Over the previous 19 days leading up to the Denver Nuggets battle with the Phoenix Suns, Malik Beasley had only been allotted a total of 19 minutes of playing time which included four games that he never entered the court.
For Beasley, who was one of the most important players during the Nuggets 2018-19 season — which included a Western Conference semifinal loss to the Portland Trail Blazers in seven games — his removal from the regular rotation was as abrupt as it was surprising.
Yes, Beasley had to fight through what he described to Mile High Sports as a “little bug; a little virus”, which hurt his playing time, but once he started racking up games with no minutes despite being healthy, it became obvious that Beasley had suddenly found himself in a place that he fought desperately to get out of — the end of the bench.
“It has been tough, but I hold myself accountable and continue to work hard and do what I have to do,” Beasley explained when asked about the uncertainty surrounding his role. “It becomes easy when I get out there.”
Well, for the first time since November 5th, Beasley found himself back on the floor as a regular member of Malone’s rotation when the Nuggets defeated the Suns 116-104 for their 12th win in 15 games.
Beasley only played 11 minutes, but in those 11 minutes the Nuggets outscored the Suns by six points. Beasley finished the game with two 3-pointers which led to his six points to go with two rebounds and two assists.
“Malik has been practicing his butt off and working so hard…and he went out there and did what I thought he would do,” Malone said after the game.
“He is another example of a guy who stays ready, comes into the game, and helps us get a win.”
When Beasley first entered the game, Denver led 74-72 about halfway through the third quarter, but their grip on the game was slipping. That is when Beasley and the bench unit ripped off a 30-24 run to take back control of the game and gave Denver’s starters an eight-point lead to work with for the final 4:20 of game time.
At the center of that push was none other than Beasley, who was doing everything in his power to prove that he deserves more playing time than the 2.7 minutes per game he was receiving over the last seven games.
“Very impressed,” Will Barton III stated when asked about how strong Beasley’s play in the second half was. “He hit two big threes for us, his energy was crazy — he was flying around — and for him to not being playing for a while and come out there and give that kind of impact was huge for us.”
Barton III was far from the only teammate of Beasley’s who was impressed by his showing after being on the outside looking in at playing time for so long. No one was quite as vocal about Beasley’s mental maturity than his long-time mentor, Paul Millsap.
“I don’t want to say shocked or surprised, but I am impressed with how he has handled his current situation,” Millsap said after the Nuggets 12th win. “Being a main guy coming off the bench to a guy who hasn’t been playing; for him to handle that as well as he has, kudos and I take my hat off to him for how he has handled it — especially being at that age and understanding that your oppurtunity is going to come back around and being ready for that. He has shown that he can do that.
“For a guy his age to already get how the NBA works, that is unbelievable.”
Millsap has done more than just give Beasley credit for staying ready.
Millsap — who has known him since Beasley was still in high school — has been the leader that Beasley can turn to for advice and for reassurances when he needs it most.
“I am going to keep those conversations private, but you know, just making sure that he is staying ready and he does not have to prove anything,” Millsap said when asked about the talks he has had with Beasley during this stretch of games without playing time. “He has proven what he can do when he plays so just wait for your opportunity and wait for your time to come. Tonight was a prime example.”
Millsap’s presence in Beasley’s life goes beyond team activities. Beasley and Millsap are in constant communication and that has allowed Millsap to keep tabs on Beasley’s mental state as he continues his fight for playing time.
“We always talk, man. We are always in a good space,” Millsap explained after the game. “We play games on the phone and I am always checking to make sure his mental good and how everything is going. That is what teammates do; that is what teammates are supposed to do.”
“He is a great leader. He helps me out with everything and talks to me about a lot of different things,” Beasley explained when asked about Millsap’s leadership. “I apprecaite him for doing what he does.”
While it may seem like Beasley now has the inside track for more playing time after his strong performance in Denver’s win over the Suns, that is still far from the truth. Simply stated, Malone is trying to find a way to play 12 guys in a 10-man rotation.
“What a luxury,” Malone said when asked about the challenges of having so many players deserving of minutes. “A challenge; yes, because every night I have 12 players who can easily play double-figure minutes, but I can’t play all of those guys. So stay ready and when your number is called, go out there and help us win the game.”
The only way Malone can get minutes for 12 different players is by bringing in his guys as ‘specialists’ in the same way a manager in baseball would utilize his bullpen late in games.
For now, Malone will play Torrey Craig more minutes whenever he needs a strong defender. When Malone has been looking for more off-ball scoring, Juancho Hernangomez has been the choice. When the Nuggets needed size and offensive skill, Michael Porter Jr. has been the wing he has elected to utilize.
Now Beasley’s challenge is figuring out what he can do to earn more playing time and his performance against the Suns is a great place to start.
“Malik came in and played really well tonight,” Mason Plumlee said after the game. “That is just how it is going to be. If someone is playing well, they will stay in it, but there are a lot of options.”
For now, Beasley’s role is still completely uncertain even going into the Nuggets Tuesday night matchup with the Washington Wizards. Against the Rockets, Malone played Hernangomez and Craig. Against the Celtics, it was Hernangomez and Michael Porter Jr. Then, against the Suns, Malone managed to play all four of Hernangomez, Craig, Porter Jr. and Beasley. There is simply no map to follow when trying to discover what Malone’s bench unit looks like on any given night.
With that being said, Beasley cannot control the decisions being made around him. All he can do is continue working hard and play the right way which is exactly what he is focusing on.
Right now, Beasley’s only goal is to help this Nuggets team continue winning games.
“To help the team out was most important to me so I felt good that I helped the team out tonight and got a win,” Beasley said.