Tuesday, August 9, 2011

B-Easy's Long July

While drinking at a bar in Minneapolis last month, I had the good fortune of meeting some Timberwolves fans who were also graduate students at the University of Minnesota. Though we chatted about various Timberwolves-related topics, including Rambis' job performance (he still had a job at that point), Luke Ridnour's distinction as the worst starting point guard in the NBA, and the fact that Kevin Love has to be traded for the team to move to the next level (you heard me), one of our more animated topics of discussion was Michael Beasley, aka "B-Easy." B-Easy had just finished up his first season in Minnesota, which saw him average a career-best 19.2 points per game on a pathetic 17-win team.  My new "friends" (anyone who buys a pitcher of beer and talks ball with me is a "friend," but they really were solid folk) were not sold on B-Easy's long term future in the Twin Cities. Their complaints about Beasley were the same as most T-Wolves fans and bloggers. The scoring is nice, but it doesn't translate to wins. He doesn't grab enough rebounds for his size. His shot selection is suspect. He doesn't play with focus or control.  It always looks like he's stoned.

And honestly, there is an element of truth in all of their statements. The 19.2 points per game, good for 20th in the league this season, were second on the team only to Kevin Love, and came at a respectable 45% clip. He also was an effective 3-point threat, shooting 36% on the season, and nailing 60 treys.  So there's that, and that's a tangible contribution to a rebuilding team. However, his defensive numbers were pretty poor. B-Easy clearly underachieved as a rebounder this season, managing only 7 boards per 36 minutes, which is below the league average given the amount of playing time he receives. He also notched only 0.7 blocks per 36 minutes, which was near the bottom of the league for starting small forwards. And as always, his focus and commitment were questioned throughout the season, and he was a constant topic for trade rumors, even as recently as the NBA draft last month.

Yet, I like Michael Beasley. I actually like him a lot. Well, I like and hate him a lot. Perhaps it's because I see a bit of the Everyman in B-Easy. While clearly in the Association's upper echelon in terms of individual talent, he plays with an ease that seemingly fluctuates between casual and disinterested. Like any of us, Michael Beasley seems occasionally bored by the daily grind of his job, and looks for other ways to keep things lively.  During the summer before his rookie year, Beasley rubbed people the wrong way by singing aloud throughout a summer league game.  At the time, he explained that when he's playing, "it's just basketball, man. I've played it in college, high school and middle school. The same game, same concepts, the same rules.  [I'm] just out there having fun.Whereas the League is now filled with fairly emotionless guys who seemingly eat, drink, and breathe basketball, Michael Beasley, refreshingly, does not fit into that mold.  He is a man who likes to clown around, and seemingly cares more about finding meaningful enjoyment in both his job, and his life, than being the most hardworking, skilled professional in his occupation of choice. I like that. I can relate to that. That's why I hate it as well.

In my view, Michael Beasley has had a July that exemplifies the reasons I both love and hate Michael Beasley.  It's worth looking at the good and the bad that makes B-Easy what he is: just another guy, in a very high profile job. What we see in this long July is, in my opinion, a perfect snapshot of Michael Beasley as he wants to be portrayed: talented, but still learning the ropes.  Dedicated, but not obsessed. And perhaps most importantly, having more fun than most.

(Note that this "July" also includes the first week of August. If Eric Hobsbawm can include 1789-1799 and 1900-1914 in his idea of a long 19th century, I can include August 1-7. It's only fair.)

July 2, 2011: Beasley begins the first full month of the lockout saying all the right things. In an interview with Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports, Beasley explains that the lockout is something he had been preparing for since he had entered the league, and that he was going to use the downtime to improve his game and have a bit of fun. "They've been warning me since I stepped into the NBA," Beasley said. "I'm prepared. I'm ready. I'm not going to be borrowing money from anybody." He said he was planning on organizing workouts in Los Angeles with some of his teammates, and even threw a bone to lame duck coach Kurt Rambis, and said "I love Rambis, a great guy, a great coach, he knows a lot about the game.  But at the same time, it's a cutthroat business. I don't want him to go anywhere but if he does, that's the business." Smart and mature. Let's hope nothing happens the rest of the month.

July 6, 2011: I must have jinxed it.

News comes out that Beasley was pulled over in Minnetonka, MN in late June for speeding. After pulling Beasley over, the cop found a bit over a half ounce of weed in the car. Beasley swore the weed wasn't his -- he was just holding it for a friend.  Both the speeding and the pot possession are petty misdemeanors. And, because there's a lockout on, none of the NBA's substance-abuse policies are in effect. B-Easy must be thanking his lucky stars.

