With the trade deadline approaching, it’s a good time to look at some of Denver’s players and their future potential with the team. The Nuggets have a teenage sharpshooter on the roster who is displaying some cold-blooded shot-making to go with surprising athleticism - and his name is not Jamal Murray. Malik Beasley is still lurking in the shadows, but his time is coming.
Yes, Murray is finally getting some minutes again and having both the highs (85 points in a 4 game stretch in November) and the lows (3-for-16 against Memphis) that can accompany a teenage prodigy as he attempts to adjust to playing grown men in the NBA. Meanwhile, Beasley is known more for his bench celebrations than his on-court play this year, but all those hilariously great gyrations mask a fierce drive.
He was interviewed after the February 4th loss to the Spurs and asked how he felt out on the court, finally getting playing time. His first thought? "I was kind of mad that we were losing." He famously texted his trainer from the green room on draft night wanting to go work out. Don't mistake his all-world performance as a bench celebrator for a lack of competitive spirit.
In his few chances thus far this year he’s made the most of his opportunity. What can you really tell from 77 minutes of garbage-time play, though? Not as much as we’d like, so let’s throw on some full-game clips. Check out these D-League highlights; I'll wait.
He played two D-League games and looked like he was coasting through Summer League as an upper-echelon player. D-League defense somewhat resembles rec time at the YMCA so that’s not exactly a major challenge, but he has the athleticism that Murray thinks he has. Murray is a sneaky dunker who likes to score with a bit of flash. Beasley - now fully healed from his fractured lower leg - has a very easy grace to his game that translates to the open court and around the hoop. He flies down the court in transition and plays above the rim with ease, while still having a wet outside shot. He and Murray both have that mid-range floater game too, which is crucial for average-sized guards who go in amongst the trees.
Beasley also gets his hands into passing lanes as he he plays a very aware game. He gives effort on defense even as he’s still working on the nuances, and in fact he and Murray are two of the hardest-working rookies you’ll see this year. The Blue Arrow loves to meditate; Beasley is the class clown. Their personalities are different, with Beasley playing Jackie Chan to Murray’s Bruce Lee. Greatness doesn’t only come from one approach - just ask Nikola Jokic. Did I mention that Jamal Murray claims Beasley as his main guy on the team? He says the unrelentingly happy Beasley takes some guff from teammates but that Beasley is his guy. Much like Harris and Mudiay are close, Beasley and Murray have already formed a bond.
Murray and Beasley fill much the same role when playing shooting guard but do it in different ways. Murray loves to take tough shots. He's falling sideways or launching over two people off a screen or driving into the paint for a Jordan-esque hand-switching layup. Beasley plays a more efficient game right now: get ball, score ball. He might take two dribbles and hit a turnaround but his body is always perpendicular to the floor. His form is beautiful - and I surprised our own Adam Mares by saying I prefer it to Murray's. When Malik is in his prime he's going to be a crisp scoring machine. He’s drawn Wes Matthews comparisons already, which would be a nice piece in the Nuggets’ arsenal.
The problem for Denver is how to take advantage of both players. With Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic there was only room for one to start. The loser of the competition had to take the bench role or leave the team, and it looks like Door #2 for Nurkic is opening soon. However, Jokic announcing himself as a future All-Star and centerpiece of the team’s offense opens opportunities that wouldn’t be there on other teams.
One of those options is to run a non-traditional backcourt with guards who might not be the true point guard on another team. Murray is chomping at the bit to show he can run an offense, and never fails to tell people he wants to play the point despite being a nice rough-cut of a shooting guard right now. Allowing him to play the point without being required to have all of the true PG skills just yet is a luxury Denver has that few other teams can match. Coach Michael Malone went so far as to call Murray a modern-day point guard this week, which may still be a somewhat-backhanded compliment from the red-ass traditionalist Malone. But a willingness to use Murray there frees up more minutes for Beasley.
In Denver, former Broncos All-Decade safety Steve Atwater already has the nickame of the Smiling Assassin, but Beasley is cut in the cloth of that moniker. He doesn't hate you, but he'd sure like to kick some dirt on your grave with a dagger three - and he's putting in the work every day to make that happen.
The Nuggets have some choices to make in their backcourt. Gary Harris is up for an extension this offseason, and Mudiay's name has already surfaced in some tentative and unsourced trade talk. Will Barton might be a great bench swing-man but he is also going to be expensive after next season. His transition-and-threes game with some nice guard rebounding resembles what Beasley is built to deliver. The good news is that whichever way Denver decides to go with its wing situation, Beasley should be able to fill a role for this team. If he is traded instead as part of a package to bring Jokic a second star then enjoy this primer on Beasley’s future potential, fans-of-his-new-team. And welcome to Denver, Jimmy Butler.
Until then, I agree with the Nuggets tweet below. Denver is heading for some big things - and Beasley could wind up playing a role in the longevity of that contender.