Denver Nuggets: Will Malik Beasley still be on the Nuggets after next season?

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 24: Malik Beasley #25 of the Denver Nuggets poses for a portrait during Media Day on September 24, 2018 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 24: Malik Beasley #25 of the Denver Nuggets poses for a portrait during Media Day on September 24, 2018 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Malik Beasley played well in 2018-19, but he’ll be looking to improve next season. That play could also price him out of the Nuggets’ spending budget.

Denver Nuggets guard Malik Beasley, standing at 6’5”,  just finished his third year in the NBA. The wing player finally saw meaningful minutes in the 2018-2019 season. He averaged 11.3 PPG, 2.5 RPG, and 1.2APG with 23.3 minutes of playing time. He provided the Nuggets with efficient catch-and-shoot abilities and also played rigid defense on the other end of the floor. Beasley came off the bench for much of last season, and he provided a big spark.

Before any in-depth analysis for his game, I would like to discuss the possibility of other teams getting Malik, as the Nuggets has Full Bird Rights on him as he heads into restricted free agency after the 2019-2020 season. Thus, the Nuggets can choose to match any offers Malik will receive and agree to during that off-season. The first and probably the most obvious reason is, Denver will have a bottom-line or a threshold for Malik’s salary.

If the offered salary exceeds that threshold, it is likely that the Nuggets will not be matching the offer. With both Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee headed into unrestricted free agency, Denver will have to decide whether to go all-in by paying the luxury tax to retain their players, or to decide which players to keep while staying below the tax line. The second reason ties into the first as Denver will have to make yet another decision about their rotation at the 2 and 3 spots.

According to CleaningTheGlass position stats, this season Gary Harris(52%), Will Barton(90%), and Beasley(41%) all spent more than 40% of their playing time at the 2 spot. While Harris(47%), Beasley(58%), Torrey Craig(65%), Juan Hernangomez(79%) spent more than 45% of their time on the floor at the 3 spot. With the already crammed rotation, Michael Porter Jr., who the Nuggets selected with the 14th pick in the 2018 NBA draft, will be back healthy and ready to play at the start of next season.

Now moving on to Malik’s game, at 6’5” with a 6’7” wingspan, his size is not spectacular even for his position(195lb). However, he’s very strong and extremely explosive. Even though there is no official verticality data recorded during the NBA draft, let’s just say that this kid can JUMP. As you can see in the video below, he can finish on the fast break using his quick bounce and has no problem elevating while running at full speed.

(Malik transition finishes)

He frequently runs the floor and is always looking for opportunities to elevate over defenders and power down nasty dunks. He uses that ability to put pressure on opposing interior defense with above-average free-throw shooting at 84.8 percent. How good is he in transition you ask? With Malik on the floor during the last regular season, Denver was +19.5 points per 100 transition plays off live-rebounds. Meaning that with him on the court, Denver was score almost 20 more points off of 100 live-rebound transition opportunities. This statistic ranked in the 92nd percentile among wings in the NBA.

Not only is he a threat in transition, but he is also effective from deep. 45.8% of Malik’s shots came from catch and shoot opportunities, which he shot at a 42.2%( clip from three (91st percentile among wings in the NBA per CleaningTheGlass). As a result of that, 98.2% of his 3-point makes last season were assisted on. Depending on the team’s play-style and the role assigned to a player, this stat could either be great or terrible.

One of the insights we can gain from these stats is that Malik is comfortable being a catch-and-shoot three-point threat and is almost elite at contributing that way, as 97 percent of those catch-and-shoot attempts where 3s. For the statistically curious fans, Malik put up an impressive 58.4 percent effective field goal (90th percentile among wings) and 59.9 percent true shooting (86th percentile among all players) on an 18.1% usage rate.

Beasley had very limited playing time in his rookie and sophomore seasons (165 and 583 minutes respectively), he was given more playing time last season and played a total of 1879 minutes in the regular season. He was assigned to defend players like Damian Lillard and C.J McCollum in the playoff series against the Portland Trailblazers. We’ve only gotten to see a glimpse of the player he could be, and his development in the future is something we can all look forward to.

With all that, I will be moving on to the concerns I have for his game. The number one concern I have for him is his infrequency to create his shot off the dribble. As an NBA player who has shown offensive upside and talent, becoming a player who is better at creating his own offense will make him even more valuable to his team. He has a lack of iso and driving with the ball in his hands because he plays behind two great creators in Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.

This is very logical as Nikola is a passing genius who can hit most slashers and make great passes according to his teammates’ movements, and Murray is a rising star who thrives with the ball in his hands. Thus, the Nuggets game-plan or play-style puts a constraint on who is allowed to do what while having the ball in their hands, as the team utilizes lots of off-ball movement as part of their core offense going along with the deadly Murray-Jokic P&R.

Malik is usually assigned to stay in the corner, waiting for catch-and-shoot opportunities while spreading the floor for his teammates. Which is why my concern is for the infrequency of creating his own offense rather than the inability to do so. If he were to play on a different team with more opportunities to have the ball in his hand, it would be interesting to see what he can do, but as of now, we don’t know.

