When Malik Beasley was in high school, coaches started calling him “Mutant.”
He was always at the gym before and after school, prompting onlookers to ask if he ever took a break.
“No, I don’t,” Beasley would tell them matter-of-factly. “I just love the grind. I’m not from this planet.”
That relentless work ethic fueled Beasley’s lifelong motto: “Stay ready, so I don’t have to get ready.” That approach is helping the second-year Nuggets guard take advantage of the first meaningful minutes of his NBA career, joining the rotation after reserve forward Juancho Hernangomez was diagnosed with mononucleosis.
“He looks like he belongs out there,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “He’s playing with confidence. He’s playing aggressive. … It’s early in the season, but he’s done a good job of maximizing the minutes that he’s been given.”
When Beasley enters the game at the start of the second quarter, he is content to let fellow second-teamers Will Barton and Emmanuel Mudiay take the scoring load while he provides energy and perimeter defense.That leads to stat lines like Saturday’s against the Golden State Warriors, in which Beasley totaled season highs in minutes (26), rebounds (seven) and assists (three).
Coach Michael Malone knew Beasley could shoot when the Nuggets selected him 19th overall in the 2016 draft. But Beasley needed to refine his ability to make plays for himself and teammates off the dribble.
Beasley “embraced” working on those skills while spending the bulk of last season with the G League’s Sioux Falls Skyforce. He also focused on defensive nuances like not getting hit on screens, understanding weakside principles and recognizing when he should trap the ball handler.
When he returned to the Nuggets, he averaged 16.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals in the final two games of the regular season. He led Denver in scoring in four of its six summer league games. He continued to work on core strength and lateral agility during the offseason.
“He’s more of a well-rounded skilled player,” Malone said. “Not just a guy that’s going to hurt you with his jump shot.”
Beasley acknowledged some jitters when he started receiving regular playing time, noting his biggest mental hurdle is his quest for perfection. But he has sought the knowledge of teammates such as newly signed veteran Richard Jefferson. During Beasley’s first extended run against the Washington Wizards, for example, Jefferson reminded Beasley to make quick decisions with the ball and offered advice on when Beasley should look to feed big man Kenneth Faried depending on how much time was left on the shot clock.
Beasley then showed his value during the Nuggets’ second-quarter run against the Warriors. He lobbed a pass to Faried for his first alley-oop dunk. Then he dished to Barton on the left wing for a go-ahead 3-pointer.
“It’s not all about scoring,” Beasley said. “(I’m) just doing the right thing and making sure my teammates have a good rhythm. I don’t want to come in there and mess anything up.”
And any time Beasley returns to his locker on the road, he’s greeted by a nameplate that reads “Mutant.”