Breaking into the regular rotation on an NBA roster is the kind of opportunity that every kid with a basketball dreams of.
Dreams of that magnitude become a reality for only a select few, however. In the basketball world, competition is constant. Regardless of where a player came from, what they were ranked out of high school or what spot they were drafted at, once they land on a professional roster they’re starting from scratch.
For Malik Beasley, a second-year guard for the Denver Nuggets, he’s fought his way into realizing his dream this season. Drafted 19th overall in the 2016 NBA Draft after a stellar freshman season at Florida State, Beasley hit a few bumps in the road during his rookie season.
Appearing in just 22 games as a freshman in the Association, Beasley went from a blue-chip recruit to a top-20 pick, to the G-League. During his time for the Nuggets minor league squad, Beasley lit up the scoreboard, averaging 18.8 points per game. Instead of getting in his own head about what would appear to be a less than ideal start to his NBA career, Beasley fought back. Thus far in the 2017-18 season, Beasley has appeared in every game for Denver and is solidly in their rotation.
“It’s a blessing man,” Beasley told Basketball Insiders. “From where I came from last year to not playing to not even getting in or not even knowing if I’m gonna play, it’s crazy. And like now that I know that I might get in in the second quarter or like get first and get five minutes in a game. It’s definitely a blessing and just shows that hard work pays off and just gotta stay ready at all times.”
Hard work is a theme in the Beasley family. Both of Malik’s parents, Michael and Deena, are cut from the Hollywood cloth. They spent the years of their son’s youth on movie sets and at auditions, while primarily being located in Atlanta. Despite the chaotic lifestyle being an actor can create, Beasley’s parents stayed ever involved in his basketball career. They even regularly catch flights around the country to watch their son continue to live out the dream.
While basketball and acting aren’t the same career path, there are certain similarities. In order to be successful at either, an individual needs to display an impressive level of hard work and dedication to mastering their craft. For Beasley, growing up in an environment that exuded those traits helped push him to his own success.
“The way that my dad has taught me,” Beasley said. “He’s failed so many auditions, which is equivalent to me missing so many shots, but at the end of the day it is what it is and you gotta stay focused. Then when your time has come, and he would get the perfect audition or perfect movie, and I would get the perfect opportunity to play, which is kinda happening now.”
In Denver, this season, the growth of the team’s young players is an important piece to their contending puzzle, but it isn’t the entire agenda. After recognizing the budding star in Nikola Jokic last season, the Nuggets went into this offseason looking for a splash. They found one in the shape of Paul Millsap and his three-year $90 million contract. A move for Millsap and another for Richard Jefferson in October signifies that Denver is investing in their youth while also looking to win games in the tough Western Conference.
Players like Millsap and Jefferson, who are the only players on the Nuggets’ roster who have clocked double-digit years in the NBA, bring a certain level of coaching and leadership. On a team littered with youth and inexperience, that may be more valuable at times than the buckets they get on the court.
“He’s exactly what I needed man,” Beasley said of Jefferson. “He’s been so helpful to me. Every time I come out to compete I look at him or ask him what I could’ve done better or what did I do good. It’s little things like that.”
At 20 years old, Beasley was just a toddler when Jefferson entered the league for the first time. A realization of that magnitude not only impacts Beasley, who is fascinated by his teammate’s longevity in their sport, but also the elder Jefferson, whose outlook on the age-difference keeps Beasley as that three-year-old he was all those years ago.
“(Jefferson) was like ‘now I’m competing against a three-year-old,’” Beasley said. “And I was laughing at that. He considers me a three-year-old because he’s been in the league for 17 years.”
Along with the injection of a veteran presence for Denver this season, there are still more than a few important young players on the team. With such a relative closeness in age for some of the Nuggets’ most important players, a bond off the court is more easily formed. In Beasley’s mind, that allows for an easier transition to success on the court.
“It’s definitely dope,” Beasley said. “Because like as a young core off the court it’s so easy to get along with each other because we do the same stuff. We play video games, we do go out sometimes, we go out to dinner. It’s like a great vibe because like for example, Trey Lyles he didn’t have that much fun in Utah because in that club they had a lot of veterans so he had to do his own thing. They were doing their own things. With us, not necessarily do we always hang out .but we try, when we’re on the road, we’ll go out to dinner, we’ll text each other ‘dinner tonight’. Like you can just tell little things like that matter because that’s how you build chemistry.”
