Following a coming of age season, and a desperate late run to get in to the playoffs in the 2017-2018 season, Nuggets fans and the more ‘small-market woke’ NBA nerds expected big things from Denver and their starting five in 2018-2019.
While they definitely haven’t been disappointed, the starting line-up has been frustrating at times. The starters of Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokić have been a rarer sighting than a spontaneous Bill Murray house party appearance. Harris, Barton, and Millsap have missed a total of 75 games this season, and the five-man unit have only played together for four games.
So just how have the Denver Nuggets managed to reach such heights this season, despite the loss of key players in key moments?
Enter Monte Morris and Malik Beasley.
This pairing has been a revelation this season. They are the good-cop, bad-cop duo that no one expected, or even knew they wanted. Beasley currently has the fifth, and Morris has the seventh best offensive rating in the league right now with 123.6 and 123.0. That’s not even the best thing about them.
Morris and Beasley have versatility on their side: they can work in various different rotations and line-ups, whether that is starting minutes or off the bench. They work well together, they work well separate from each other, and most importantly they work well with Sergeant Jokić.
Morris and Beasley have different approaches to the game, but they have similar minutes, roles in the rotation, and have had an almost identical level of growth this year.
Good cop Morris is the steady and efficient rock for a team made up of unique playing styles, inconsistent shooting and crazy hot streaks. In case you wanted proof of how steady of a rock he is, Morris currently has the second best assist-to-turnover ratio in the league right now with 5.90, and in the 1,449 minutes Morris has played in his career, he has only 36 total turnovers – 36!
Morris is cool, calm and calculated on the court, and this is reflected in his stats. While he is a playmaker through and through, he has adapted his game well to aid Jokić as a secondary playmaker, and a three-point threat when they are on the court together. The rest of the time Morris can be found leading the bench as the primary playmaker, and as a mid-range and three-point threat. He is also learning to play alongside Isaiah Thomas, but that’s an article for another time (short story short: Morris is better than IT, and IT shouldn’t even be playing).
Morris’ partner Beasley is very much the bad cop. Beasley is the explosive, slashing, and spot-up shooting presence that Nuggets have so desperately needed at times this season. He is currently the team’s best three-point shooter, hitting 119, that’s 19 more than Murray.
His offensive urgency and direct scoring has been a welcome addition in Denver when Barton and Harris have been injured, or when Murray has had one of his streaky low-point games.
Beasley is the silent assassin. He has been setting the league alight, and most people haven’t even noticed. Not only is he a great fast-break dunker and a drive-to-the-rim threat, he’s been absolutely on fire from beyond the arc, sitting comfortably with the eighth best three-point field goal percentage in the NBA right now.
Most of his threes are from catch and shoot positions and spot up threes. But his three-point potential is even higher if he can learn to shoot threes off the dribble. It’s easy to see how much potential he has as a three-point shooter, and how good he has been this season: Beasley is 4th highest in all time three-point percentage in a season for players aged 22 and under. With 43.4 percent, he is below Ben Gordon, and Steph Curry’s rookie and sophomore years.
It is clear that Morris and Beasley have been essential to the Denver Nuggets’ incredible season, contributing from the bench and as starters. They have both put up impressive numbers and have brought out the best in all of their teammates. The most essential teammate they have aided is the generational Serbian unicorn. The Nuggets players who can function the best as part of ‘Jokić-ball’ are essentially the most important in the team. It is the free flowing offense that is controlled physically, and often telepathically by Jokić. As you can see below, Morris and Beasley have adapted very well:
So…these are the Two-Man Net Ratings for Nikola Jokic this season. Things are generally going well, except… pic.twitter.com/K2w7yEf08C
— Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn) February 13, 2019
With the exception of Mason Plumlee, Beasley has the best two-man rating with Jokić on the Denver Nuggets. The Plumlee/Jokić combination is the exception, as they only start together when Millsap is injured, or to bully players in the post, so they aren’t a long-term potential pairing for starting line-up. However, with Gary Harris’ injury proneness of late, there is a definite future for a Beasley/Jokić focal point. Morris has a respectable fourth-best net rating with the new big-man after Millsap, however, his focus should be more short-term. He needs to prove for the remainder of the season that he, unlike IT, is not a defensive liability, and should be the leading point guard for the bench in the playoffs.
Morris and Beasley have been crucial this season to Nuggets’ success and are two studs with bright futures that many had not foreseen. Whether they will be the first choice backcourt in the future is uncertain, especially with Murray and Harris back. One thing is for certain, however, the quality of this backcourt must be a good, but massive headache for Head Coach Michael Malone.
Feature photo – Jamie Schwaberow / Getty Images / Double Clutch illustration