Finding under-utilized or untapped talent has seldom been a strength of the Minnesota Timberwolves. The franchise’s 30-year history is littered with well-intended acquisitions and signs that backfired in their face. After all, you don’t wind up with the league’s worst franchise win percentage for nothing.
With that said, things have been vastly different thus far with Malik Beasley, who fell into the Timberwolves’ laps last winter when the team acquired him in a four-team deal that sent Robert Covington to Houston while turning over much of the roster.
ESPN Sources: 4-team trade agreement: Houston: Robert Covington; Atlanta: Clint Capela and Nene; Minnesota: Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, Evan Turner, ATL 1st round pick via Nets; Denver: Gerald Green, Houston FRP.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 5, 2020
In Denver, Beasley had become buried on the Nuggets’ bench but was still in just his fourth year. Though he played in a mere 14 games before the league shut down in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Beasley thrived in his new role in Minnesota. He averaged 20.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. Beasley also connected on 42.6 percent of his 8.2 3-point shots per game. The efficiency with that kind of volume certainly leaped off the page when evaluating Beasley’s shortened 2020 season.
There was one specific catch when it came to the acquisition of the NBA Star: Beasley was up for a new contract after the 2020 season. Contracts are given for expected future performance but how do you develop a baseline for a 14-game sample? Beasley had played more than 10 minutes per game in a season just once in his short career. Investing long term with Beasley was a bit of a leap of faith.
To complicate matters further, Beasley faced troubling criminal charges. The outlook and outcome of his criminal case would undoubtedly factor into the decision.
In the end, the two sides agreed on a four-year, $60-million deal, with a team option in the final year of the contract. While some thought this deal was a bit much, consider Jordan Clarkson received four years and $52 million from Utah and Brooklyn gave Joe Harris $72 million over four years. Beasley felt like his NBA status was somewhere between those two players but closer to Clarkson. The Timberwolves paid him accordingly.
According to Spotrac, this made Beasley the 23rd-highest player at his position behind Terrence Ross and ahead of J.J. Redick. This is just what starting NBA shooting guards cost these days.
Something To Prove
The unknown with Beasley was certainly a concern but he has alleviated those this season. Beasley is first in team scoring average, second in total rebounds and third in total assists. He’s no longer making 42 percent of his 3’s but the Timberwolves will take 37 percent (7.5 attempts/game) any day.
Perhaps most importantly, Beasley has played well with Towns so far. In just under 200 minutes this season, the Timberwolves are plus-10.9 points per 100 possessions with the pair on the floor. Furthermore, the team rebounds better and throws more assists with them together.
Beasley has also been a great tone-setter this season. On Wednesday night in San Antonio, Beasley scored 10 points in the first quarter on 4-of-5 shooting. The Wolves led from that point until halfway through the fourth quarter. Beasley finished with 29 points but the team struggled as soon as they took the ball from his hands.
You rarely question whether Beasley came to play. It’s one of the many reasons he can be a good influence on Anthony Edwards despite their differing play styles. Now, if Beasley can help Edwards consistently make 3’s, the Wolves will be set.
Where Beasley fits with the rest of the NBA
There are currently seven guards averaging 20 points, five rebounds and two assists per game this season like Beasley:
- Steph Curry
- Luka Doncic
- Zach LaVine
- James Harden
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
- Russell Westbrook
Of those seven. Beasley’s effective field goal percentage season is higher than Westbrook and Doncic. This isn’t to say Beasley is a budding superstar or cherry-pick favorable stats, but he has played like a legitimate NBA starter just one year removed from the back of the Nuggets’ bench.
You can downplay it by saying this is a bad team, but Beasley is still scoring and grabbing rebounds without Towns to take attention from him. I would be more skeptical of Beasley’s long-term outlook if he were struggling without Towns by his side.
Despite Beasley’s on-court positives, the team must start winning with him at some point. However, he’s one of the few players on this team who doesn’t make you want to rip your hair out on a consistent basis. If he were someone like D’Angelo Russell, who is paid like someone expected to carry the team without its No.1 option, the story would be a little different.
If anything, the Timberwolves are hoping Beasley can build on his strong start to the season and turn his deal into a bit of a bargain. Avoiding situations like the criminal allegations and TMZ f—ery this offseason will also help.
Fans are understandably anxious (and increasingly frustrated) with the current front office as the losses continue to pile up. However, it seems as if the franchise may have found a starter and rotation player (Jarred Vanderbilt) from that significant RoCo trade last offseason. Finding buried talent like that is something this franchise has seldom done.