The four players who sit atop ESPN’s efficiency ratings for small forwards are all superstars: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George.
The fifth? He’s earning just more than $1 million, averaging a career low in points and minutes and sometimes doesn’t even play.
That Heat forward Michael Beasley has risen to fifth in that category might be surprising but isn’t shocking, considering he has improved his shooting, rebounding, defense and other aspects of his game.
Beasley ranked 30th in efficiency among small forwards in two seasons with Minnesota and 48th (of 67) last season in Phoenix.
Beasley also plays a lot at power forward and would rank 13th among power forwards in efficiency if ESPN had listed him at that position. But ESPN lists him as a small forward.
Regardless of what forward position he plays, his efficiency rating this season tops those of clearly above-average starters such as Serge Ibaka, Kawhi Leonard, Luol Deng and Andre Iguodola.
“He has embraced the whole thing,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Players are gaining more trust in him. The staff is gaining more trust in him.”
Beasley entered Thursday’s game against Golden State averaging 19.2 minutes per game, lowest of his career and well below his 26.4 average entering the season. He also is averaging a career-low 9.9 points, purely a function of his reduced minutes.
But his 52.6 percent shooting from the field easily tops his 44.7 career average entering the season, including a career-low 40.5 for Phoenix last season.
The biggest improvement offensively has come on shots from 10 to 15 feet; Beasley is making 47.6 percent of those attempts after shooting between 32 percent and 38 percent in each of his five previous seasons.
Spoelstra said playing “with a better team” with “better ball movement” also is a factor in his improved shooting percentage, as well “as understanding where we like to get our offense.”
A career 34.5 percent three-point shooter before this season, Beasley had made 12 of 24 threes entering Thursday.
Also, Beasley is averaging 6.8 rebounds per 36 minutes, topping his 5.4 career average.
And “defensively, he’s more focused,” forward Rashard Lewis said. “This has humbled him.”
This and that
• Before the game, Warriors coach Mark Jackson called James “the greatest small forward to ever play this game. He is in the discussion for one of the greatest passers to ever play this game. He is the greatest front-line passer that we have ever seen.”
• The Heat and Nets will wear jerseys with nicknames during their Jan. 10 meeting — the first of a few games the Heat will do that this season — but two Heat players said they will not be able to use their nickname of choice because of copyright restrictions.
Mario Chalmers said he wanted to use “Super Mario,” but the NBA said he could not because Nintendo has copyright ownership of that name. He instead will use “Rio.” Shane Battier wanted to use Batman but instead said he had to settle for Battle, which was his family name before it was changed.
The Heat said Thursday that no other player was denied permission to use his nickname of choice.
The Nets announced Thursday that their nickname jerseys will go on sale next week, with prices ranging from $50 to $110. The Heat also will put its nickname jerseys beginning Monday but hasn’t announced details or the full list of nicknames that will be used.
• The Heat entered Thursday seventh best defensively in points allowed per game (97.5) but 15th in field-goal percentage against (45.2) and 23rd in three-point field goal percentage allowed (37.0).
Spoelstra said the Heat’s defense has been “inconsistent. There were times it looked really good, other times where the opponent was getting what they wanted. Hopefully, in 2014 we’ll be more consistent.”