There has been nary a dull moment during Michael Beasley’s tenure as a Knick. How can New York continue to deploy him as the season outlook turns murky?
Nothing about Michael Beasley’s career has been conventional. In a league stockpiled with massive personalities, he has always managed to stand out. He is the personification of an enigma. He rocks a watch on his ankle. He paints his nails. During his leisure time, he researches the inner workings of the human brain. On the court, he is just as much of a question mark.
It’s not that you don’t know what he will give you, but more so how much and in what manner. There is no good sports comparison for what he gives the Knicks. Think of him as putting pepper on your pizza. Too much of it, and your slice is done. Too little, and you’re not really getting the best possible slice.
There have been instances where a lot of Beasley has resulted in great outcomes. His 32-point explosion against the Celtics is a perfect example.
Another gem was his game against the Thunder where he filled in for an injured Kristaps Porzingis and gave ‘Melo a 30-piece. Then there are games where he fouls out in ten minutes of action.
What Hornacek wants (or should want) is to find out how to get the most out of Beasley without leaving him in for too long. Scoring has and will never be the problem with Beasley’s game. When he’s on the court, the team scores at a slightly better clip. Per Basketball-Reference, the team has an offensive rating of 108.5 compared to 107.6 when he’s off. The problem is his defense, or lack thereof.
When he’s on the court, the Knicks defensive rating skyrockets from 106.3 to 111.5. The frustrating part is that there is no real answer for why he’s nonexistent on one end while being so vibrant on the other. There are only two possible answers–he still lacks discipline on that end of the floor, or he simply doesn’t care.
Being one-dimensional is not a foreign concept in today’s NBA. In fact, the league is trending towards it. There are specialists of all types with rosters being patched together like LEGO sets. Up to this point, it has felt like Hornacek has gone to his scoring specialist only when everything else has gone to up in smoke.
Beasley saw his greatest share of minutes during the 20-game stretch Tim Hardaway Jr. was sidelined. He averaged 22.7 minutes and poured in 16.4 points on an efficient 53.4 percent field-goal percentage. He was the de facto number two scorer behind Porzingis, for better or for worse. With Timmy now healthy, the Walking Bucket has been slowly pushed back to his reserve role.
There are 35 games remaining in the season, and the Knicks sit in basketball purgatory. They are 21–26 but remain three games back of the final playoff spot. They have little to no chance of landing in a draft slot of value unless Adam Silver decides to freeze a ping pong ball for old time’s sake. Their ceiling appears to be a bottom-two playoff seed where a date with the Celtics, Raptors, or Cavaliers awaits them.
It’s an unenviable position for a team to be in, but it does leave them with one option: play out the season and let the dominoes fall where they fall. Figure out what lineups amplifies the core of Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Frank Ntilikina. This is where Beasley can step back in.
Beasley seems to play well with both Frank and Kyle O’Quinn. Per NBA Stats, the team’s third-best lineup is when Beasley is at the four alongside Kyle O’Quinn while Frank mans the point. The three man lineup of Beasley, KOQ, and Frank is the eighth best combo the Knicks have trotted out.
His success in that lineup has to do with his aggressiveness. Frank is passive on offense (and that’s being kind). Right now, the best environment for Frank is to be surrounded by guys that know their game. Beasley’s mind may float, but place a basketball in his hands and he comes back to reality.
The ball is his totem. He knows the place that he wants to get, and that place is the tin. Of his 391 shot attempts, Beasley has taken 63.9 percent from inside of ten feet.
This is why Beasley should play the four exclusively. His size allows him to defend any four the opponent throws at him. His shot selection and volume allow him to share the floor with someone like Frank and KOQ. Perhaps most importantly, however, he is a nice fit next to Porzingis when he is at the five.
Porzingis likes to start his offense from the block. He takes 7.3 midrange shots per game, which is second in the NBA only to LaMarcus Aldridge. From a spacing standpoint, he and Beasley are great complements. Beasley’s presence on the floor also adds another playmaker that the defense has to worry about.
Against the Lakers earlier this seasonm we saw the optimal Beasley game. He hit the open man in the right spots. He was in the correct spots on defense. When he got the ball, he found the open man instead of bullying his way to the rim. He was active on the boards, an impressive facet of his game that he doesn’t get enough credit for.
The key is to get that game out of Beasley on most nights. Even if you cannot, at the bare minimum Beasley’s ability to get the the rim allows drive-and-kick possibilities to shooters on the outside. Porzingis and Hardaway Jr. both like to set up shop outside of the paint. Beasley’s shot selection provides nice relief and forces the defense to pick their poison.
Hornacek has already taken notice of this. To close out the win in Utah, he trotted out a closing lineup of Beasley, Porzingis, Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and Trey Burke. The results were a little mixed thanks to a wacky finish, but it’s a lineup Hornacek would be wise to turn back to.
One final need that Beasley satisfies is the future. He specifically might not be in the future plans for the Knicks, but a player that resembles his skill set might be. If he is indeed a strong fit alongside the core of Porzingis, Hardaway Jr., and Frank, the Knicks can start to fill out their offseason wish list with a clear goal in mind.
Now someone like Julius Randle, who will be available in the summer and maybe sooner, can become a person of interest. In the draft, maybe Kevin Knox is more appealing than he once was. Personally, I’d like to have Beasley around for another year or two. His craziness is a perfect fit for New York. But even if this is his first and last season, let’s make sure it counts.