When Michael Beasley came up gimpy after knocking his knee in the second half of the Lakers’ win against Dallas, a collective sense of gloom engulfed the team’s fanbase. It wasn’t just because the Lakers have become a collection of the walking wounded over the last two weeks, but rather because Beasley has filled a very important role in Los Angeles since his return to the team.
Beasley has had far more to deal with than a sore knee in his month away, as he suffered a personal loss. His return has been a boon for the team as well as a way for Beasley to work through his grief. Right now, the Lakers and Beasley both need each other.
And while Beasley may have been the final NBA player Los Angeles signed during the offseason, he has become far more valuable than the last guy on the bench.
In the past four games, Beasley has scored 12.3 points in 15.3 minutes per contest while shooting 70 percent from the field, including posting 19 points as the team’s second-leading scorer in Wednesday’s win over Detroit. He is still a Laker, so he only made five of his nine free throws over that span as this team continues to clank from the line, but it’s a high level of production from a reserve nonetheless.
It’s made all the more impressive by the fact that Beasley didn’t even have a clear-cut role at the start of the season. Head coach Luke Walton didn’t start giving Beasley regular minutes until Nov. 27 against the Denver Nuggets, 20 games into the year. Even then, most of Beasley’s time on the court came when the outcome of the game had already been decided. According to Cleaning the Glass, only 86 of Beasley’s 131 minutes this season have come in non-garbage time.
Now, however, Beasley is a meaningful part of Los Angeles’ bench unit, and figures to be as long as LeBron James is out of the lineup, which will be until at least next Thursday Jan. 16. During that time, Beasley will get to assume creation responsibilities among the backups, which really plays to his strengths.
Beasley has always been an effective isolation scorer. That isn’t how the Lakers would prefer to play, but it’s a nice fall-back option when the team’s best scorers all currently reside in the starting lineup. Beasley’s true shooting percentage this year outside of garbage time is a scorching 68.35 percent, which is a natural byproduct of taking over half of his shots at the rim.
If you need Beasley to get a bucket, he can.
Most of L.A.’s shot creators are in the starting lineup as well, particularly with Rajon Rondo out for an extended period of time. The Lakers have been loath to let Lance Stephenson run the show, with his propensity for fancy one-on-one moves and his loose compass for what constitutes a good shot. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope doesn’t have the creative juice to direct an offense either, so that leaves Beasley with the responsibility, particularly since he most often shares the floor with those two guards.
Beasley is definitely not a natural facilitator; historically, his assist to usage ratio is below average for his position. But the gravity of being a scoring threat allows him to earn some extra defensive attention and make simple passes to open players, so he does assist on a high percentage of his team’s baskets when he’s on the floor.
This play where the defense collapses on him in the paint is a perfect example as Beasley’s drive to the basket gets Josh Hart an open three.
There are admittedly faults in Beasley’s performance. His turnover rate is too high for a primary ball-handler, and he doesn’t rebound the ball well enough for a power forward. Beasley is still a little spacey on defense and fouls frequently. He also seemed very unaware of the Staples Center taco promotion and did not run enough clock at the end of the Pistons game to keep Detroit under 100 points.
But guys who are available as late in the offseason as Beasley was are going to have flaws, and he wasn’t brought to Los Angeles to be a defensive stopper or a second-unit point forward. Beasley is here to score, and after being away from the team for a month, he has brought that ability back in full force.
The Lakers’ offensive rating with Beasley on the floor is 116.1, per Cleaning the Glass, bolstered by some excellent minutes featuring a delightful small-ball lineup of Beasley, Brandon Ingram, Svi Mykhailiuk, KCP, and Stephenson.
The absences of James and Rondo have forced several Lakers into roles they are unfamiliar with, and the growing pains have been visible, but Beasley is back to doing exactly what he has always done. That comfort level is easy to see, and it’s a welcome sign for a Los Angeles team that has needed the production.