What's Michael Beasley's Real Ceiling Now?

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 31, 2013

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 03:  Michael Beasley #8 of the Miami Heat shoots a free throw during a game against the Detroit Pistons at American Airlines Arena on December 3, 2013 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

We look at ceilings every single day of our lives, and they're still hard to figure out.

How do they not cave in right over the middle of the room? More applicably, how in the world do we accurately determine their height?

With a normal ceiling, you can just take a measuring tape and figure it out. But when we're talking about the hypothetical ceilings belonging to NBA players, it isn't so simple.

Few cases are more difficult than Michael Beasley's, as the current Miami Heat rotation member has spent his career shattering expectations, both in positive and negative ways.


Coming out of Kansas State and Flaming Out

OMAHA, NE - MARCH 22:  Michael Beasley #30 of the Kansas State Wildcats stands on court with his head down against the Wisconsin Badgers during the Midwest Region second round of the 2008 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament on March 22, 2008 at the Qwest Cen
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

It's hard to remember now, but Beasley was selected by the Heat at No. 2 in the 2008 NBA draft. He heard his name called out by David Stern right after Derrick Rose's, and notable players like Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez and Roy Hibbert were all left waiting for their opportunity to walk across the Madison Square Garden stage.

On top of that, there was actually a legitimate discussion about whether he should supplant Rose as the draft headliner. Most agreed that the Memphis point guard should be the top selection, but if you search "Michael Beasley vs. Derrick Rose" on Google, you can find some opinions—ones that were believed strongly enough that they were spoken in a public forum—that lean the other way.

Even Rose himself said that Beasley was a better player, doing so in an interview with DraftExpress.com's Matt Kamalsky. In fact, he said that he's "way better." 

The overall scouting reports were at least consistent. 

Beasley was viewed highly enough to go No. 2 in a solid class, one that has produced many All-Stars and solid rotation members. After his dominant freshman season at Kansas State, it was almost universally assumed that his game would translate, making him a stellar scorer and rebounding asset at either of the forward spots.

NBADraft.net compared him to Carmelo Anthony, closing the "strengths" portion of his scouting report with a sentence that Borko Popic, one of the site's scouts, probably regrets penning: "There are few doubts about him becoming a bigtime [sic] impact talent at the next level." 

Then again, how could he not think so? He had spent a season scouting a player putting together these highlights for the Wildcats:

After the draft, the Heat received glowing reports for their selections: Beasley at No. 2 and Mario Chalmers at No. 34. Obviously, one of those panned out rather nicely, remembering that we're talking about a second-round point guard who is still starting for the two-time defending champions. 

Here's ESPN's Chad Ford, giving Miami an "A+" for its efforts and making it the only team to receive such high marks in his grades for that fateful 2008 draft:

I hate to break it to what looked like a very sober, perhaps disappointed Pat Riley, but the Heat won this draft. They walked away with arguably the best player in the draft and then got a second-round steal at point guard, a position at which Miami really needed help.

Beasley has a chance to be a superstar. With him and Dwyane Wade, the Heat have a terrific future. 

Sports Illustrated's Marty Burns likewise gave Miami an "A+," also deigning the Bulls worthy of such honors. He too called Beasley a franchise player, and it was an opinion shared by Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress, who opined the following while giving the Heat top marks: 

Whether they wanted him or not, Miami ended up landing Michael Beasley, who many feel could emerge as the best player in this year’s draft. Beasley’s production at the collegiate level puts him in a class of his own looking at drafted big men over the last 10 years or so, and there is very little question that he will quickly emerge as a scoring machine and an absolute beast of a rebounder.

That’s not what concerns Riley, though. Miami made every effort possible to get the best offers they could for this pick in the days leading up to this draft, but when it was all said and done, just couldn’t get enough value to actually make a move.

Looking forward, Riley will likely end up feeling very fortunate that he decided to keep Beasley, and it’s now up to the player to prove that he can indeed live up to his potential.

Problem is, Beasley didn't exactly prove that he could live up to his potential. Quite the opposite—he quickly became one of the biggest busts in recent memory. 

The combo forward spent two seasons in South Beach, failing to make much of an impact on either side of the court. Then Pat Riley just gave up on him. He was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves after his sophomore season, bringing back two second-round draft picks and some spare cash in return. 

Mar. 1, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Michael Beasley reacts prior to the game against the Phoenix Suns at the US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Timberwolves 104-95. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Think about that for a second. 

