CHICAGO -- The Heat's Michael Beasley tried to explain his role with the two-time defending champions.
"I don't really have one," Beasley said. "Just do what I'm told with energy."
With more than a fifth of the season gone, Beasley may not know exactly how he fits into Miami's rotation, but at least one thing is clear: He does have a place.
Beasley is experiencing a resurgence this season in his second stint with Miami, which drafted him second in 2008. The 6-foot-10 forward is posting career-high marks in field-goal percentage (54.6), true shooting percentage (60.9) and Player Efficiency Rating (22.2) -- the last of which ranks 17th in the NBA. Beasley is also averaging personal bests of 23.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per 36 minutes, according to Basketball-Reference.com, and has already eclipsed the number of win shares (a statistic that attempts to quantify how many wins for which a player is responsible) that he contributed in 75 and 47 games, respectively, during the past two seasons.
How has Beasley, just months after being released by the Suns for failing to meet the team's standards for "personal and professional conduct," emerged as one the Heat's most valuable role players? Not even Beasley knows for sure.
"As the season progresses, we'll know a lot more," he said before Thursday's game against the Bulls. "It's early in the season."
The 24-year-old makes an important point: It's probably too early to draw any definitive conclusions about how Beasley can chip in this season. But from what he's shown so far, Beasley appears to have turned over a new leaf under Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
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After Miami traded him to Minnesota in July 2010 to provide financial flexibility for the union of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Beasley struggled -- both on and off the court -- over three seasons with the Timberwolves and Phoenix. Beasley developed a reputation as an inefficient, possession-gobbling chucker and a lackluster defender. He had usage rates higher than 25 percent in all three seasons -- which put him among the league leaders -- while cracking the one-point-per-possession barrier in offensive efficiency only once (he averaged just 0.87 points per possession with the Suns last season). It didn't help that Beasley's teams combined to win 68 games in those three years.
Beasley's off-the-court behavior also raised concerns. His list of transgressions, which dates to a marijuana-related incident at the 2008 Rookie Transition Program, includes a citation for marijuana possession after being pulled over for speeding during the 2011 lockout; a physical altercation during an exhibition game in August of the same year; multiple traffic citations; and involvement in a sexual assault investigation last May (he has not been charged). When Phoenix willingly ate $7 million to release Beasley in September, one month after he was arrested for marijuana possession, the move was easy to rationalize: Beasley was an ineffective player on the court and a nuisance off it.
His chance to become a productive regular in the NBA seemed to have come and gone. But that was before Miami, looking to acquire low-cost assets with some upside, decided to take a second chance on Beasley. Its gamble appears to be paying off.
"Michael's been very good," Spoelstra said.
The Heat's decision to sign Beasley to a veteran minimum's deal was based, in part, on the potential he flashed while playing for Miami his first two years in the league.
"That was a different team so I don't think a lot of people noticed, but he was playing much better his second year from his rookie year," Spoelstra said. "When we had an opportunity to bring him back into our family this summer, we didn't hesitate."
South Carolina coach Frank Martin, Beasley's coach during his one season at Kansas State, was thrilled when Beasley rejoined Miami. Beasley starred with the Wildcats under Martin, averaging 26.2 points and 12.4 rebounds and being named the Big 12 Player of the Year and USBWA National Freshman of the Year. Beasley's immense potential shined through at various points over his first five NBA seasons, but he needed a more structured environment, Martin believes, before he could consistently unleash his natural talent.
"Mike needs that organization a lot more than that organization needs him," Martin said. "Because of that, I think now his talents can help their team grow as he grows back into who he was when they drafted him."
The Heat, who lack depth in the frontcourt, can find good use in a capable forward off the bench like Beasley. But where, precisely, does he fall in the Heat's big man pecking order? And what do the Heat expect from him when he comes off the bench?
"It's hard to tell," Beasley said.
Whereas several of Miami's role players have defined responsibilities, Beasley's duties can change on a nightly basis. During a recent win over Toronto, for example, Beasley made crucial defensive contributions in the fourth quarter, including two important rebounds, to stave off a Raptors comeback, but he attempted just three shots in 14 minutes. Contrast that with Miami's win over Cleveland two days earlier, when Beasley shot 5-for-10 from the field for 17 points while grabbing nine rebounds in 26 minutes.
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Given Beasley's varied playing time -- he averages 17.6 minutes, but has played 15, 31 and 23 minutes, respectively, over Miami's last three games -- it's clear that Spoelstra is still trying to figure out how he can best boost the Heat. Beasley could well find a niche in which he contributes consistently, but if he does, it probably won't happen for a while. In the meantime, Beasley is content to be Miami's glue guy, doing whatever is needed, based on circumstance, to lift his team.
"Just put me on the floor -- no role, no positions," he said. "You've got a team full of guys who can do so much, in so many different ways. It's going to change up every night. One night I'll be the scorer, one night I'll be the rebounder, one night I'll be the defensive stopper, one night I'll be the playmaker."
After Thursday's 107-87 loss to the Bulls, Beasley retreated to a quiet locker room, to a team that had dropped consecutive games for just the second time since last January. Beasley, who finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in 23 minutes, wasn't happy. Nor were his teammates, a group that has dropped just five games this season, second fewest in the Eastern Conference.
Beasley has plenty of reason to be optimistic, though. After a tumultuous three seasons with losing teams, he's with a stable franchise that is pursuing its third consecutive championship and provides the environment for him to become the player -- or something close to it, at least -- his brief college career suggested he could be. Above all else, Beasley can help Miami win.
"That's the whole idea with this team," Spoelstra said. "It's not about how many minutes, how many shots, how many opportunities you get. It's when your number is called, 'Can you help us win?' And he's done a very good job of that."