Tuesday’s game between the Knicks and Lakers was pretty fun to watch, but it was also a reminder that New York is gradually staggering out of the Basketball Dark Ages, its path forward lit by the bright French teen Frank Ntilikina and the divine rays emanating from The Long Son of God.
It was also a reminder of another thing, although this one has been true for many years. It is this: All that prevents Michael Beasley from being a highly productive basketball player is that he is very weird. I don’t mean that in a bad way, or even a judgmental one. I mean that he is constantly, at all times, consumed by child-like wonder, and that this is an unusual way for adults that play in the NBA (or do anything, really) to be.
It’s not as if Beasley has lost a step. Nearly a decade and two stints in the Chinese Basketball Association later, this former No. 2. overall pick is still obviously blessed with unusual talent. If it is a bucket you seek, he can procure a bucket. He will find a way. He will batter his way down low with his butt, he will roll off his defender like water, he will explode right past the sturdy and spidery Julius Randle. Sit back and watch Beas work. He can get you the bucket. He wants to get you the bucket. Don’t worry about it.
But watch him improvise in the interstitial spaces between jump shot and layup—strange little leaners, floaters, and tip-ins emerge from his hands, smoother than they have any right to be. Catch him mid-flight, teetering back at a 45-degree angle with three enemy limbs clotting his field of vision, and still his body maintains its simple stoned composure. “A lot of his shots may look like they’re off balance, but those are shots he shoots and makes all the time,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said last night. I submit that when Michael Beasley is playing even reasonably well—in that humble subset of NBA games—he has one of the most telegenic offensive repertoires in the league.
The issue, as always, is that Beasley is not always that way. He might also spend the next defensive possession admiring the image resolution on the Jumbotron. He might spend all of his six fouls in less than ten minutes of playing time, as he did on Sunday, to a standing ovation. Every game presents its own psychedelic basketball odyssey.
Tuesday night, Michael Beasley missed his first five shots and made his last four. By that juncture the Knicks creativity had run dry and Kristaps Porzingis was struggling to adapt to the double teams the Lakers threw his way. Porzingis unleashed 37 points and 11 rebounds but still has a tiny bit of unhelpful stubbornness in him; he has a hammer, and he knows it, but he sometimes spends a lot of time banging away on things that only sort of look like nails. Late on Tuesday he just swinging and swinging at things that were not nails; this 7-foot-3 deity was blocked twice in the final minutes of regulation.
The Knicks needed something else from someone else. For a team in need to get precious crunch-time buckets not from its burgeoning superstar or its newly confident rookie or an over-performing Enes Kanter or uh Courtney Lee but Michael Beasley felt somehow miraculous. His 13 points on 13 shots look banal and like the most rote sort of Michael Beasley game on paper. But you had to have seen them happen; you had to know what led up to them, had to know the mystifying persona that produced them.
Michael Beasley hung 30 points on the Rockets in late November, but Michael Beasley is not a reliable rotation player. Michael Beasley can score one-on-one against almost any defender you put in front of him, but Michael Beasley is on a one-year, $2,116,955 contract. If he is in the NBA next season, it will almost certainly be with a different team. New York ought to enjoy him while they still can, and the Knicks ought to extract every bit of eccentric genius that they can possibly coax out of him. It’s hard to say how much that will be. It’s easy to see that, after all these years, there’s still a great deal of it in him.