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Play him or trade him: The Malik Beasley Story

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Denver Nuggets v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

Guard Malik Beasley experienced a breakout season last year, and he was expected to be a major piece again this year. That hasn’t really materialized, and he could very well be gone at the end of the year.

Last season, the Denver Nuggets had a great regular season campaign en route to the number two seed, and they were one win in two games away from getting to the Western Conference finals. One major piece to their success last season was the play of shooting guard Malik Beasley, who was in his third year with the team.

He shot over 47 percent from the field and 40.2 percent from 3-point range on 5.0 attempts per game. He averaged over 23 minutes per game, and he was their second guard off the bench behind Monte Morris. He was thriving in his role as a spark-plug scorer off the bench. His defense was less-than-stellar, but his offense was more than good enough to make up for it.

This season, it’s been a much different story. He’s played in just 28 out of a possible 37 games, and he’s averaging just 16.4 minutes per game. On multiple occasions so far this year, he has registered DNP-Coach’s Decisions. He and the team look like they’re heading for a divorce at the trade deadline or the end of the season. At this point in the year, they have a simple choice to make. They need to play him or trade him rather than lose him for nothing this offseason.

He Should Stay

The Nuggets don’t have an offensive presence off the bench like Beasley. Morris and the others, outside of the Michael Porter Jr. minutes that come once in a blue moon, get their points on the board via team basketball. It’s a lot of pick-and-roll with passes from Morris thrown in. However, when Beasley has the ball in his hands, things go differently when the offense is initiated.

Beasley can take most defenders off the dribble and get right to the basket. There isn’t another guy on the bench that can do that, and Jamal Murray and Porter are the only two that can do it at all. His athleticism and shooting ability force defenders to play tight on him, and they can’t stick with him when he gets them in the air with a shot fake.

Despite what he could bring to an offense that in the bottom third in the league in terms of 3-point shooting, he remains tethered to the bench for long stretches. The team is 21st in 3-point percentage, and they get even worse in 3-point attempts and 3-point makes. Their offensive rating is seventh in the NBA in large part due to their proficiency in the 2-point area.

It’s also interesting to see that Michael Malone, despite struggles by the bench this year, as they rank just 16th in points per game, that he has refused to give more minutes to Beasley. With the sparse amount of minutes he’s played, it’s hard to get an accurate sample on his offensive effectiveness. However, among Nuggets’ 5-man lineups, two of the top three in offensive rating that have played at least 15 minutes together include Beasley. Those two lineups have a net rating of +36 or better.

In wins, the team benefits from Beasley’s offense much more than they hurt from his defense during losses. In fact, during their wins, he has a net rating of +7.3 which is a 22.6 point swing over the -15.3 net rating that he has in their losses. When he’s on the floor, he’s causing this team to play positive winning basketball.

When Beasley is on the floor, he brings it on the offensive end, and, until about the last month, that’s exactly what they needed. The minutes still weren’t coming for him, and, unless that’s going to change between now and the trade deadline, they should be looking to find him a new home because it’s unlikely that he’ll be coming back next season to play this same role when he can likely start for some teams.

He Should Go

Trading away a player on an expiring deal is usually going to net you a smaller possible return. However, in Beasley’s case, they’re trading away a restricted free agent, and, whoever acquires him, will own his match rights. Beasley just recently turned 23 years old, and he’s the perfect developing piece for a team that is in the middle of a rebuild rather than close to contending.

Another simple reason why Beasley should go is that there is no use in keeping him for the simple fact of having him. If Murray or Gary Harris sustain a long-term injury, he becomes more important, but, until that time, he’s going to continue riding the pine with a value that is only trending downward.

Malone has put an increased emphasis on defense this season, and the team had a top-three defense for the first two months of the season as a result. While players like Murray and Will Barton were making great strides on that end of the floor, Beasley was remaining largely just an offensive threat. Among rotation players, he ranks second-to-last in defensive rating ahead of only Juan Hernangomez.

Teams are also interested in Beasley. Trading a disgruntled asset can be difficult when teams know you’re trying to move it, but, in Beasley’s case, he brings value to other teams in a playoff setting that makes him valuable. Teams like the Philadelphia 76ers that lack consistent reserves and are looking to contend now would be willing to pay up for a guy like Beasley, especially with their lack of cap space to go around.

Denver has a roster that is only going to get more expensive, and Beasley looks like the piece that is the least likely to re-sign this offseason. He’s also going to cost the most money to bring back. If you’re going to let him walk this offseason, now is the time to get him moving. He’s not in the rotation, and it’s unlikely that he will be re-joining it any time soon. Get a good game out of him, and let him go when the price is highest.