The Whiteboard: Thunder's biggest weakness, Malik Beasley becomes elite

Today on The Whiteboard, how Malik Beasley became an elite 3-point shooter, the Thunder's Achilles' heel and more.

Mar 4, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) controls the
Mar 4, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) controls the / Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Although he's cooled off a bit, and was an ice-cold 1-of-7 in Milwaukee's Monday night win over the Clippers, Malik Beasley has established himself as one of the best and most reliable 3-point shooters in the league this season. He's hit 44.2 percent of his 3s so far, a huge jump up from his previous career high of 40.2 in 2018-19 with Denver, the only time in his career he'd broken 40 percent. 

In a season of wild inconsistency for the Bucks, he's been a floor-spacing rock. This is noteworthy because he was a bit of a low-cost gamble — Beasley had made just 37.8 percent of his career 3s before this season and just 35.7 percent last season between the Jazz and Lakers.

How Malik Beasley became an elite 3-point shooter

At least some of the bump in Beasley's shooting this year can be explained by positive variance but an even bigger variable is where those shots are coming from and who has been near him.

Nearly 40 percent of Beasley's 3-point attempts this season have been classified as wide-open, meaning no defender was within six feet of him at the time of the shot. That's one of the highest marks of his career since he became a regular rotation player and certainly the highest since he was playing for the Nuggets.

The other change is nearly 40 percent of his 3-pointers have come from the corners, more than double last season's percentage and the highest since his rookie season when he appeared in just 22 games.

None of this should be surprising — Damian Lillard, Brook Lopez and Giannis Antetokounmpo are involved in a lot of actions in the middle of the floor. Khris Middleton, when he's not spotting up gets touches in the wing and in the high post. All that means Beasley is often relegated to the corner — to his benefit.

For most of his young career, Beasley had been playing for teams that were banking, to some degree, on his upside as a complementary ball-handler and secondary creator. He was never quite able to succeed with those responsibilities but he's never been more valuable to a good team now that his role is as small as it's ever been.

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Mar 4, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) gets the
Mar 4, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) gets the / Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

QUICK HITTER: The Thunder have a size problem

The addition of rookie Chet Holmgren to the starting lineup at the beginning of this season has helped address one of the Thunder's biggest weaknesses from last season. He's been an impact rim defender, helping transform their defense and severely limiting opponent points in the paint. However, they're still among the worst defensive-rebounding teams in the league, give up a lot of points in the paint and have looked particularly vulnerable against powerful big men.

In last night's loss to the Lakers, Anthony Davis finished with 24 points, 12 total rebounds and 4 offensive rebounds, including 14 points in the paint and 10 second-chance points. And he's not the only big who has put up big numbers against the Thunder this season. 

Some of the issue is a lack of bulk on the part of Holmgren but even more problematic is the lack of size around him — Jalen Williams (6-foot-5, 195 pounds), Kenrich Williams (6-foot-6, 210 pounds), Jaylin Williams (6-foot-9, 240 pounds), Lu Dort (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) and Aaron Wiggins (6-foot-6, 200 pounds) and playing the majority of the leftover minutes at the 4 and back-up 5.

The Thunder are still a fantastic defense and have the offensive versatility to overwhelm teams in other ways. But with Sabonis, Davis, Jokic, Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert potentially standing between them an an NBA Finals appearance, it's something to keep an eye on.

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