The Minnesota Timberwolves landed several new players at the 2020 trade deadline, but none had a greater impact over their first month with the Wolves than Malik Beasley.
The list of dynamic wing players employed by the Minnesota Timberwolves over the franchise’s history is not long.
In just 14 games in a Wolves uniform, Malik Beasley has already thrust himself into the conversation of best two-guards to ever suit up for the franchise.
Sound crazy? Before Jimmy Butler‘s arrival in 2017, the list of best shooting guards in Wolves history would have included Doug West, Isaiah Rider, and Anthony Peeler. Latrell Sprewell, Wally Szczerbiak and Andrew Wiggins are in the conversation, but Spre and Wally each only had one truly star-caliber season with the Wolves and the latter was never efficient enough to be a true difference-maker.
As for Beasley, he’s sure looked like a scorer who was simply waiting to be unleashed on the league.
Beasley was a first-round pick by Denver in 2016 and it took two full seasons before he became a regular part of the rotation for a rapidly improving Nuggets squad. After appearing in only 84 total games over the first two seasons of his career, Beasley played in 81 games, starting 18 for last year’s No. 2-seeded Nuggets.
He averaged 23.2 minutes per game, scoring 11.2 points per contest while shooting .474/.402/.848 (field goal, 3-point and free throw percentages) and remained an important bench piece throughout the Nuggets’ playoff run to Game 7 of the second round.
This season, Beasley remained part of the rotation but saw his role decrease slightly. Headed towards restricted free agency this summer, the Nuggets chose to cash in on both he and Juan Hernangomez while running away from a tough offseason decision.
The Wolves were expecting to acquire a guy who could knock down 3-pointers in transition and off the dribble at something resembling a 40-percent clip, based on the past season-and-a-half of results. It’s unclear if they were expecting much else, but as it turns out, putting Beasley on the court for longer periods of time and telling him to fire when ready has only given him the confidence and opportunity to score a lot, and do it efficiently.
2019-20 Season Grade: A
In 14 games with the Timberwolves, Beasley’s per-game averages have ballooned to 20.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists in 33.1 minutes per game. Those numbers aren’t all that much higher than his per-36 minute averages from last season in Denver, so there’s definitely reason to believe that the production is somewhat sustainable.
From the initial blowout home win over the LA Clippers, Beasley showed an impossibly quick trigger from beyond the arc, both in catch-and-shoot situations and off the dribble. He also got to the rim a bit more often than the Wolves likely expected.
There are absolutely defensive limitations for Beasley, and he’s slightly undersized for a team that would like to switch frequently on defense; guarding 3s is a challenge, to put it kindly.
Moving forward, it’s hard to imagine a more synergistic threesome than the sweet-shooting, athletic Beasley, the dynamic and creative D’Angelo Russell, and the dominant Karl-Anthony Towns. In some ways, the Wolves probably view Beasley as a more talented and athletic version of Robert Covington on offense, only significantly more accurate from deep. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands all that often, but he’ll have an absolute green light when he gets it.
The question, of course, is how the trio will operate defensively. They’ve all been below-average individual defenders to this point in their respective careers, and putting them all together will be a challenge for head coach and Ryan Saunders and defensive coordinator David Vanterpool.
It also means that president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas is going to have to nail the selection of the two players that will share the court with his new Big Three. Defensive stopper Josh Okogie is a good start, but the Wolves have yet to find the ideal power forward to pair with Towns.
For his part, Beasley will be a restricted free agent this summer. Will his 20-plus points-per-game outburst over 14 games be enough to drive up his price? If so, will Rosas be willing to match a significant offer sheet?
The bet here is that the Wolves will pony up to keep Beasley. They’ll rely on buy-in and improvement from their trio of stars and strong coaching to get this roster to play just enough defense to win.
Whichever team ultimately pays to have Malik Beasley will get the prime years of one of the more dynamic and exciting shooting guards in the league. If he defends enough, he’ll be a true start in no time.