Beasley, who was selected at No. 2 in the first round only two years earlier, only drew that type of interest. And, more importantly, it was enough for Miami to pull the trigger on a deal, ending an experiment that clearly wasn't working.

After two unsuccessful seasons with the 'Wolves (scoring tons of empty points and failing to do much else), Beasley joined the Phoenix Suns in free agency. Despite the fact that he was playing for one of the league's worst teams, he still couldn't hold down a starting spot and eventually lost his role in the rotation.

An arrest for marijuana possession—which you can read about here, along with the rest of the timeline B/R's Grant Hughes put together to detail the downward spiral—was the final straw, and he was waived. 

That's how we got here. But now, back to ceilings.  


Figuring out His Role

Nov 20, 2013; Orlando, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward Michael Beasley (8) talks with small forward LeBron James (6) during the second quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Beasley received a second chance with the Heat after signing back aboard in free agency. The expectations were low, and he was more of a luxury item than anything else. Maybe he'd become a spark off the bench; maybe he wouldn't, and he'd leave a strong team just as strong as it was before he entered the picture.

He's become more than just a spark. 

Spot-starting once, Beasley has averaged just shy of 20 minutes per game during his first few months back with the franchise that originally drafted him. And he's thrived in his role. 

Heading into the 2014 portion of the 2013-14 campaign, the Kansas State product is averaging 11.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.4 steals and 0.4 blocks per game. More importantly, he's shooting 52.6 percent from the field, 50 percent from beyond the arc (on 1.3 attempts per game) and 79.4 percent at the charity stripe. 

Beasley, who entered the season shooting 44.7 percent from the field throughout his disappointing career, is shattering his efficiency numbers and expectations.

All of a sudden, it's forced us to reevaluate that puzzling ceiling. 

Beasley obviously isn't going to become the player he was once touted as. That much is clear, though there's a reason I spent so much time going over his pre-draft and post-draft expectations that now seem like ancient history.

We can still glean bits and pieces of information from them, so long as moderation is exhibited. Beasley can still become a scoring machine—in moderation—and a stellar rebounder—in moderation. He can still become a superstar and franchise player, so long as we're talking about the world of mid-level starters and role players. 

Hey, who says there can't be a superstar role player? Those guys have to look up to someone, and there has to be a top role player in the NBA at all times, even if he wouldn't make it in the next tier of basketball players. 

So far, that's exactly what Beasley has been. 

Without being forced into carrying an offense, Beasley has been able to spark the Miami offense off the bench, picking and choosing his shots more carefully. He actually understands the concept of a bad shot now, if only because he's playing next to guys he must admit are far more talented than he. 

If Beasley shoots a contested two-point jumper early in the shot clock, he's actually going to be held accountable for his actions. If he fails to make the most efficient play, he's actually going to be held accountable for his actions. If he doesn't play winning basketball, he's actually going to be held accountable for his actions.

It's like taking a trouble-making kid, one who has tortured babysitter after babysitter, and placing him in the care of a respected disciplinarian. So long as the respect is there, so too will the behavior. 

The Heat have emerged as the perfect caretaker for Beasley's career, not only because they're offering him a legitimate shot at a title, but also because they give him a chance at redemption. He has an opportunity to get his career back on track, and it's one that he can't afford to pass up. 

In terms of sheer talent, Beasley isn't particularly limited, but he's still a limited basketball player. That's what holds his ceiling in check and forces us to remember that despite his 2013-14 performance, he isn't going to develop into a star or back into a player with much star potential. 

Nov 15, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward Michael Beasley (right) drives to the basket as Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki (far left) and shooting guard Vince Carter (center) look on during the second half at American Airlines Are
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

He's held back by the system he must play in, as well as the system of supervision and accountability that must be in place around him.

But is that a particularly bad role? He's a valued piece of a championship contender, and he's clearly bringing quite a bit to the table.

Miami finally found what it wanted from Beasley. 

Maybe the first attempt was unsuccessful and forced the Heat into building a premier team with different pieces, but the second go-round has been a much smoother process. At the end of the season, maybe Miami will prove that it actually is possible to win a championship with Beasley in the rotation. 

This is the role Beasley has forced himself into. He had multiple chances to be more than a superstar among role players, and he routinely blew the opportunities. 

Now he's doomed himself into a situation where he must come off the bench and fight hard for the eventual chance to hold down a starting spot.

But perhaps "doomed" is the wrong word. 

For Beasley, it might not be such a bad thing. 


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