Chemistry is key in professional basketball. Synchronicity between teammates leads to better results. Even in the gauntlet that is the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets aren’t just looking for a consolation prize this season, they want the real thing.
“For sure we have playoff aspirations,” Beasley said. “At the same time, we gotta take it day by day because you know we just lost to the Knicks. No offense to the Knicks, but I think we are a great team and shouldn’t be losing games like that. But right now we gotta take it day by day but still have the aspirations, the accountability and the work ethic to make it to the playoffs and whether we hold each other accountability to make sure we’re still grinding.”
Whether it’s playoff basketball, or a game in November, Beasley will be ready for when he gets the call to take the court. His journey so far in the NBA has taught him that no matter what seems to be coming up next, you better make sure you’re prepared.
From the G-League last season, to an NBA rotation this season, the future is bright for Beasley in Denver.
“That’s a huge step up from what I was doing last year. It just all comes at a time and I just gotta stay ready.”
NBA Daily: Can the Milwaukee Bucks be Real Contenders?
Do the Bucks now have the talent and coaching to legitimately contend for this year’s championship?
The Milwaukee Bucks weren’t very good in 2017.
While they had one of the best players in the world, Giannis Antetokounmpo, on the court at almost all times, they struggled to win games under then Head Coach Jason Kidd. While things improved with the transition to Joel Prunty, Milwaukee and its underperforming roster ultimately fell to the Boston Celtics, sans their two best players, in the first round of the postseason.
But with Mike Budenholzer, one-time Coach of the Year award winner and former head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, in the fold along with some new personnel, are the Bucks good enough to challenge the top teams in the NBA?
If their 2018 debut is anything to go by, the NBA needs to be on alert.
On the road against the Charlotte Hornets, Milwaukee looked completely dominant at times with the Greek Freak leading the charge in a 113-112 win. Antetokounmpo was his usual dominant self and finished the game with 25 points, 18 rebounds and eight assists.
The most important take away from their season debut, however, has nothing to do with Antetokounmpo. It’s the fact that he got a sizeable amount of help from his supporting cast.
The Bucks often looked like a one-man show last season, with Antetokounmpo doing his thing while the rest of the team failed to pull their collective weight. They often looked slow and were worse than average, defensively; Milwaukee was just 20th in pace-of-play and 18th in defensive rating last season. And, amidst the NBA’s three-point revolution, the Bucks ranked just 25th in three-point attempts and 22nd in three-point percentage.
In a nutshell, the Bucks system wasn’t an ideal workspace for its star player. Antetokounmpo, who isn’t a great long-range shooter himself, needs all the spacing he can get in order to be the best version of himself. And that is why the 2018 version of the Bucks could be so dangerous.
Going back to the 2013-14 regular season, Budenholzer’s first as the Hawks head coach, here is how Atlanta ranked compared to the rest of the league in three-point attempts: 2nd, 7th, 7th, 16th, 7th. Budenholzer has instilled that same three-point happy offensive system in Milwaukee. Not only have they played faster, but they are shooting more; the Bucks attempted 34 shots from beyond the arc, 10 more than they averaged per game last season.
More importantly, the Bucks have the players to take advantage of that system and clear the interior as much as possible for the multipositional and uber-athletic Antetokounmpo.
Khris Middleton, the often underrated two-way wing, is a career 39.2 percent three-point shooter. Eric Bledsoe, who struggled at times last season, has been solid from behind the arc for his career as well. Free agent additions Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova, two big men who have steered into the three-point evolution of the NBA, have both shot 34 percent or better from three-point range over the last two seasons. Even rookie Donte DiVincenzo, who went two-for-four from three-point range against Charlotte, was a long distance specialist at Villanova and shot 37.8 percent from three during his three years with the school. The roster is loaded with more shooters than ever and they are being put in a position to shoot the long-ball, thanks to the gravity that Antetokounmpo has on the floor and Budenholzer’s system.
Now, as with almost everything, there could be some complications.
While shooting more shots per game could equate to more makes and, therefore, more points, it could, by the same logic, yield more missed shots as well. The Bucks aren’t a strong defensive team, nor have they been for the last four seasons or so, and those extra possessions for the opposition could kill the Bucks in the final stretch of games. Likewise, playing quickly can lead to more turnovers, creating further opportunities for opponents and hurting Milwaukee even further.
But, for now, the benefits seem to outeight the risks, and Antetokounmpo can cover up a lot of mistakes with the talent he possesses.
