Malik Beasley was one of the few bright spots for the Minnesota Timberwolves this season, despite his limited time with the team.
In his 14 games with the Timberwolves, Beasley averaged 20.7 points and 5.1 rebounds while shooting 42.6 percent from 3-point range.
While the 2019-20 season is now in jeopardy for the whole league, it was lost for the Timberwolves months ago. With constant injuries, a poorly constructed roster, and questionable coaching schemes, the season was doomed before Thanksgiving.
Once we hit the trade deadline, though, a glimmer of hope was thrust upon the fan base with a complete overhaul of the roster. While this left the team with no one who understood a thing about defense, they finally obtained shooters who fit their new offensive philosophy.
The Timberwolves finally found a shooting guard that, you know, could actually shoot. So, what’s the problem? The issue is that Malik Beasley is now a restricted free agent, and he won’t be cheap.
Back in October, the Denver Nuggets reportedly offered Beasley a three-year, $30 million contract extension. The original projection for the Timberwolves to re-sign Beasley seemed to be around four years and $48 million. Even though there aren’t many teams with a lot of cap space, that contract will seem like a bargain, given how he played in 14 games in a Wolves uniform.
The biggest dilemma with determining Beasley’s price is his limited experience as a starter. His time with the Timberwolves has been his only extended stretch of being a starter in the NBA. His numbers during this stretch are very impressive and put him among elite company when done for a whole season.
If Beasley returns to average 20 points and five rebounds per game while shooting over 40 percent from three, he would join Michael Jordan (twice), Steph Curry (three times), Ray Allen, Vince Carter (three times), Jeff Hornacek, Kyrie Irving, Michael Finley, Jason Richardson, and Buddy Hield as the only players in the history of the game with those averages.
This is an elite company and consists of players who (mostly) experienced a lot of winning. This isn't to say that Beasley will absolutely put up those numbers for a whole season alongside a healthy Karl-Anthony Towns and Russell, but it is a good illustration of Beasley's skillset. Beasley proved he was a great guard off the bench, but can he be a starting shooting guard for a winning team?
In Beasley’s 14 games, the Timberwolves went 4-10, and he had a net rating of -7.7. Those are ugly numbers, but they aren’t fair to judge Beasley on. Towns was injured, Russell was in and out of the lineup, and the team was just trying new things in an already lost season.
Instead, let's look at what Beasley excelled at, and how it fits into the Timberwolves’s system.
The Timberwolves’ new offensive system consisted of threes, a faster pace, and more threes. In this system, Beasley was in the 94th percentile of guards when shooting from outside, per Cleaning the Glass. The Timberwolves also scored 3.6 more points per possession (PPP) with Beasley on the floor (79th percentile in on/off differential).
The most impressive aspect of Beasley in the Timberwolves’ offense was their transition offense. The Timberwolves ran in transition 14.9 percent of the time. When Beasley was on the floor, the Timberwolves scored 4.6 more PPP in transition than when he was off the floor (100th percentile in on/off differential). Transition offense typically results in open shots, which Beasley is one of the best at making. When Beasley was left wide open last season, he shot 51.2 percent from three.
In the below clips, we can see how Beasley easily navigates the defense in transition. When running off-ball, watch how he delays his runs. By doing this, the defenders often go with the man running to the corner which leaves Beasley open above the break where he is in the 93rd percentile in scoring. When he brings the ball up, he is patient and not afraid to pull-up if the defenders don't commit to him.
The Timberwolves were second in the league in how frequently they looked for spot-up scorers. This is another area Beasley excelled at. Per NBA Stats, Malik Beasley ranked in the 86th percentile in spot-up scoring with 1.19 PPP.
Beasley takes 33.9 percent of his shots on catch-and-shoot threes and makes 39.7 percent of them. This will be a great off-ball threat when the Timberwolves are running the Towns-Russell pick-and-roll.
Below, Beasley shows how his quick release can punish defenses. Beasley is matched up against Brandon Ingram, who has the far superior wingspan. It is a subtle movement, but by Beasley taking a small arc to relocate to the top of the key, he gives himself a much easier shot. By relocating this way, Beasley can step into his shot, create more space from his defender, and not worry about having to square up his hips and shoulders mid-shot.
The downside to Beasley is that he is a complete negative on defense. He struggles to stay with his man, doesn’t force turnovers, and lacks the size to switch. This team, however, hasn’t seemed to care about defense.
This summer, it seems to be a no brainer for the Timberwolves to resign Malik Beasley. He fits their offensive scheme, and they can’t come up empty-handed after trading away a fan and locker room favorite: Robert Covington.
In recent years we’ve seen some varying contracts given out to guards. While these aren’t direct comparisons in playstyle, it is a decent place to start for what type of money Beasley will be looking at.
Last offseason, Terry Rozier signed for three years and $56 million, and Terrence Ross signed for four years and $54 million. The summer before that, former Denver teammate Will Barton signed for four years and $53 million and JJ Redick signed for one year and $12 million.
The common theme for off-ball scoring guards has been that they are signing for around $12-15 million annually. Malik Beasley being a restricted free agent throws a wrench into things because if a team like the New York Knicks comes in with a $20+ million offer, the Timberwolves should, unfortunately, walk away.
However, if the Timberwolves can sign or match an offer in the $15 million a year range, they absolutely should bring back Malik Beasley.
Only time will tell how the rest of the league views Malik Beasley, and how much the Wolves are willing to pony up to keep him in their future plans.