When the Minnesota Timberwolves acquired Malik Beasley prior to the trade deadline, they just might have found the second part of their backcourt of the future.
What if I told you that a player who was averaging less than eight points per game at the trade deadline was a quality return for one of the best defenders in the league?
When the trade happened, Beasley was considered to be the centerpiece of the Timberwolves’ return. But why? To that point in the season, Beasley’s efficiency, points, rebounding, and assist numbers all took a dip from the year prior. What was telling Gersson Rosas’ front office that Beasley was worth trading for?
The answer? His confidence, and the dynamic he could provide for this team from Day One.
Before we dive into the numbers, we should look at his on-court mentality.
During the Timberwolves’ introductory press conference for their newly-acquired players on Feb. 7, Wolves radio voice and emcee Alan Horton asked Beasley what he hopes to bring to the team.
"Ya know, hard work and dedication and holding each other accountable … a winning mentality."
The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski went on to ask Beasley how much of his game he still had to show people in an increased role in Minnesota:
"I have a lot to show. Ya know, I haven’t had an opportunity to show what I can do with significant minutes. So, now I am just trying to take advantage of it, be a great teammate, play-make, and score the ball."
It’s clear that Beasley has a high amount of confidence in himself, which can be seen in the way he talks but also in how he plays and produces on the floor. He brings a type of grit that the Wolves have not fully seen in recent years.
In a way, Beasley’s motor resembles that of Kevin Garnett‘s in regards to how he approaches each game. He certainly appears to be putting in the work to get better.
Following Minnesota’s win over the Miami Heat on Feb. 26, in a locker room interview, D’Angelo Russell was asked about his backcourt chemistry with Beasley.
"“Man, he’s phenomenal. Just what he brings to the team, defensively, offensively, his ability to just keep the energy going. He doesn’t get tired. If y’all watch him, he doesn’t get tired. Ever. So, watching him just fight through it whenever we need a big play or something like that, he’s somewhere near it.” – D’Angelo Russell"
The fight in Beasley doesn’t quit. He believes in himself more than anyone else believes in him, which is a good character trait to have for someone fighting to become a significant piece for a quality NBA team.
How confident is he? Confident enough to turn down a three-year, $30 million contract extension offer from the Nuggets. Either Beasley did not see a future in Denver due to the loaded backcourt or he believes he is worth more than $10 million per year. Since coming to Minnesota, Beasley has shown his worth, which is likely more than $10 million per year.
In his first game for the Wolves, the day after his introductory press conference, Beasley showed us all why he had such high confidence in himself. He gave us a glimpse of all the things he said he would bring to this team. In a 142-115 rout of the Clippers, the Wolves provided fans the most fun game of the season. With 26 made 3-pointers, the Wolves set their franchise record and were one shy of tying the Houston Rockets for the NBA record.
Beasley spearheaded the long-range attack by draining 7 of his 13 attempts from deep. To go along with his success from deep, Beasley finished the Wolves’ historic night with 23 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists and had a plus-minus of +28 on the night in 29 minutes.
This showing had fans excited about what Beasley could bring to the Wolves and excited to see him paired next to D’Angelo Russell. Wolves faithful saw the possibility of the two newly acquired guard players becoming the most dynamic backcourt in Wolves history.
Since his first game in Minnesota, Beasley has not slowed down. In 14 games, all as a starter, Beasley has averaged 20.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 42.6 percent on 8.2 3-point attempts per game.
The question to be asked is, why didn’t we see this type of production and efficiency in Denver? Let’s compare his per-36 minute stats from his time in Minnesota to his time in Denver this season.
- Denver (41 games): 15.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 42.1 percent 2-point shooting, and 36 percent 3-point shooting.
- Minnesota (14 games): 22.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 51.7 percent 2-point shooting, and 42.6 percent 3-point shooting.
Although his assist numbers are slightly lower in his time in Minnesota, we can see that he is significantly improved in all other statistical categories mentioned.
The main component to his success seems to lie in the confidence that he gets from starting rather than coming off the bench. If we go back to the 2018-19 season in Denver, Beasley played in 81 games. He started 18 of those games and came off the bench for the other 63 contests.
In games as a starter, Beasley played 32 minutes per game. Coming off the bench, minutes played dropped to 21 per game. Lets take a look at his per 36-minute stats as a reserve versus a starter:
- Off-bench (63 games): 15.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 54.1 percent 2-point shooting on 13.5 attempts, 36.7 percent 3-point shooting on 7.4 attempts per 36 minutes.
- Starter (18 games): 18.1 points, 3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 61.1 percent 2-point shooting on 12.5 attempts, 50 percent 3-point shooting on 6.8 attempts per 36 minutes.
There is not a large difference in his numerical stats as a starter. His points-per-36 jumped up by a couple, his rebounding drops some, and his assist numbers are almost the same.
However, the most significant change is the shooting efficiency. Last year in Denver, as well as this year in both Minnesota and Denver, we can see very drastic increases in his 2-point and 3-point shooting percentages. It is clear that Beasley knew what he was talking about when he said he has a lot more to show with increased minutes and he would seize that opportunity.
According to Basketball Reference’s league averages page, Beasley’s 3-point shooting is well-above league average as a starter the last two seasons, but is hovering around this year’s league average of 35.7 percent coming off the bench.
If a player increases their scoring average, it is seen as a good thing. However, it is common to see a correlation of increased scoring and decreased efficiency. Beasley, on the other hand, not only increases his scoring but is also drastically more efficient while doing it. He gains confidence being a starter and this helps his game open up and blossom into something closely resembling a star.
President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas was able to see the confidence and improvement of Beasley’s game as a starter. He realized the opportunity he could give Beasley as the starting shooting guard for the Minnesota Timberwolves. There was no better time to trade for Beasley as he will become a restricted free-agent this coming offseason and a depressed market should allow for the Wolves to retain him at a decent salary.
If Minnesota brings Beasley back on a multi-year deal, expect the duo of Russell and Beasley light it up from deep for years to come. The chemistry was recognizable from the start and should continue to develop as the duo gets more situated with each other.
Expect this duo to solidify themselves as the best offensive backcourt in franchise history in the near future.