When the Minnesota Timberwolves acquired Malik Beasley in a massive four-team, 12 player deal last year (it’s insane to think that happened over a year ago now), nobody, with the possible exception of Gersson Rosas, knew what he would become.
Even for the most optimistic Beasley-truthers (of which I considered myself to be one), an efficient 20 point-per-game scorer didn’t seem likely in his first full season as a starter, but that’s what the Timberwolves have on their hands. He’s even garnering more national attention as the Wolves’ lone bright spot (subscription required).
Malik Beasley is having an all-time great Minnesota Timberwolves season
Yes, the development of Anthony Edwards, Naz Reid, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Jaden McDaniels has been positive, but the point is that Beasley has been quite good and probably the Wolves best player who has played the majority of games (which, of course, leaves out KAT).
His defense has left something to be desired, but that’s not what we’re here to discuss today. We all know Beasley can score and he has done a lot of that this season, becoming a fantastic third option for the rare occasion on which Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell ever get to play together for an extended period of time.
Beasley’s 23 points per 36 minutes and 25.2 percent usage rate are third on the team. His 2.5 offensive box plus/minus and 2.6 offensive RAPTOR rating are second behind Towns. Beasley is top-15 in both stats among all Western Conference wings. He’s shooting nearly 40 percent from behind the arc on over nine attempts per 36.
He’s having an incredible offensive season, that much is clear. But if he continues, where does this rank among all-time great offensive seasons in Timberwolves history? Let’s find out!
Establishing a baseline for context
We can agree that to be considered a good-to-quite-good scorer, you need to average at least 20 points per game. Of course, you can score a bit lower and have solid efficiency, but 20 points a night is a pretty good season for any player, so we’ll begin there.
In the 32 seasons in Timberwolves history, there have been 34 instances of a player who has averaged 20+ points per game, regardless of games played, usage, etc. This feat has been accomplished by 13 different players. Of course, Kevin Garnett has the most 20+ PPG seasons at nine.
The group is cut down to 24 when filtering out the players who didn’t play enough games to qualify for a scoring title that year. That brings us down to 10 players.
Finally, we don’t want players who weren’t heavily involved in the offense. A league-average usage rate is around 20 percent, so let’s go for 25 percent (a quarter of a team’s possessions).
This leaves 21 times a Wolves player has scored 20+ PPG while having a usage rate of 25 percent or higher and met the games played qualifications for a scoring title. Beasley, of course, qualifies in each of these instances.
Sorting through inefficiency
What’s the value in averaging 20+ points but not being able to do so at an efficient rate?
Well, not much, so to trim the list of 21 down, we’re going to compare them against league averages for true shooting percentage (TS%) and effective field goal percentage (eFG%) in each respective year.
Beasley survives, as his true shooting (58.1 percent) and effective field goal (55.7 percent) are above the league-averages (57.1 percent TS% and 53.7 percent eFG%).
This leaves us with 13 seasons that qualify for both league averages and 16 that qualify for at least one. Almost half of those are Kevin Garnett!
Where Malik Beasley ranks in Timberwolves history
Let’s save some drama: I’m not going to argue that Beasley is having the single greatest scoring season in Timberwolves history, but we’ve seen you can make the argument that he may already be in the top 15.
With that said, it’s hard to compare across eras, playstyles, and situations. Beasley benefits from a faster-paced league and he wouldn’t have shot as many threes when Garnett or Isaiah Rider played.
Looking at per 100 possession estimates to even the playing field a bit, Beasley would be No. 10 in points per game in that group. Towns, Garnett, Rider, Kevin Love, and Al Jefferson are all ahead of him.
The argument that holds Beasley back in this conversation is his usage. All of the other qualified seasons did their work with usage rates above Beasley’s, including Jefferson and Rider, but few can match Beasley’s efficiency. Out of the remaining 16, he has the second-highest effective field goal percentage and the third-highest true shooting percentage.
Even in a shortened season, he is on pace to obliterate the Wolves’ single-season record for trees made of 190 set by Kevin Love with 248 triples. Over a full 82-game season, that’s a pace of 282 threes, a mark that would put him in the top 10 for most 3-pointers made in a single season.
The good news for the Wolves is that they have an elite shooter locked up for three more years of team control at a fairly reasonable cap hit. He’s a player that can fit into almost any offensive system with his shooting and has proven he belongs as one of the Timberwolves’ core players.
Additionally, we’ve seen Beasley improve his playmaking this season with his assist rate jumping to 12.7 percent. The next step will be attacking the basket more often and, in turn, increasing his free throw rate.
So while it would be a stretch to say Beasley is having the all-time greatest scoring season, he’s probably already in the top-15 and is easily having the best 3-point shooting season in Timberwolves history to date.