Don’t label Michael Beasley as the typical young, brazen, tattooed, arrogant baller that has epitomized the NBA in recent years. He’s just tattooed.
His matchup with Kevin Garnett could be the determining factor in the Celtics’ best-of-7 series with the Miami Heat. Beasley is the Heat’s hulking power forward, a left-handed bull with a smooth jump shot and the agility and athleticism of a shooting guard.
He entered the NBA at age 19, struggled with maturity and the idiosyncrasies of the professional game and then suffered a mental breakdown last summer that required rehabilitation. His second year has been improved but the Heat has been troubled by his maddening inconsistency. Beasley, 20, is a kid in man’s body playing a man’s game.
His immaturity makes him a perfect victim for Garnett’s game-long, trash-talking exhibition that had rattled many a young power forward over the past few years.
Yet, when Garnett was asked about Beasley on Friday, he had nothing but compliments.
“Beasley’s one of the more difficult matchups in this league,” Garnett said. “Obviously he’s left-handed but he can go right-handed. He finishes strong. He’s powerful. He has the youth element on his side but at the same time he’s aggressive. He believes in his game and his craft and he’s effective with it.”
Beasley has had confidence issues in his short NBA career and hasn’t exactly heard to such compliments from Garnett during their intense battles. So when told that Garnett said just flattering things about him, Beasley took his each tattooed finger of his right hand and strummed his chin in confusion.
“He said that, for real?” Beasley asked.
Then disbelieving assistant coach Keith Askins chimed in, “He’s just trying to psych you out, pull those Jedi Mind Tricks on you.”
“Yeah, Beasley said, “that’s what he’s trying to do.”
Beasley seeks to prove he is beyond Garnett’s mental games and this could determine whether he develops into a viable second option behind Dwyane Wade. Beasley averaged 12 points and just over five rebounds in three games against the Celtics this season.
In the Nov. 29 matchup, Beasley scored 11 straight points to begin the fourth quarter as Miami led 76-72. He didn’t score again for the final eight minutes as Garnett increased his defensive pressure and likely added a few words of discouragement for his young counterpart.
Several opposing players said Garnett’s words test your manhood and challenge your composure. And the moment you lose you cool and bark in his face, he’s won the war. Beasley is determined to keep his focus. When he does, he is one of the better young players in the game.
“It’s war with him, it’s no fun and games,” Beasley said. “There’s no laughing. He’s a respect guy. He tries to guard you early and see your reaction, pretty much play the rest of the game like that.”
It takes a savvy player to withstand Garnett’s verbal punishment and concentrate on making plays. When Beasley ignores the teasing, Garnett keeps digging and Beasley admits the banter has angered and offended him.
“I’m a man,” he said. “I still look up to him, I still look up to his whole career and everything he’s brought to the game but at the same time, I am a man.”
Garnett is not the player he once was, but he does have the ability to dominate his duel with Beasley because of his defensive prowess and outside game that will force the youngster to guard the perimeter.
This series could transform Beasley into a star or trade bait. If he flourishes, he becomes an untouchable piece in the Heat’s retooling plan. If he falters, the organization could easily package him in a sign-and-trade deal to clear cap space to chase Chris Bosh. At 20 years old, a time when most kids are still learning how not to burn microwave popcorn, Beasley is facing a career crossroads.
Wade respects his teammates talents and probably understands Beasley’s importance to the Heat’s success more than he does.
“I don’t know if he understands how valuable he can be,” the All-Star said. “And (the Celtics) are going to try to come at him. There’s no question about it. Garnett is going to try to use what he has to get an edge over Michael. He’s going to come at him and try to rattle him a little bit. This is the time of year he has to grow up. This could be a series that (affects) the rest of his career. He’s got to grow up.”
And part of that growing process is either ignoring Garnett or using his words as positive motivation. Part of the mental aspect of basketball is knowing when to let your play do the talking and when to command respect. Beasley is still learning how critical the mental game is to long-term success. Part of the process is remaining focused against Garnett, perhaps the biggest challenge of Beasley’s brief career.
“There’s a fine line,” Wade said, having already endured the gamut of mental challenges. “Because at one end, you can’t let anybody just talk to you anyway they want. You are a man. The ego is going to pop out. At the other end, that’s not (Beasley’s) game. That’s Garnett’s game. He can’t get into that. Let the ball speak for him. That’s what Michael needs to do.”