he always shared the court with Greg Monroe, John Henson, or Thon Maker.

That means Beasley will have to find minutes at either forward spot, likely as a four. This is where he’ll have to earn minutes with his shot creation. Los Angeles has other players above Beasley on the pecking order, though only LeBron is definitively better at creating his own scoring opportunities. Kuzma serves as the greatest impediment to Beasley earning playing time here, with his positional similarity and offensive skillset. Kuzma is also a darling of the front office in a way that Beasley simply can never be.

Regardless, Beasley will likely have no trouble endearing himself to the Lakers’ fan base. He’s already been an advocate for his new teammates, most notably defending Lonzo Ball’s production during his highly-criticized rookie season. Laker fans also love a player with a little flair, and Beasley has that in spades.

After a few dark years, Beasley has forced his way back into the national conversation, and there’s no better place than Los Angeles to continue his fascinating ride.

All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference. You can follow this author at @sabreenajm.

The countdown so far:

10. Michael Beasley

11. Svi Mykhailiuk

12. JaVale McGee

13. Isaac Bonga

14. Lance Stephenson

15. Luol Deng

16. Alex Caruso

17. Travis Wear