One game may seem like a small sample size to go on, but, if the Bucks can limit their offensive mishaps and defensive blunders, they have the chance to be a legitimate threat to win the Eastern Conference crown and, perhaps, the NBA title.
NBA Daily: Kings Starters Show Promise Despite Loss
The end result may be the same as it has been every season in the past decade, but the Sacramento Kings have something brewing for the first time in a long time.
The end result may be the same as it has been every season in the past decade, but the Sacramento Kings have something brewing for the first time in a long time.
Yes, a 25-9 lead was squandered and the game was lost to the Utah Jazz. Marvin Bagley III confusingly played fewer minutes than 14 of his fellow rookies in his NBA debut. They also forced more miscues than they committed, yet were still outscored 24-13 in points off of turnovers.
All of that makes it seem like Wednesday was the start to a long, frustrating season for the Kings, but don’t be so quick to judge. There was a ton of good to come out of the team’s season opener at the Golden 1 Center.
First off, what a night for Willie Cauley-Stein it was. He had the unenviable task of going head-to-head with Rudy Gobert, the league’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, to begin the fourth season of his career. We know that the 25-year-old isn’t necessarily a go-to scoring option, however, you wouldn’t have figured that to be the case if you watched the game.
Finishing with the third-most attempts for Sacramento, Cauley-Stein wasted no time and went right at Gobert when he touched the ball. Not once did he hesitate to put it on the floor, showing an improved, tighter handle on drives to the basket. Likely coming from film study, the 7-foot, 240-pound center excelled at using his body to get his shots up and over the “Stifle Tower” with great timing.
Cauley-Stein was determined to attack the paint all game long and showed no fear. He scored 19 of his 23 points with Gobert on the floor, including a thunderous alley-oop slam over the Frenchman following a screen-and-roll. To put the significance of this in perspective, his eight field goal makes are more than he’s had in each of the previous three seasons with Utah’s big man on the floor.
The Kings’ starters, in general, were especially solid, as all five players scored in double figures and had their squad’s best plus-minus ratings.
De’Aaron Fox swiped three steals, showed his playmaking skills and shared the love with his teammates, recording seven assists in addition to his 21 points. A candidate for a breakout year, Buddy Hield looked like the most comfortable player on the floor despite some lazy passes early, knocking down his signature off the dribble, mid-range fadeaways with ease.
Nemanja Bjelica used the threat of his outside shot to make his way to the basket for better looks and poured in 18 points. Starting at the wing, Yogi Ferrell held his own defensively against Donovan Mitchell and added a couple of threes to the mix as well.
Sacramento gave a double-digit led game away, but the players never gave in. During the fourth quarter, they got stops but just couldn’t seem to take advantage on the other side. It was the recurring theme of the night. The chances were there in transition. Now, they’ve got to work on completing those sequences and turning them into points.
Kings head coach Dave Joerger played essentially a nine-man rotation and got little out of his bench players. Justin Jackson struggled at the four spot and carved out 30 minutes of playing time in spite of it. Other than that, though, everybody in the second unit was on the floor for less than 17 minutes. It’s likely because of how well the starters performed, but they’ll need more out of those guys eventually.
There’s already a topic of discussion on the front of development vs. wins in Sacramento. Joerger’s addressed the matter with Bagley after the game and said it’s going to be hard to allocate minutes for a roster heavy with big men.
The counter-argument to that is simple—he’s the second overall pick of the draft. You have to find time for him, period. There should be no excuse not to regardless of who’s on the team. Don’t forget about Bagley being so talented that he re-classified to play with an age group above his own and still dominated as the ACC Player of the Year at Duke. He was a true freshman!
Aside from that whole debate, the Kings did not roll over and quit when they blew a 16-point lead and trailed by 14 soon after. In a game of runs, their young group hung in there and battled until the clock hit zero. Keep in mind this is a ballclub short of last year’s starting shooting guard still, too.
There may not be a whole lot of winning to come by in Sacramento—what with competing in the Pacific Division and Western Conference—but the season could be easier on the eyes if this is the type of effort they’re going to give on a nightly basis. Of course, we’ve got to be careful here since it’s only one game.
Even so, consider this writer in on “Kings SZN.”
NBA Daily: Offseason Acquisitions Making An Early Impact
Basketball Insiders takes a look at five players on new teams who had a big impact in their respective season openers.
