Michael Beasley is causing a stir again. Only this time, it's not for the reasons you'd expect.
He hasn't run afoul of the law, caused a locker room rift or posted any cryptic notes on social media. Instead, he's making news because he's vastly outperforming expectations on the court.
We haven't seen that happen...well, ever.
In fact, Beasley has been playing up to the level of a certain star teammate. And that fact could wind up having some very interesting repercussions for the Miami Heat.
B/R's Andrew Bailey took note of Beasley's excellent play in the early season, did some digging and asked a simple question:
Am I the only one who thinks Michael Beasley is outplaying Chris Bosh this season? http://t.co/SSE8r0XWeP— Andrew Bailey (@AndrewDBailey) December 4, 2013
And as it turns out, the answer to that simple question is startling.
Beasley measures up against teammate Chris Bosh much more closely than anyone could have imagined. Based on some of the most pertinent per-36-minute statistics, he's actually been better:
According to NBA.com, a few broader numbers that better reflect a player's importance to his team also show that Beasley compares very favorably with Bosh. The Heat post an offensive rating of 111.3 and a defensive rating of 96.9 when Beasley is on the floor. Bosh's presence on the court produces an offensive rating of 107.5 and a defensive rating of 99.4, per NBA.com.
If we only looked at the numbers, it would be hard to argue against Beasley's superiority.
We've got to take a few things into account when considering those numbers though, not the least of which is the sample size that has produced them. The Heat have completed less than a quarter of their season, and Miami has been using Beasley carefully in order to take advantage of his somewhat limited skills.
There's value in the extra 11 minutes per game that Bosh logs for the Heat, and there's almost no occasion when Miami has to "hide" or "protect" him from unfavorable matchups.
Still, it seems Miami has figured out who B-Eazy is.
In the past, Beasley was miscast as a star scorer, an offensive focal point expected to do just about everything. Now, he's being asked to take shots within the flow of his team's offense. Creative control no longer belongs to him. He's not supposed to think too much with the ball; opportunities come to him, and he is almost never put in a position where he needs to think more than one or two steps ahead.
He's thrived in that role, which gives credence to the idea that he'd been totally misused in previous stops.
That's not to say that he wasn't largely responsible for the various flameouts that have marked his career to this point. A bad attitude and lackadaisical play are personal faults. But it probably didn't help that he operated in systems that—to one degree or another—set him up to fail.
Head coach Erik Spoelstra has taken note of Beasley's great play and has indicated recently that a even more growth might be on the horizon.
Per Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald, Spoelstra said:
He has been rebounding very well—much like he did when he came into this league. What people expected out of him. The skill of scoring now is coming more within the context of what we do. As long as he keeps in embracing the work, I think he’ll see bigger and more consistent strides.
The Heat have been exceedingly careful in picking their spots with Beasley, which explains the ongoing volatility in his game-to-game minutes.
That circumspection has had a dually positive effect. The obvious one is that Beasley has taken advantage of favorable matchups and situations, which may be a factor in his terrific numbers.
The other benefit to Beasley's limited usage has been its effect on his overall attitude and effort level.
In the past, entitlement brought out the worst in him. Now, he heads into each game without the promise of any playing time at all. Working for minutes and knowing that the Heat don't actually need him has brought out the best.
Credit Miami for figuring out the best way to motivate him, but also keep in mind that Beasley deserves some praise for his own maturation. The Phoenix Suns are still paying him almost $7 million this season after cutting him loose, so it's not as though Beasley is motivated by the financial fear of washing out with the Heat.
He knows he's financially secure, so pride and a desire to get better are probably the key motivating factors that drive him.
Spoelstra alluded to Beasley's maturation, per Goodman:
Obviously our personnel is different than when we had him the first two years, but in terms of the routine and the structure and the work ethic, it’s identical. So, he has embraced that work every single day. He is more experienced now and he is embracing the opportunities that he gets.
Beasley's growing usefulness and undeniable statistical worth raise a couple of interesting issues when it comes to Bosh.
The first is that the limited evidence at hand indicates that the two don't actually play very well together. That makes some sense, as their skills as floor-stretching bigs are somewhat redundant. According to NBA.com, the Heat play to a net rating of just plus-two with both Beasley and Bosh on the floor, far below the team's overall rating of plus-9.3.
If Beasley continues to simply do the small number of things the Heat ask of him—rebound, score when the ball comes to him and defend passably—it's hard to envision how he wouldn't fit alongside almost anyone. The best part about his game this year is that he's largely stayed out of the way.
The bigger issue is what Beasley's emergence might mean for the Heat's future. It'd be crazy to argue that he's currently a better player than Bosh is, even with those similar numbers. We can't take a few games of comparable play and assign as much value to them as we do to Bosh's three years of excellent service.
And let's also keep in mind that at least some portion of Beasley's resurrection is probably owing to the positive influence of the Heat's veterans—Bosh included.
But if Beasley manages to keep up his current levels over the long haul, it's possible that he could be somewhere around 80 percent as valuable as Bosh. Considering how much less it'll eventually cost to keep Beasley, maybe Bosh becomes expendable.
Perhaps if Bosh exercises his early-termination option this summer, the Heat won't feel quite so compelled to offer him a significant multi-year deal. If re-signing Beasley to a shorter deal for less money is an option, it'd be easy to see Miami considering it.
The extra money saved might go toward keeping LeBron James and Dwyane Wade (who also have ETOs), or even adding another piece for the second phase of the Miami dynasty.
The hypothetical decision between Beasley and Bosh is a long way off, and it's totally possible that all of the Big Three take less money to stick around. If that happens, the Heat could just keep both Bosh and Beasley. There's also the chance that Beasley cashes in elsewhere after this year.
The only things we can say for sure about Beasley are that he gives the Heat a major weapon this season, and he provides intriguing options in the future. He's almost certainly not a better player than Bosh is, but the fact that he's even close is a very good thing for Miami.