Denver Nuggets’ third year guard Malik Beasley was primed for a strong showing in the NBA’s 2018 Summer League. When the team flew into the seventh circle of Hell that is known as Las Vegas, head coach Michael Malone gave Beasley what you might call a blueprint to success for the preseason tournament. Unfortunately, the 21-year old didn’t quite take it to heart.
“It’s funny, I told him that before game one at summer league,” Malone said following Monday’s practice—he was responding to a question regarding Malik’s willingness to accept his limitations and play within himself.
“He did exactly the opposite.”
Beasley is a talented player. He was tasked with creating and finishing on the offensive end in both high school and college. He was good at it, too. So much so that he was selected 19th overall in the NBA draft. Like many before him, the hurdle he must now clear is accepting how his role has changed at the next level.
“You know, I put myself in his shoes and he thinks, listen, I played 60 games this year. For this summer league team, I got to be the guy,” Malone continued. “But that’s not his game.”
The raw production was there for Beasley this summer, but the mental maturity Malone hoped to see reflected in his game was absent. “One thing we talked to him a lot in Summer League was, you’re trying to do too much,” Malone said. “You’re trying to do things that you’re really not capable of doing.”
At the NBA level, the talent pool is obviously deep. Just about every player who gets a shot in this league has the requisite talent—or at least the physical tools—to make a positive impact. In Malik’s case, he has both in abundance. But the bar is higher here than it was in Florida state, or at St. Francis High School in Alpharetta, Georgia. In the association, being the best version of yourself requires learning the parameters of your game.
“That’s not a knock on (Malik),” Malone added. “Knowing who you are as a basketball player is so important. Not only knowing, but accepting it, and embracing it.”
It’s a salient point, and one that seems to be soaking in for Beasley over time. He’s been excellent so far in the preseason, knocking down 11 of 16 attempts from deep and shooting 57 percent from the field overall. It’s the result of a two-pronged approach to the offseason for Malik. He’s learning to slow down and let the game come to him. When it does, he knows he’s put the work in. He’s confident in his ability to rise to the occasion.
Beasley has adjusted his shot. He and his trainer felt he was leaning too far back on his jumper, and they’ve worked hard to make the changes. We’ve seen positive results so far, but perhaps what’s most encouraging about the adjustment is what led to it.
During last season’s exit interviews, Malik was adamant about wanting to improve his body, a tall task considering his already outrageous physique. But that’s not necessarily what you hoped to hear as a Nuggets fan. Malik has always possessed the physical tools to succeed in the NBA. Was he willing to refine his game? Was he willing to put the right kind of work in and evolve into the type of player Malone needs him to be? Apparently so. He’s evolving into a student of the game, not just a participant in it.
“Just from watching film, I could tell,” Malik told reporters following Saturday’s fan fest practice at Manual High School. “I watched every single game from last year that I played in.”
Of course, watching the film is just half the battle. It’s one thing to identity a necessary adjustment, it’s another thing entirely to address it.
“I made 20,000 shots this summer,” Malik said calmly, when asked if he could touch on the specifics of his offseason regiment. 20,000 makes. One can only imagine how many shots he put up.
The improved shooting is an important step in Malik’s quest for more playing time. There are four talented guards already on the roster in Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Isaiah Thomas and Monte Morris. Five if you include Will Barton. To crack the rotation, Malik must evolve into an elite shooter—a requirement that he has clearly identified. But to Malone’s point, the improved shooting, the outrageous physique—they mean nothing without the right mental approach. By all accounts, that approach has changed in the last two months.
“We went to Atlanta for mini camp and Malik was great,” Malone said on Monday. “In our gym, all September, he’s been great. And now, through preseason, and training camp—he’s simplified it. He’s not trying to make plays, over dribble, thread the needle. If I’m open, I shoot it. If I’m not open, I get off the ball and I guard my man and I’m disciplined on the other end.
“Sometimes, you got to check your ego at the door and say, it’s not about what’s best for me, it’s what’s best for the team. Especially when you come into a team where there’s a lot of talent, a lot of depth. You’re not going to be the same guy you were in high school, or college, when you were called upon to do certain things. So that’s my job to help identify roles, and then the player has to have the maturity and understanding to accept that role, and flourish in that role.”
Malone has done his best to hold up his end of that bargain. And now the onus is on Malik to meet him halfway. He appears ready to do so.
“I know my role,” Malik said confidently following Friday night’s win at home over the Perth Wildcats. “Come in and defend. Knock down shots when I’m open.”
As we get set to enter the 2018-19 regular season, the big question regarding Malik Beasley has changed. The role has been identified and he appears willing to accept it.
Now, can he flourish within it?