CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It is never a 100 percent positive when one player’s opportunity comes at the expense of another player’s health. But it is also a fact of life in professional sports in general: Injuries and illnesses happen. The player taking over must be ready for the spot.
Shooting guard Malik Beasley showed he was ready for additional minutes when he entered the Nuggets last game, against Washington, and almost immediately nailed a 3-point shot. Beasley got time due to Juancho Hernangomez being out with mononucleosis, and there could be more minutes for him in the near future.
“Going into that game, I was going back-and-forth, who gets those minutes that I’ve been giving Juancho,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “And, ultimately, I said, you know what? Malik Beasley, he’s been working his butt off, all summer long, all preseason, all of training camp. It was a great opportunity for me to put him out there and see what he is able to do in a real game and real minutes, not at the end of a game when it is a blowout and you’ve been sitting there for 40 minutes.”
What did Malone see?
“(In) seven minutes, he made a three, shot it with confidence, made good plays,” Malone said. “Most important for me — the eye test. He belonged. It wasn’t like ‘Who is this kid?’ Malik Beasley looked like he belonged on the court. What that does for me, is that if I have to put him in the game I’m not going to hesitate. I’m not going say, ‘Can he do it?’ Now, I’m not expecting him to go out there and play perfect basketball every night. But he went out there and played with confidence aggression and discipline. I texted him (after the game) saying how proud I was of him, because he took full advantage of the opportunity given to him.”
So what do Beasley and the Nuggets have to do to get a win tonight in Charlotte? Start with these things:
Keep Dwight Howard off the boards. So you know that Dwight Howard can be a rebounding beast? Of course you do. But Howard’s start this season has been off the charts even for his high standards. He’s averaging 17.3 rebounds per game, which if it was a pace kept up the entire season, would obliterate his career high of 14.5 set back in 2011-12. He’s averaging 4.0 offensive rebounds. So, Nikola Jokić and Paul Millsap definitely have their work cut out for them. Millsap was teammates with Howard last season in Atlanta.
Proper box-outs are mandatory in keeping Howard at bay, and maybe even getting a couple of bodies on him in boxing out might be necessary. With Howard leading the way, Charlotte has started the season averaging 50.7 rebounds per game, which is 7.1 more than the 43.6 it averaged last season. It has taken the Hornets from one of the worst rebounding teams to one of the best. The Nuggets are also a top rebounding team, so this is an area to watch.
Getting their shots up. The Nuggets are averaging seven fewer shots per game than last season, just 80.7 per game, which is among the least number of attempts for any team in the NBA. They averaged 87.7 attempts last season, which was fourth in the league. Here’s why that matters: If you take the difference, 7.0, and apply their made field goal percentage to it, the Nuggets are giving away 3.2 made shots per game. Assuming those are all two-point makes, it means the Nuggets could be averaging 6.48 more points per game. Those points would boost the team’s current points per game from 98.7 to 105.18, an enormous difference, and likely the difference between being a 2-1 and 1-2 team after losing by just five points to Washington. The biggest issue is turnovers not allowing the Nuggets to get additional shots up, many of which they would make because they are good shooting basketball team.
Reduce Charlotte’s free throws: Not only are the Hornets one of the NBA’s most prolific free throw shooting teams – they average 31.7, which is fourth-highest in the NBA – they also make a ton of them. Don’t let the team’s percentage of 71.6 fool you. They have Dwight Howard, and he has made just 4-of-19 free throws in three games this season. Take his total out? The rest of the Hornets are making 84.2 percent from the charity stripe.
INJURY REPORT: Juancho Hernangomez (illness) is out of tonight’s game. All other players are available.
Christopher Dempsey: email@example.com and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.