On the other hand, if another team signs him and assigns him the role he currently has, as a 3&D slasher, he would still be perfectly fine contributing efficiently in that format as well. Previously I mentioned that 45.8 percent of Malik’s scoring opportunities came in the catch-and-shoot format. As almost half of his offense was created through teammates’ passing.

The reason why this could be a bad thing for the team is that if he is inefficient in creating his own shot, then teams that are looking for him to provide scoring could be disappointed if they were to utilize him incorrectly. Asking him to be a primary creator coming off the bench would not be a wise thing to do… unless he shows flashes of that kind of ability in the next season. But what, if any, teams can utilize him wisely?

If teams can adjust their game plan according to Malik’s play-style, he could be extremely valuable. Here is a comparison to illustrate this idea. JJ Redick, a known shooter in the NBA, shot 42.4 percent from three, with 41.9 percent of his shots coming from catch and shoot (with 425 such shots). He was a big part of the Sixers offense last season to the point where people are questioning how the Sixers’ offense will look next season now that he signed with the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Sixers were able to utilize Redick’s catch-and-shoot ability and he continued to cause problems for opposing defenses. Similarly, 45.8 percent of Malik’s shots were catch-and-shoot and he shot 42.2 percent from three off of those opportunities (with 388 such shots). Thus, if a team can wisely assign Malik to the correct role, he has the potential to become a head-scratcher for opposing defenses.

The second concern I have for Malik’s game is his on-ball defense. Malik seems to be relying too much on his strong body and his athleticism to stay with his match-ups. He has a fast recovery which he utilizes to make-up for his time-to-time defensive lapse. He has the speed to stay with elite quick, small guards like McCollum but often gambles for steals and puts himself in a bad position of having to get back into the defensive scheme.

Especially since Denver’s interior anchor is Jokic, who is not known for his shot-blocking/contesting abilities, these drives allow the opposing team to further exploit Denver’s lack of interior defense. However, this problem can be fixed. If Malik works on his defensive footwork and can stay more composed on the defensive end, he would become a problem for the opposing team, and that also should gain him more recognition as a two-way player.

The third concern I have for Malik is his off-ball movement. Malik often stands still in the corner and the 45-degree three-point line while the Nugget’s run their offensive sets. This could be due to offensive role assignment or because that’s just how Nugget’s plays are drawn up. But by looking at how he moves during fast-breaks, it makes me wonder if it’s the game-plan that’s causing this problem or if it’s Malik himself.

On the fast-break, Malik adjusts extremely well off-ball and knows when to run towards the hoop and when to back out to the three-point line. With his instincts for spacing and his movements, it is hard to imagine Mike Malone won’t ask him to move more on the offensive end during their half-court offense. That’s what makes me think that it is Malik who is standing still from time to time.

Malik’s build as a player makes him a great slasher in the NBA, he’s fast and can get up high, there are instances where he got Denver crucial offensive rebounds by cutting and grabbing the rebound from the weak side. Regardless of whether this is due to role assignment or Malik’s problem, better off-ball movement is something very beneficial for him to develop/adjust to take the next step as an NBA player.

(Malik getting blown by; grabbing huge offensive rebound)

Finally, which teams could look to sign him? The obvious answers include teams like the Sacramento Kings, the Atlanta Hawks, and the New Orleans Pelicans. All three are teams with young cores and plenty of cap space to work with. These are the three teams with the highest pace factor last season according to ESPN’s 2018-2019 Hollinger Team Statistics.

Malik is a player who runs the floor frequently and thrives in transition offense, these teams would fit his play-style very well. Also, teams would value Malik’s outside scoring abilities as he is an above-average shooter from beyond the arc. Some other teams with less cap flexibility that might be on the look-out for Malik are the Philadelphia 76ers and Houston Rockets. As both team value outside shooting and the ability to put pressure on interior defense immensely.

Despite Malik’s obvious plug-and-play potentials, it is hard to predict how teams will value a player like him, however, there are multiple reasons why Malik could receive a big contract around $9 million a year. First, the free agents in the 2020 off-season are… let’s just say, unexciting. You can check out the list of free agents at 

Due to the lack of talent and big names in this free agency class, teams with cap-space may be more willing to offer bigger contracts to potential role players. And since I am especially high on Malik Beasley, I think there is a chance that he gets offered the Mid-Level Exception which is projected at around $9.5 million the next off-season. Second, the Nuggets will have to deal with Millsap and Plumlee’s unrestricted free agency.

The two were both integral pieces of Denver’s rotation/game-plan in the past season. Thus, Denver will have lots of decisions to make and that increases the chances of them not matching a contract of that size. Third, this past season was Malik’s first season receiving meaningful playing time, and we have only gotten a glimpse of what kind of player he is/can become. With a full season ahead for him to show what he can do and improve as a player, the hopes are high.

Next. Denver Nuggets: 15 Best Draft Picks of All Time. dark

Overall, he is a 3&D player in the making and shot the ball at a high level this season. He has the tools to be a solid defender and needs improvements on the defensive end. His play-style fits high-pace teams and is one of the sleepers/under-discussed players in the 2020 free agency class.