Michael Beasley showed a flash of brilliance during the Suns preseason finale on Friday, giving the team a glimpse of the potential that lies within the talented but historically troubled individual. Beasley put up 29 points on 13-of-21 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds, and seemed to do so relatively effortlessly in his 34 minutes of action.
If Beasley could put up similar performances on a consistent basis throughout the season, this Suns team could exceed most expectations, which are somewhat realistic in currently projecting them to finish out of the playoff picture, and mired somewhere near the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
For that to have a chance of happening, however, Beasley will need to embrace an unfamiliar position in Phoenix — one where he’s the primary option offensively most nights, and where he’s actually encouraged, if not berated into taking as many good shots that come his way.
This is how the Suns have been doing it since Mike D’Antoni was the head coach, and Alvin Gentry isn’t about to make any changes to a system he’s been running a variation of since he took over, and one that he believes in. He understands, though, that it can be a bit of a change for the players coming in to adopt the shoot first, ask questions later mentality.
“We’re going through that phase right now with Michael Beasley,” Gentry said. “He’s been on a team with Dwyane Wade, or he’s been on a team where he hadn’t had the opportunity to shoot the basketball.
“The only thing I tell guys is that I don’t want them thinking about a shot, if it’s a good shot or if it’s not. The only thing I want them to concentrate on if they’re going to shoot it is, can I make this shot. And as long as they do that, I’m fine with it. I told him that afterwards we may talk about how this may have been a questionable shot, or something like that. But I don’t want him thinking about that during the game.”
The way it’s been explained is that Gentry wants his players taking the first good shot on a given possession. The Suns like to push the tempo, so running plays exhaustively through all of their options as the shot clock winds down to get the best possible look isn’t the plan. The team is happy with simply a good, open shot — good and open being the operative words, as simply chucking early and often obviously isn’t going to produce the desired results.
“Now, I also don’t want him taking bad shots,” Gentry emphasized. “There’s a difference between shooting a shot when you’re open and forcing a shot. Sometimes it takes a few games for guys to understand that.”
A few preseason games have gone by for Beasley, and he seemed to get it during Friday’s performance.
“Coach has been telling me all preseason to be aggressive,” Beasley said afterward. “And to be selfish, kind of selfish in taking my shots. I was really going out there with the mindset of a playmaker, but I was just taking what the defense was giving me.”
The shooting freedom is the main thing that Beasley sees as the difference between his time with his previous teams in Minnesota and Miami, and his first month with the Suns.
“The fact that they’re telling me to shoot,” he said, when asked what was different in Phoenix. “And getting mad when I don’t shoot. There’s still a little adjusting to do.”
Consistency is what the Suns will be looking for out of Beasley, especially from a shot-taking standpoint. The talent is there, so at this early stage, the team is going above and beyond to make it clear to its newest offensive threat that he has the full green light at all times.
“He always looks at me like I’m crazy when I say if we play you 30 minutes, you should take 20 shots, and they all should be pretty good shots,” Gentry said. “It’s just an adjustment that guys have to make, and it’s probably a little different than anybody’s really anticipated as an individual player, that coaches are getting on you for passing up shots.”
Beasley is starting to get the message. And if he continues to translate what he’s hearing into what he’s doing on the court, we may see plenty of performances similar to the one we saw to finish the preseason.
“I thought I was shooting, but every game they tell me I’ve got to shoot more, got to shoot more, got to shoot more,” he said. “They’re not telling me to shoot every time I touch the ball, but if I’ve got a shot every time I touch the ball, they definitely don’t want me to pass it up.”