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Stiffs Mailbag: Nicknames, Malik Beasley a starter at small forward, and more

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Answering the weekly Twitter mailbag from Denver Stiffs readers.

NBA: Playoffs-Denver Nuggets at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Mailbag time! Let’s do it.


There is certainly an argument for Malik Beasley in the starting lineup.

For much of the regular season and playoffs, one of Denver’s best lineups statistically was Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Beasley, Paul Millsap, and Nikola Jokic. It was basically Denver’s 2018-19 version of the low usage lineup in 2017-18 that featured the starters with Barton.

In 46 regular season minutes, the above five-man unit accumulated a 122.1 Offensive Rating and a 98.0 Defensive Rating, good for a +24.1 Net Rating and the second best lineup Denver utilized last year with 40 minutes played or more. That didn’t really change in the playoffs either, as Denver played the same lineup 49 minutes to the tune of a +12.0 Net Rating. Keep in mind, the sample size on these lineups is small though, and Denver used them situationally against teams that struggled to defend against a spaced floor.

That unit won’t work on everybody though, and probably not against teams with a tall small forward with offensive skills. Will Barton will run into similar issues defending, but he does have the ability to break down his man and create for himself and others. That skill is more important in Denver’s starting lineup with Jokic running a variety of dribble hand offs with different guards, and while Beasley was hyper efficient in limited time as a starter, it came at shooting guard in Gary Harris’ role. The shooting guard and small forward can and should have different roles in Denver next season given the personnel.

So, would Malik Beasley be a capable starter at small forward this season? Probably, but it isn’t certain. He isn’t the defender Barton is and is currently hyper focused on a niche role offensively. He may develop into a more complete offensive player (I actually expect it) but until then, the spacing he currently offers the bench unit and as a change of pace wing is extremely important for Denver.


I actually have never sat court-side before, and neither has the majority of the media at Pepsi Center. Generally, the media sit court-side for warmups and eventually vacate the seats as tip-off approaches. We are well taken care of though, with various sections around the edge of the lower bowl where most media members sit during the game. It’s a great experience, and even sitting court-side for warmups always gives an appreciation for how how tall, athletic, and skilled every NBA player is. I may or may not have seen Nikola Jokic throw down windmill dunks in warmups. (Editing note: I definitely have not seen this)


There’s a sizable difference between healthy Gary Harris and non-healthy Gary Harris as a finisher at the rim.

In 2017-18, Harris was unbelievable as a finisher on drives to the paint, shooting an astounding 53.2% on 7.5 drives per game. In 2018-19, that number dropped to 46.0% on 7.7 drives per game, still a reasonable number but certainly worse. His 2018-19 mark ranked 46th out of 64 qualified guards (40 games played, minimum of seven drives per game). His 2017-18 mark? 6th out of 61 qualified guards and would have ranked 7th this season at the same percentage.

Among guards to attempt 200 shots within five feet of the basket in 2017-18, Harris ranked 3rd in FG%, shooting 66.8% which fell behind only LeBron James and Ben Simmons, both of which feel like aberrations standing at 6’8 or taller rather than legitimate guards.

It’s fair to say that Harris isn’t quite at the level of finisher of Kyrie Irving or Bradley Beal in terms of creating his own shot, but he proved this past year, especially in the playoffs, that when healthy he can be a truly special guard finisher. I mean, the highlights speak for themselves.

And his Game 7 highlights feature some finishing wizardry.

Getting 2017-18 Gary Harris back would be big for the Nuggets. Or even Game 7 against the Blazers Gary Harris. He was a fantastic finisher in the open floor and still has potential to grow with this group.


I gotta tell ya man, Jamal Murray hates that nickname. I remember him being asked whether he was interested in that one close to last media day, and he gave Mile High Sports’ TJ McBride the meanest mug he has ever mugged. Usually, if the players don’t like the nicknames, they don’t stick around for very long. Many players are building a specific brand, and the media interactions are already difficult as it is because of the frequency and the player-media relationship. Keeping that as healthy as possible generally means better quotes, which is what Nuggets fans love to hear.


I don’t think Denver has any of the best four guys on their current roster, but almost all of them are really close. Murray’s great on and off-ball and works well with Jokic as a screener. Harris has proven his chemistry with Jokic countless times and works well as a cutter and floor spacer. Will Barton plays off of Jokic well. Jerami Grant feels like a prototypical fit.

If I had to choose players that weren’t on Denver’s roster though, they would be these guys:

Point Guard: Mike Conley. He’s efficient, sets the table well for others, and also can spot up off the ball, be a smart cutter, and score with the ball in his hands. He would be great as a shifty guard with solid defensive skills.

Shooting Guard: Josh Richardson. A lengthy defender with off-ball tendencies that runs a number of handoffs and can space the floor adequately. Richardson has been on a poor Miami offense with no spacing for several years. He would work well with Jokic and is efficient in many areas.

Small Forward: Otto Porter Jr. has long been the “6’8 Gary Harris” prototype. He has developed some ball skills when tasked with scoring on his own but makes his money by being hyper efficient, focusing on shooting threes and frees, and utilizing the mid range only in efficient situations. He’s a solid player on both ends.

Power Forward: Pascal Siakam. It would probably be Jerami Grant if current Nuggets players were allowed, but Siakam will do. He’s versatile, long, can handle the ball, shoots efficiently from the corners (41.1 3P% from both corners in 2018-19), and plays solid defense. Denver needs a forward with the height and mobility to cover some of the tougher assignments at forward like Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Siakam isn’t that guy yet, but he still has time.

Either way, the Nuggets are well suited with their current roster. Murray has a higher offensive ceiling than Mike Conley, Harris and Richardson are similar with slightly different strengths and weaknesses, Otto Porter has nothing on Michael Porter at his healthiest, and Jerami Grant is already on Denver’s roster. The Nuggets are well set up.