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Knicks 2017-18 Player Review: Michael Beasley

Walking Bucket did more than score in New York.

NBA: New York Knicks at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week a half-dozen Knicks worked out in front of new coach David Fizdale, all youngsters looking to prove their place in the Association: Frank Ntilikina; Isaiah Hicks; Emmanuel Mudiay; Damyean Dotson; Troy Williams; Trey Burke. Also present that day, working out individually, was a 29-year-old entering his 10th season as a pro. That 29-year-old was top-four among all Knicks last year in:

  • field goals made & attempted, and field goal %
  • three-point %
  • made free throws
  • offensive rebounds
  • defensive rebounds
  • blocks
  • points per game
  • usage %
  • defensive win shares

He was also second in dunks and fouls drawn and led the team in and-1s. All that despite ranking seventh in minutes and his $2.1M salary just 14th among Knicks. And yet, Vegas would probably say odds are Michael Beasley will be gunslinging somewhere new next season. That would make it five teams in five years; he’s never played more than two straight seasons with the same team. Will Beasley return for a Broadway encore? Let’s look back at what he did last year and consider it in the context of a possibly Kristaps Porzingis-less 2018-19.

The good

These are Beasley’s basic numbers from last season.

These are the numbers of the guy he sorta basically replaced (who made $24.5M last year).

If nothing else, Michael Beasley was a better, more impactful fit in New York than Carmelo Anthony was in Oklahoma City, something Vegas would’ve lost a lot of money predicting before the season. The degree of difficulty for Melo becoming a third wheel on a faux title contender was more advanced than Beasley becoming a bench player on a faux eight-seed contender. But the kid born in Frederick, Maryland didn’t exceed the one raised in Baltimore just because Melo’s game looked like it hit a year-long wall. Beasley did much good.

His defensive rebound % (21%) set a career-high. His assist % (12.5%) tied a career-high and his total rebound % nearly did, too. The 285 points he created via assists was his second-most ever. He played more games last season than he has since the last time the Knicks were any good and spent 93% of his time at power forward, similar to the workload put up in his career year a few years back in Houston. The stereotype of Beasley is he’s an incorrigible gunner, but tunnel vision only plagues people who use 10% of our brains. Look what happens when yours goes to 11.

He showed a (Knick) knack for using the drive to set up his teammates, especially in the corners.

In about a quarter of the games he played (19 of 74), Beasley had 3+ assists, a figure he’s never averaged in any season. He’s not just a home-run hitter. Singles can key a rally, too.

Of course, for the threat of the drive to matter, you gotta deliver when driving. Get some cute brown shorts on Beasley, stick him behind the wheel of a doorless truck and call him UPS.

The only Knick to play more minutes than Beasley and shoot from closer in on average was Enes Kanter. But let’s be honest: whether you hope Kanter disappears in a puff of opt-out magic or think he has value if his salary drops, the aesthetics of his bucketry are boring. It’s usually this.

Beasley had nights where his shot charts showed an eerily Enes-esque proliferation down low.

But as the midrange maestros face extinction, craftsmen like Beasley grow rarer, their games rarified.

There’s a Mozart-like seeming simplicity to Beasley’s genius when he’s looking to score. The senses observe what appear to be obvious conclusions, but for most people doing most things, nothing is that obvious.

Mozart, at his best, makes his music sound inevitable, even though as the song unfolds the listener is — or was, 230 years ago, before recorded music existed — constantly receiving new stimuli.

But don’t think Walking Bucket won’t drop some Beethoven fire and fury on fools.

Last year was the first since 2013 that Beasley made an unassisted three-pointer. Isn’t that remarkable? The guy who never met a two he didn’t like is mad shy just cutting loose and letting fly from downtown. Pretty sure this was the three that broke the streak.

Beasley seems like a likable dude. He seems to crack teammates up, whether it’s asking Courtney Lee about consciously looking down to see your nose or asking Troy Williams who his least favorite Knick is before declaring Trey Burke the correct answer.

The bad

This is the only video features of Beasley playing defense.

There’s not much to say here you don’t already know. Beasley is like a lot of NBA players, in that it’s remarkable how profoundly the same physical gifts and instincts that shape their offensive prowess rarely if ever manifest on D. Whatever the Knicks decide this summer between pursuing Beasley or letting him go, it won’t be because of moments like this.

The future?

A big factor in whether Beasley will or won’t be wanted back is what the Knicks want out of 2018-19. Porzingis could play most of the season, miss most of the season, or miss all of it. His availability, coupled with what kind of talent the team ends up getting with the ninth pick in the draft, may determine whether the organization prioritizes player development over winning games. If KP were fully healthy, the Knicks would still be a longshot for the playoffs; even if he does return, he’s going to need time to shake off the rust.

It doesn’t matter if the Knicks take a Trae Young or a Collin Sexton or either of the Bridge boys: there’s going to be a 20+ points per night hole as long as Porzingis is injured, and it’s neither fair nor productive going forward to dump that on a rookie. New York needs someone who can score, period. An NBA offense is like a car’s engine. KP is expensive oil. Beasley isn’t. But when the engine is dry, it just needs oil, period, or after a while the car won’t work.

It’s fair to wonder whether Fizdale wants a midrange-heavy player soaking up looks. In his lone full season at the helm in Memphis, Fizdale’s Grizzlies upped their three-point attempts from 18 a night to 26. Beasley’s attempts from distance ticked up a little last year from the prior couple of seasons, but the only Knicks to play 1000+ minutes and shoot fewer threes than him were Kanter and Kyle O’Quinn. Carmelo took just 30% of his shots from downtown his last year in New York, and last season KP’s rate was even lower than that, even lower than Trey Burke and Frank Ntilikina’s rates. If Fizdale really is about changing the culture and modernizing things, maybe he’ll start with having his team embrace 3 > 2.

But would Beasley be comfortable upping his time behind the arc? Even if he’s cool with that, would Fizdale be? Would that kind of move make Beasley more valuable, or less? On hot nights, piraguas are a Spanish Harlem delight (when the cops aren’t killing the buzz). They don’t get any less tasty if you move them to some upstate suburb, but it’s just not the same. There is no context-neutral vantage in this life.

While in Memphis, Fizdale told a story contrasting Beasley and Russell Westbrook’s intensity levels leading up to the 2008 draft. I don’t get the sense he was throwing Beas under the bus; rather he was playing up Westbrook’s intensity. But would this sort of thing make Beasley less likely to want to return to New York? Fiz is an unabashed “Heat culture” disciple, and Beasley does not always sound fond of his Miami days.

There are other potential concerns. Every year Beasley’s assist % has peaked, it’s dropped big-time the following year. If the Knicks are rudderless and KP-less by midseason, earmarked for losing and another lottery, would a walk-year Beasley abandon the growth he seemed to showcase last season and devolve into shameless chucking? Would the organization above Fizdale mind if he did? If you’re old enough to have lived through the 2009 Al Harrington Knicks, you know what that looks like: quiet nights of low-resistance losing, followed up years later with shoe commercials you never saw coming.

Michael Beasley was a pleasant surprise in a supporting character role last season. Whether he has an expanded role, or any role, in New York going forward will ultimately be determined by what next year means to the team and what Beasley wants for himself. Gunslingers don’t often settle down. Home is wherever there’s ammo and a target. Maybe some team out there that’s after bigger, badder hombres than the Knicks takes a flyer on him. If so, I’ll remember the man for his artistry. If he stays, it’s fun imagining what he might look like on a team built on youth and the freedom to fail.