Exclusive: All systems go for Nuggets’ Beasley

Nuggets wing Malik Beasley is playing a career high in minutes during his third NBA season.

Confidence. It’s an attribute that is relevant to every single person in all walks of life.

Third-year Nuggets guard Malik Beasley has had a lot of reasons to lose his confidence. However, it’s at an all-time high.

“I’m looking forward to playing this year. All 82 [games],” he said. “This is the first time I’ll really be able to play all 82, and really get significant minutes.”

The 2016 first-round pick (19th overall) has played in limited minutes his first two seasons (8.9 MPG). But this season that’s expected to change.

“(Nuggets general manager) Tim Connelly and Coach (Mike) Malone have been telling me if I just play simple, do what I have been doing like summer league the whole summer, I’ll be able to get good minutes,” he said. “I’m working hard, so they really like that about me.”

Beasley was injured before the 2016 NBA draft. After his first and only season at Florida State, the standout guard had surgery because of a stress fracture in his leg. Therefore, he was not able to work out for any teams during the pre-draft process.

“When I got drafted, I was 19th [overall] and I was projected anywhere from seventh to 19, kind of 20ish,” he said. “That range kind of went down when I got injured. To be drafted without any workouts was huge for me.”

FINDING A MENTOR

Playing on a deep Nuggets’ squad limited his ability to see the court early on, but he’s also been able to learn from teammates. Richard Jefferson, an NBA champion and the longtime veteran, is someone he played directly behind.

“He was definitely a mentor,” Beasley said. “I grew up watching him dunking on everybody when he was with the [New Jersey] Nets. It was pretty dope to have him by my side. Especially with him just playing with LeBron (James). I picked his brain like a mug.”

What did he pick Jefferson’s brain about?

“I asked him if the NBA has changed. I asked him all types of stuff about LeBron,” Beasley said. “I wanted to pick his brain about what LeBron was doing on a day-to-day basis.”

Beasley sought information from Jefferson on the best player in the game. However, his favorite player growing up wasn’t James. Instead, it was Michael Jordan. The 21-year-old Beasley is old enough to remember Jordan playing for the Washington Wizards, and also watched film on his Chicago Bulls days.

“Michael Jordan was my favorite player growing up,” he said. “I saw his Wizards year a little bit. I was still a huge fan and always watching film on Jordan.”

Talking about the game’s all-time greats encourages Beasley to express his internal confidence. Could the Florida State product be an NBA-All Star one day?

“Oh, for sure. That’s a guarantee,” he said. “I think that’s true because of my work ethic.”

PLAYOFF GOALS

In the meantime, Beasley has gotten a taste of true NBA team-adversity. Toward the end of the season, the playoff-hopeful Nuggets began to falter, lack of defense being one of the biggest culprits. They fell in the regular-season finale to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a winner-gets-in clash, ending their season.

“We are so deep on the offensive end, that we tend to sometimes do forget about defense,” Beasley admitted. “Going with the Timberwolves game, it kind of bounced back to us when we lost the game to Dallas or Phoenix at home. It was probably because of defense, we were BSing at the time. Defense wins games. It wins championships. This year, we really gotta make sure we lock in, and we got a few different roles to help that.”

LEARNING FROM LAST YEAR

An up-and-down season last year taught the young guard the season didn’t necessarily come down to that final game.

“It wasn’t that Timberwolves game that decided the playoffs,” Beasley said.

Such heartbreak is good for youthful players such as Beasley to experience. In Denver, the excitement is built around its young core. Jamal Murray and Gary Harris headline the Nuggets’ youth, and are noted as two of the most on-the-rise players in the NBA.

“Those are my guys. We literally just came from this (chicken) wing spot, just us three getting wings,” Beasley said. “We always talk about how we all develop in a different way. Their success has been pretty cool to see as a friend and also as a player because I want them to be good and I want me to be good.

“I want to be just as good as them if not better.”

BUILDING A WINNER 

The Nuggets signed former two-time All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas. He will be one of the leaders of the second unit, which will feature Beasley.

“I talk to him all the time,” Beasley said. “He’s always been a competitor, no matter where he was. I think that it’s in his blood. Even in training camp, he’s usually with the second-unit trying to get us to kill the first unit. He’s just a talker and a competitor.”

Another problem opposing teams face against Denver is the high-altitude. Something Beasley enjoys.

“The altitude is my favorite,” he said. “When we lose games at home, its tough for us because we’re so mad that we have the advantage already.”

A deep team filled with youth, veterans, and a home-court advantage like no other, but how’s the coach?

“Coach Malone has always been a great coach,” Beasley said. “We’ve always had a great relationship… I think he’s a great coach.”

Beasley knows winning is the most important thing. He wants to help build a winner in Denver. There is no personal agenda.

“In my locker, I have a playoff logo printed out, and the trophy on the other side of my locker,” Beasley said. “Every day, I see that. I’m thankful for the opportunity. I know that all the team stuff comes down to individual work. If we’re losing, nothing is going to help me out. Coach won’t trust anybody if we’re losing.”

READY FOR NEXT STEP

One of Beasley’s biggest backers is Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook.

“He loves my motor, I have the same type of motor as him,” Beasley said. “Every time we play them, he knows that I want to guard him. He knows that we’re always going to compete because that’s who my identity kind of is; to play hard… athleticism. He’s always seen me work hard, so he loves me for that.”

Using his motor to focus on areas of his game he can improve, Beasley spent the summer working with former North Carolina Tar Heel Marc Campbell working on his jump shot. In the Nuggets’ first preseason game, he went 4-4 from 3-point range.

“My 3-point shooting this summer, I’ve been really elite with it,” Beasley said. “Making sure I am an elite shooter; not just a shooter. My finishing has gotten better, I am able to finish if I’m able to shot fake. My game is starting to open up right now, and of course, defending. That’s what Coach puts me in the game — to defend and play hard.”

At 21, Beasley is still in the early stages of what looks to be a long and fulfilling NBA career. However, he carries an internal confidence, one which is wise beyond his years.

“I’m just ready to kill it, and ready to show that I can be great,” he said. “And possibly, have one of those years where I might get Most Improved Player.”

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