Denver Nuggets’ pickup games benefit young players, veterans

Denver Nuggets’ pickup games benefit young players, veterans

When Richard Jefferson posts Malik Beasley up inside, Darrell Arthur begins barking commands at the second-year guard suddenly matched against the 6-foot-7, 17-year veteran.

“By yourself, Malik!” Arthur hollers. “One hand up!”

This moment is part lesson, part competition, part conditioning for Beasley within the loose structure of a 4-on-4 pickup game. Emmanuel Mudiay, Kenneth Faried, Juancho Hernangomez, Tyler Lydon and Monte Morris are the other Nuggets still on the Moda Center floor in Portland, long after a bus has taken most of the team back to the hotel to rest up for a recent matchup against the Trail Blazers.

These non-rotation players aren’t seeing much game action for Denver, which begins 2018 with a 19-17 record and in sixth place in the Western Conference. But this collection of veterans and young players recognize there’s much to acquire from the extra on-court work against each other.

“Everybody gets something different out of it,” Jefferson said. “And you also gain respect for each other, because you see the competitiveness in everyone and how it can benefit each guy.”

Denver coach Michael Malone credits former Nugget Mike Miller with organizing regular pickup games during his time with the team from 2015-17. Now Jefferson and Arthur have taken over, a big part of their role as veteran mentors. Jefferson held similar duties with the Golden State Warriors from 2012-13, constantly working with then-youngsters Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes three years before facing them in the NBA Finals as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Sometimes, Jefferson tells Beasley not to shoot any 3-pointers, his forte. On the other end, Arthur will remind Beasley to use his forearm while guarding the taller Jefferson on the block. Beasley will need that skill in games, when he’s required to switch onto every position from point guard to power forward on a pick and roll.

“It’s just different challenges every day,” Beasley said.

Added Jefferson: “It might not show up today. It might not show up a month from now. But there will be a progression, whether it’s in six months or next season, when that opportunity is given, they’re in a more comfortable state … When I tell you, ‘This is what you should work on’ and you see me doing it and being effective, you’re like, ‘Oh, OK. There’s something to that.’”

And, as Arthur said, “the only way to stay in basketball shape is to play basketball.” Mudiay used the pickup games as part of his recent rehab from a sprained ankle. Arthur, who this season has typically only gotten spot minutes on the second night of back-to-back sets, feels comfortable entering games after long layoffs. And Malone knows those players are working to stay mentally and physically ready.

“For me, that was the No. 1 takeaway,” the coach said. “Now if your number is called upon and you go out there, it’s not just like, ‘Jeez, I haven’t gotten up and down (the court) in a while.’”

Sometimes, that competitiveness leads to heated moments. Arthur recalls the time choice words and a shove or two were exchanged last season in Los Angeles, when then-rookies Beasley, Hernangomez and Jamal Murray dished out some smack-talk after beating Arthur, Miller and Alonzo Gee. Perhaps that raw intensity is why some Nuggets rotation players try to sneak into the pickup games before being stopped by the staff.

Take the post-shootaround contest in Portland as an example. The defense is calling fouls down the stretch, “a problem” according to Jefferson. When Mudiay finishes at the bucket on Hernangomez, he screams “And-1!”

It’s at game point when Morris, a two-way rookie guard, fires a 3 from the left corner. He lets out an emphatic yell when it zips through the net to win, a clear confidence-booster during his second stint with the NBA club.

“We’re always trying to win, but it’s all in good nature,” Arthur said. “It’s all in good fun. At the end of the day, we’re just trying to make each other better.”

Published at Mon, 01 Jan 2018 20:33:09 +0000