Malik Beasley won a belt on Wednesday.
Thursday, the third day of training camp at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, the fourth-year Nuggets guard was talking about rings.
The WWE-style belt was Beasley’s reward for winning a team shooting competition. After initially tying with Juancho Hernangomez, Beasley sunk 8 of 10 from 3-point range to hoist the belt. Then, he draped it over his shoulder like a veteran wrestling aficionado.
“I used to watch WWE all the time,” Beasley, a fan of wrestlers Rey Mysterio, John Cena and The Rock, said. “So it felt good to put (the belt) on my shoulder.”
A day later he moved on to the rings earned by each year’s NBA champion.
“We’re championship mindset only,” Beasley said, “nothing less.”
If this season is anything like last, the Nuggets will lean on their reserves at times as they look to summit a seemingly wide open Western Conference.
“We had a great unit last year off the bench,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “And I think this year, I’m even more excited about that bench unit and what they’re going to bring every night, because early in the year, I thought our bench unit was winning us a lot of games.”
The bench this year will feature many of the same faces but might be more crowded. Malone listed Beasley, Hernangomez, Monte Morris, Torrey Craig, Trey Lyles and Mason Plumlee as last year’s key reserves. Beasley led the bench unit with 11.3 points per game, while Morris averaged 10.4 points and 3.6 in the first season with significant roles in the NBA.
Though Hernangomez and Craig look to be battling for the starting small forward spot with Will Barton - the only spot in the starting five seemingly up for grabs with Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic ready to go - all of the other reserves remain with the Nuggets, sans Lyles who’s with San Antonio.
The group added Jerami Grant in the offseason and Michael Porter Jr. missed his rookie year after back surgery.
“Last year we were really good, but I think this year, adding those two pieces, I think it’s more length and more versatility,” Morris said. “Mike can handle the ball; he can post up. Jerami can handle the ball and push when we run on offense. You add that with Me, Malik and Mason, I think everybody is growing their games. I think we can take it to another level.”
That’s what Malone expects from the group.
“I know full-well that Monte Morris is going to have a better season and a better playoffs because he’s gone through it,” the coach said. “Malik Beasley was great for us last year, but now he needs to do it once again at a higher level.”
If training camp is any indication, Morris feels more ready after playing in 82 games last year, compared to three in 2017, his first year in the league.
“The game has slowed down so much,” he said. “I’m able to be more vocal and pick my spots better (instead) of just going out there and playing 1,000 miles an hour every possession.”
A better bench led by Beasley and Morris could go a long way for a team that returns most contributors from last year’s team that finished five points shy of a trip to the Western Conference finals.
“There’s a little more of a killer instinct with all of us this year, because people think that was a fluke last year, so a lot of us are still motivated,” Beasley said.
“The intensity is way more than what it was last year, because we know we’re going for a championship, not just the playoffs this year.”