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.”
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