Starting a new job is hard: new co-workers, new processes, new expectations, etc. Most of us have done it, and we can attest that it’s challenging on both a personal and professional level. It’s no different in the NBA. Sure, there is greater familiarity amongst players than for, say, a software engineer jumping from Facebook to Google, but the stakes are also higher. Most people are cut some slack initially due to a lack of familiarity, but not in the NBA. Players are expected to hit the ground running, and are judged harshly for getting off to slow starts.
Even still, some players are simply so skilled that their impact is immediately obvious. With that being said, let’s analyze the top five debuts of players who changed teams this past offseason.
- Kawhi Leonard — His post-game comments may have been understated Wednesday night, but his on-court performance was not. Leonard received an incredible amount of support from the Raptors crowd, and he did not disappoint. He posted 24 points and 12 rebounds and was +13 for the game. His offensive arsenal was on full display; he demonstrated his athleticism on dunks, his shooting prowess and range and his willingness to do some dirty work on the glass. No surprises here, but it is encouraging that he came back from the quad injury and looked mostly unchanged. Bonus points to Kyle Lowry for going the extra mile to get Leonard the ball (e.g., passing on an easy transition layup to feed Leonard).
- DeMar DeRozan — While Kawhi did his normal thing, DeRozan may have had his foot on the gas a bit more — or maybe his performance was more a result of greater necessity. Either way, DeRozan delivered. He scored 28 points on 7 for 11 shooting, with four rebounds and four assists in 38 minutes. Similar to Leonard, no one should be surprised by DeRozan’s debut, especially given how upset he was initially with the trade. It’s even less surprising when you consider that he transitioned to playing for Coach Gregg Popovich, whose system is tried and true. If he keeps this up and all goes well for San Antonio, it could re-ignite questions about the Leonard-Popovich-Spurs snafu that resulted in the trade in the first place.
- New New Orleans Pelicans (Julius Rande and Elfrid Payton – tie) — While Anthony Davis continues to be the main story line for the Pelicans, both free agents signings made their mark in the team’s season opener. Payton did so by posting a triple double in his first outing, demonstrating the versatility and promise that led the Pelicans to sign him in the first place; he notched 10 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds in route to an impressive +23. Randle’s performance was probably a bit flashier, but maybe less impactful on the whole. Nevertheless, Randle proved his worth in his first game with the team, finishing with an impressive 25 points on an efficient 9 for 15. He also chipped in eight rebounds and showed his versatility, leading fast breaks and dishing three assists. Concerns over the Pelicans may have been a bit overblown — but that might have more to do with Davis’ impact than the supporting cast. Time will tell.
- Brook Lopez — How did the perception of a former top-tier center slip so far so quickly? Just 17 months ago, Lopez was wrapping up another typical Brook Lopez-esque season: 20.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.7 blocks per game. Sure, the league has passed by centers who can’t extend the defense and switch onto guards in the pick and roll, but Lopez introduced an effective three-point shot in 2016-17, shooting .34.6 percent from deep. And yet, one year on the Lakers bench was all it took for the league to begin to overlook and/or underrate Lopez. That was a mistake. Lopez seems to be the same player he’s always been. He’s no longer a go-to option, so his scoring will likely be down from his 17.8 points per game career average; but he will contribute on offense and block some shots on defense. In his first game with the Bucks — with whom he signed for the bargain salary of $3.4 million — he scored 14 points and grabbed three rebounds in 21 minutes of action. Lopez should continue to aid the already talented Bucks. Can he push them deeper into the playoff? If he does, he would likely secure himself one more pay day.
- Dennis Shroder — Shroder’s performance may have been inflated by the absence of Russell Westbrook. Correction — Shroder’s performance was definitely inflated by the absence of Westbook. But he demonstrated his value all the same. Oddly, the Hawks decided they wanted to part ways with the 25 year old point guard. Their loss. He notched 21 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out six assists in 34 minutes of action. And it will get easier for him considering the Thunder opened against Steph Curry and the defending champion Golden State Warriors. Shroder gives the Thunder a third playmaker — exactly what they were lacking in last year’s playoffs against the Jazz, and exactly what they hoped Melo could be.
One thing all the guys on this list have in common (beyond being above average players) is their willingness to take on a challenge. Nothing in sports — or life — is guaranteed. But we will have a clearer picture if their respective changes of scenery were made for better or worse. If they were done successfully, they can shift the balance of power in the league, and rework the competitive balance to a pretty crazy extent.