One of the feel-good stories of the 2013-14 NBA season—for people who are capable of feeling good about things that happen to members of the Miami Heat—is the resurgence of Greg Oden and Michael Beasley.
Oden, the once-in-a-generation talent, had seen his hoops prospects collapse since he entered the Association with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft. Injuries crippled him, rendering a big man with incredible instincts and impossible physicality simply a big, broken man.
Beasley’s fall was a more conventional one. After entering the NBA No. 2 overall in 2008, he showed a shaky feel for the professional game, played out of position at the three, developed the nasty habit of taking a lot of shots he couldn’t hit and was chased out of a handful of NBA cities before landing back in Miami—where he was originally drafted.
So there’s a satisfying symmetry, maybe even a poetry, to the fact that in 2013-14, in one of the finest basketball incubators in the world and on the biggest stage the sport offers, two of the biggest busts in the last decade have found themselves.
They’ve become, if not the players we thought they’d be, maybe the players they were always meant to be: contributors to a winning team.
Oden has been very good. Though he’s only played nine minutes per game for Miami, the center is posting per 36 minute averages of 11.8 points on 57.4 percent shooting, 8.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks for the Heat. His win share per 48 minutes of .126, per Basketball-Reference, is 26 percent above league average.
For a backup big man, this is tremendous production. For a backup big man who hasn’t played basketball since December of 2009, it’s the stuff Disney movies are made of.
Meanwhile Beasley has similarly impressed. So far this season, the forward has per 36 averages of 18.7 points on 49.3 percent shooting, 7.6 rebounds and 0.7 assists. Scoring efficiency, however, has been the key to his resurgence.
Teams simply didn’t used to trust Beasley with the basketball. In each of his first five seasons in the NBA, his field-goal percentage trended downward, sinking like a stone from 47.2 his rookie year to 40.5 last season with the Phoenix Suns.
This season, playing down low more with Miami, Beasley didn’t merely arrest that trend but completely reversed it. His 49.3 field-goal percentage and 55.2 true shooting percentage, per Basketball-Reference, are leaps and bounds above what he’s done at any other point in his career.
A lot of this success has come from simply avoiding situations where the forward is ill-equipped to succeed. In a December column that still holds, ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh wrote:
Beasley's transformation is startling. Last season in Phoenix, Beasley's third most frequent scoring play type put him as the ball handler in a pick-and-roll, according to Synergy tracking. Not the guy setting the screen, mind you, the guy running it. Synergy tells us that he tried to score as the pick-and-roll ball handler 120 times last season, or almost two times per game on average. But it was his least efficient action, spitting out a measly 0.708 points per play.
You know how many plays Beasley has finished as the pick-and-roll ball handler in Miami? Two. In 13 games.
While Beasley has seen his playing time limited lately, both he and Oden figure to stick around Miami for a while.
The Heat will look very different next season—when they’re either chasing a fourth-consecutive title or regrouping after a failed bid for a third—than they do at present. The team has an NBA-high 13 potential unrestricted free agents. Of this cohort, the Big Three seem most likely to return to South Beach, but there’s even some doubt there.
Miami is an organization with grand ambition, and it’s helmed by a man—Pat Riley—who isn’t known for sentimentality. If he thinks he can find someone else better, he will. He always has.
"You have to have a big-picture approach. That's what I do best; I try to see the big picture," Riley told ESPN’s Michael Wallace.
When the executive considers this picture, he’ll likely find that he won’t be able to do much better than Beasley and Oden. The two are making a combined salary of under $2 million in 2013-14, according to HoopsHype, and while each, to an extent, proved himself this season, neither was so wildly productive that a large contract offer seems in the offing.
Both seem like role players. They produced well enough to keep but not so well that there will be a bidding war for their services.
Which isn’t to say they aren’t, potentially, very attractive pieces. They’re each—after all that’s happened—still undeniably talented players. Especially relative to the flotsam some other NBA teams bring off the bench.
They can do things few can and hardly any veterans do at that price. Furthermore, at 25 and 26, they’re still young enough to not only get better but also to grow into a system—a system they’ve already showed some comfort in.
Beasley and Oden finding long-lost success with the Miami Heat is a great story, but 2013-14 may have just been the first chapter.
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