Miami's low-cost gamble on Michael Beasley has gone better than most people had hoped. Just a month into the season, the Heat's 2008 first-round draft pick has gone from a rotation afterthought to a presence in fourth-quarter lineups for the last two Heat games. Considering that Erik Spoelstra benched Beasley in favor of Udonis Haslem several times during the Kansas State product's first two NBA seasons, people should not understate that fact. But now that he looks comfortable playing alongside Miami's starters, should be supplant Shane Battier as one of the Heat's starters?
Arguably Beasley's most promising minutes came in the fourth quarter of Miami's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night. He worked well within the Heat offense, dishing to Wade for a jumper before receiving a bounce-pass from Chris Bosh in a fast-break for a dunk. His nine rebounds that night were just as important as his 17 points, though, and it's a good sign that Beasley has lately improved his rebounding numbers.
Beasley seemingly always shot the ball after he received it earlier in the season. Now he's playing crunch-time minutes in close games. He's also competing on defense and helping out on the glass. Now some Heat fans are clamoring for him to start.
The former No. 2 pick should undoubtedly play ahead of Rashard Lewis, who is shooting just 32 percent from 3-point range this season. But Beasley should not start, simply because his offense gives Miami a valuable punch off the bench. Beasley is clearly best at scoring in flurries; he made all seven of his points last night in an 86-second span. In Miami's home game against the Orlando Magic last Saturday, Beasley made four baskets in a stretch that lasted two minutes and 17 seconds.
It's always good to have players who can create their own shots come off the bench. It's why coaches like Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich had Lamar Odom and Manu Ginobili play the sixth-man role for their respective teams. Miami's lineups that started second and fourth quarters last season -- Wade with four subs -- were often liabilities. Now those units are extending leads, not squandering them. Beasley's a big part of the reason why.
To start second and fourth quarters, Miami now has Beasley and a leaner, quicker Ray Allen surrounding a healthy Wade. The Heat turned a first-quarter deficit against the Cavaliers into a lead with its second unit, and also grew a lead against the Raptors in the second period. Beasley shouldn't start for the same reason that Allen doesn't even start when Wade sits out with an injury. His offense is simply better placed with the second unit.
In fact, Beasley's timely offense played a huge role in the Heat's ability to close out three straight games with bench lineups earlier this month. But if Beasley started, the Heat's bench would worsen and those second-quarter lineups would return to net-negatives for Miami.
That doesn't mean that Beasley shouldn't continue playing in crunch-time lineups -- as Allen frequently does. But it just makes sense for him to come into the game in the second quarter to buttress Wade and Allen with his scoring.