Beasley, Bosh, and Opportunity in Basketball
Over 4 games in the last week former future superstar turned bust Michael Beasley has averaged 32.5 PPG on a TS of 58.7%. In other words, pretty damn good. Meanwhile on Beasley’s former team in Miami, B-list superstar Chris Bosh is averaging 14.5 PPG on 55.5% TS for the season after not having done less than 22 PPG or 56.9% TS since he hit his prime over a half decade ago. Now I don’t want to blow this out of proportion. Beasley’s not going to keep up this pace, and his Timberwolves still stink. Bosh was expected to have his scoring volume decrease substantially while playing with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. However, any attempt to argue that this is a coincidence is silly. Something is definitely going on, and while there’s nuance in any story like this, I’d say one word summarizes the situation well: Opportunity.
Wizard of Westwood’s Wisdom
In basketball, there are 5 guys on your team, 5 guys on the other team, and 1 ball. Gail Goodrich once told a story of John Wooden lecturing him upon his arrival at UCLA, saying essentially, “Gail, you’re pretty good with the ball in your hands, but at any given time 9 of the 10 on the court down have the ball, so if you can’t do something for me in the 90% of the time you don’t have the ball, you won’t get on the court”. Now one can quibble about the fact that as a lead guard Goodrich was gong to have the ball more than 10% of the time, but the point stands, and goes even deeper than you’d at first think.
This isn’t baseball where if you can just grab one of 8 or 9 spots in the batting order, you have full opportunity to show exactly what you can do. If you get put on the same team as a clearly superior player like either of these guys did on the Heat, the team’s offense is going to revolve around that other guy, not you. That means that unless you can adapt your game around that other player, you’re going to struggle. If you’re a guy got to the NBA based on your ability create your own shot, and that other star’s primary strength is HIS ability to create his own shot, you may have some really major problems.
It Aint’ Easy, Bein’ Beasley
Beasley off court actions haven’t exactly made him the most sympathetic of figures. Clearly immature and irresponsible, as frankly is pretty normal among guys just out of their teens. Watching him struggle though in Miami however, it was clear he one of his problems was confidence. It’s something I say all the time when people talk about clutch-ness and choking for athletes: The guys most prone to the choking are the players who really have reason to fear that if they make a bad play, they’ll get benched. People call the Karl Malones of the world chokers because they came up short on the biggest stage, but if Malone was capable of coming out nowhere to become a filthy rich star, it’s pretty dang unlikely that he’s overly anxiety prone as a person, and just unrealistic to think that when he struggles it’s because he all of a sudden had the fear of God thrust upon him. Beasley in Miami, every time he tried to do his thing had to deal with the question, “Why are you doing that? Wade’s better at that, you’re hurting the team.” Not every player would be bothered by this, and it’s too their credit that the Kobe Bryants of the world are like that as athletes. However, simply because a player has this issue does not preclude them from eventually leaping forward and doing their thing successfully…when given the right opportunity.
Heat, Suns, Cavs
A couple other related points quickly:
-When LeBron went to the Heat, the analyst in me rejoiced because if gives us a case study we rarely get to see. We knew there’d be some growing pains involved, and I don’t mean to exaggerate them. I think it has to be mentioned though that with all their talent, so far, they still aren’t as good on offense as the Phoenix Suns – and the Phoenix Suns have been lights out on offense since the moment their all world point guard Steve Nash arrived. The point guard position is certainly not immune to blocking opportunity for teammates, and I think you can see that with the fact that the other great guard that’s played in Phoenix in this era (Joe Johnson) has become better elsewhere. However, it’s just common sense that a guy who got to the league by making use of teammates is going to be able to adapt quicker to make use of talent around him than a guy who got here based on his individual game.
-Possibly the bigger story in “Opportunity” right now is the surprising Cleveland Cavaliers. I’m hearing some people say, “Well we never said they were terrible without LeBron”. Color me skeptical, and feel free to knock me as one of the people who didn’t see this coming. Not that I would have said this was impossible, but I certainly didn’t predict it. This is definitely a great example of players not developing when they defer to others.
Now though let’s not get too carried away with “Lebron was/is overrated” chants. The Cavs offense with LeBron was very good. This isn’t an Adrian Dantley scenario where the offense looks mediocre despite an apparent offensive superstar, and then it turns out they can do just as well without him. The Cavs are worse now, and it’s not at all clear that the plan while LeBron was there should have been any different. However, it is another factoid to point to the idea that a great volume scorer can lead a very good offense, but there tends to be a ceiling in place on just how good the offense can get that isn’t easy to break through.