But unfortunately, any sort of marijuana-related crime reflects poorly on Beasley. Beasley has been involved in a fairly long list of weed-related "crimes" since he entered the league. He, Darrell Arthur, and Mario Chalmers were busted for having weed and women in their hotel room at the rookie orientation weekend before the start their first seasons After that, he became one of the early poster boys for Twitter mistakes by posting a picture of his new tattoo with what looked to be a bag of chronic in the background.  Finally, his new boss David Kahn did him no favors by claiming that he "smoked too much weed" while playing for Miami. Truly a ringing endorsement for a recent hire.

Beasley won't have to answer to the league, and that's lucky for him. But this will be an early season distraction, whenever the season begins.

July 23, 2011: B-Easy, along with a number of other NBA players, play at the H206 charity game at Key Arena in Seattle. I went, along with fellow Diss-cussant Long Bui, and a few other friends. Beasley got a lot of burn for his team, The League.  While I hope to write a longer review of H206, I will say that B-Easy, who I was excited to see in the flesh, was not impressive. He looked to be going at about 30% the entire time, while other pros on both teams clearly played better and harder. Spencer Hawes looked like Bill Walton when Beasley was guarding him, while Beasley settled on long, questionable jumpers. A clanked breakaway dunk sticks in my mind -- Beasley was all alone in the frontcourt, and sent the ball flying high in the air with a miscalculated tomahawk. After missing the dunk, he just sort of stood under the hoop, watching Will Conroy and Isaiah Thomas take it to his team while they were getting back on defense.  It wasn't an impressive performance.

July 25, 2011: B-Easy announces via his website that he'll be spending most of August and September playing in Pro-Am leagues throughout the states in an effort to "work on [my] craft, and stay tight." Beasley is joining guys like James Harden, Brandon Jennings, and Kevin Durant in the Dyckman league in New York, the Goodman league in Washington DC, and the Drew league in Los Angeles. Based on his H206 performance, I'm not expecting to be wowed.

August 2, 2011: B-Easy does me a solid, and proves me right:

That's Beasley getting crossed up. And the guy crossing him up? Jahmar Young, a DC baller who used to play for New Mexico State, and went undrafted last month. Nope, I've never heard of him either. Even though it looks more like Beasley slipped on a wet spot than got his ankles broken, the effect is the same. The crowd goes wild, and rightfully so.

August 4, 2011: B-Easy has an eventful night at the Dyckman League in New York City, to say the least. His team, Team 914,  matched up against Team Nike, featuring Kevin Durant. According to The Kobe Beef, B-Easy scored 20 points and grabbed 7 boards. But, he's best remembered for his brilliant response to heckler Garland Quince.

According to SBNation's Brian Floyd, Quince and Beasley had been jawing for most of the second half.  As you can see in the video, things got heated while Beasley was waiting at the free throw line, and after some heated conversation, Beasley mushed Quince in the face. And he really mushes him, too.

While that's impressive, there are other B-Easy classic moments. Such "I get paid to do this," which has to be the greatest response to a heckler of all time. Or this classic moment of Beasley defensive ineptitude on none other than Kevin Durant, a fellow #2 overall draft pick (which sounds unbelievable, if you say it out loud.)

It's a textbook B-Easy defensive lapse. The low stance. The limber frame. The look of mock intensity in his eyes as he faces off against the best scorer in the League. And, of course, the inevitable breakdown. The flat-footed stance. The ankles, thoroughly broken. The slow turn of the head. The vicious tomahawk by his opponent. The slumped shoulders.  An all too familiar sight, now with streetball heckling.

But, his team won. That's a good end to the month.


Admittedly, I'm making too much out of a single month in an NBA player who has been largely freed from his contractual agreements with his professional basketball club. B-Easy is a carefree guy, enjoying his break, and rightfully so. And I'm not a prude. Far from one.  But I still find myself hoping he figures out that he already has a reputation as a player who doesn't think of all the consequences of his actions. From not going hard on the boards, to taking ill-advised shots, Beasley really doesn't seem to understand that his actions have broader ramifications.

Given that Beasley will be playing on the Pro-Am circuit for the foreseeable future, it stands to reason that he'll be one of the bigger personalities throughout the lockout. I hope, for his sake, and the Timberwolves, that he keeps his head about him. He's both a remarkable talent, and an Everyman. That's a rare thing these days.

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