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  • Nick Fay

2019-20 Breakout Player Series: Malik Beasley

USA Today

As the Denver Nuggets look to build on last season’s second-place finish in the West, their depth will be a huge asset as they strive to rise to the top of a vicious Western Conference. Teams like the Clippers (Kawhi Leonard & Paul George), Lakers (Lebron James and Anthony Davis), and Rockets (James Harden and Russell Westbrook) may have more dynamic duos leading their teams than Denver’s impressive Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray one-two punch, but the top-to-bottom strength of the Denver lineup has the potential to make a difference in the regular season, and one of the key pieces is 4th-year guard Malik Beasley.

Beasley took a leap in year three, as injuries on the wing opened up minutes the Florida State product had yet to see, with both Gary Harris and Will Barton missing big chunks of the season. After only starting a single game in his first two campaigns, Beasley started 18 last year; after never averaging over ten minutes per game throughout his career, he suddenly spiked up to 23.2. And Beasley made those minutes count.

He set career highs in (deep breath): field goal percentage, three-point percentage, free-throw percentage, points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks per game. There basically wasn’t an attribute of his game that Beasley didn’t take to a new level last year. So why is he a breakout candidate for this season? Maybe I should have called his number last year. (Nah. I went with Murray. That was the way to go.)

After the former first-round pick showed his mettle, the Nuggets extended a three-year, thirty million dollar extension to their young two-guard, and he turned it down. The idea of Beasley being offered three years, let alone thirty million dollars, would have been unheard of after the inauspicious start to his career, so the fact that he’s betting on himself means there is a monster season coming up.

The player they call ‘The Mutant’ brings elite athleticism to the wing, with good size for the two. But his real freakishness is in his hops, if not his length. Where he took a leap and must continue to grow is in his basketball IQ. Beasley made himself a threat from deep this past year, as over half of his nine attempts per game (exactly five) came from behind the arc. Since he made over 40% of them, teams had to close out hard, opening up the avenues for multiple aggressive forays to the rim.

It’s not a stretch to say that Beasley outplayed starting two-guard Gary Harris last season, with greater efficiency in fewer minutes, and with talk around the league that Harris has the potential to be the centerpiece of a mega-trade, Beasley might find himself a regular starter on the wing this season. Even if not, as load-management becomes a key buzzword league-wide, Beasley will undoubtedly hear his name included in a number of starting lineups this year.

If he spends a good portion of the season coming off the bench though, Beasley could garner some serious 6th-Man of the Year buzz. He’s got great rapport with back-up point Monte Morris, and after demonstrating his dependability in a breakthrough year for the Denver franchise overall, has certainly garnered the respect of coach Mike Malone, who knows he can count on Beasley to both know his role, and take initiative.

Look for the Beasley ascent to continue in 2019-20. After more than doubling his minutes and more than tripling his scoring output last year, don’t look for a repeat -- no one is predicting he’ll play all 48 minutes and average 35 points per game -- but Beasley is getting better, not worse. With Harris increasingly unable to stay on the floor, I look to Beasley to assert himself as the future of the two-guard position in Denver.

2019-20 Line: 14.5 ppg - 4.5 ppg - 2.5 apg in 26 minutes per game

#201920BreakoutPlayerSeries #NBA #Nuggets #JeremyFreed

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