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Nuggets Look-backs: How Jamal Murray can build off a promising playoff debut

Harrison Wind Avatar
July 21, 2020

Heading into the NBA’s restart on June 30, the DNVR Nuggets crew is looking back on the Denver Nuggets’ season, where each player left off, a target stat that every player should shoot for and one half-court heave or bold prediction for everyone on the Nuggets’ roster.

Where Jamal Murray left off

No night this season epitomized Jamal Murray’s Nuggets tenure more than Denver’s Feb. 10 matchup against the San Antonio Spurs. The Nuggets trailed the Spurs 67-53 at halftime and Murray had shot just 1 of 5 from the field for three points while playing through a balky ankle. He could barely make it up the floor. In the locker room, Murray wasn’t sure if he was going to return for the third quarter due to the injury.

But just as he has on countless occasions in a Nuggets uniform, Murray persevered and emerged from Denver’s locker room a different player. He was lights out in the second half, scoring 23 points over the third and fourth quarters as he led the Nuggets to 127-120 win. Denver overcame a 23-point third-quarter deficit in one of its most impressive wins of the season.

Nuggets fans are familiar with the roller coaster that Murray sometimes takes them on. For one half or one game he’ll play at an All-Star level, picking apart any defense or defender that the opposition throws his way. His 39 points against the Grizzlies in just 31 minutes earlier this season. His 48 points against the Celtics when Murray out-dueled Kyrie Irving last year. His 47 points against the Suns in Dec. 2018 when Murray hit 9 of 11 3-pointers. You don’t have to rack your brain too hard to be reminded of his heroics.

Murray’s Nuggets career has also been defined by some inconsistency, something that’s natural for a young point guard which at 23-years-old Murray still most definitely is. The game after Murray scored 39 against Memphis, he shot 4 of 16 from the floor for 10 points against the Rockets. In the game following his 48 points against the Celtics, Murray scored 15 points on 6 of 21 shooting in a loss in Memphis, one of the worst defeats for the Nuggets over the last couple of seasons.

Last season, ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote that Murray will be perhaps the league’s most important swing player over the next few years. As of right now he still is. When Murray is on, the Nuggets can beat any team in the league. When he’s not, Denver is a good to very good team but can’t go blow for blow with the NBA’s top heavyweights.

If you look at Murray’s stat line this season, it doesn’t look too different from last year’s.

But throughout Murray’s fourth NBA season he still grew in a number of areas. Murray made reads and passes out of the pick-and-roll that he wasn’t a year ago. He also grew as a leader and his voice is louder and more prominent within the Nuggets’ locker room than it was this time last season.

I can’t wait to see what Murray does when the season resumes resumes. He has a lot riding on his postseason performance, and coming off a strong playoff debut — last season Murray became the first player 22-years-old or younger since Bradley Beal in 2015 to average at least 21 points, 4 rebounds and 4.5 assists in the postseason — expectations this time around remain high especially with a max contract set to kick in next year. Defensively he’ll have to be better in the postseason, and like last year’s playoffs, Murray figures to be a popular pick-and-roll target of opposing offenses.

From Murray’s media availability at Disney World last week you get the sense that he’s raring to go. Murray eats, drinks, sleeps and lives basketball. He’s regarded as one of the Nuggets’ hardest workers and toughest competitions. He hates to lose maybe more than anybody on the Nuggets’ roster. When you’ve heard the Nuggets say this season that they truly believe they can win a championship, Murray is one of the chief architects behind that sentiment being built up within Denver’s locker room.

Target Stat

At least seven 3-point attempts per game

Coming out of the All-Star break, Murray upped his 3-point attempts per game from 5.3 over the first 45 games of the season to 6.6 game in the 10 games before the NBA’s hiatus began on March 1. It sounds like that trend will continue once the season resumes. Here’s what Murray had to say on the NBA’s Hang Time Podcast earlier this month about his season so far.

“I noticed how many shots I passed up from three, just not being ready,” Murray said regarding his play this season. “At Kentucky you knew that was going up. In Denver I’m not putting it up as much. I’m just trying to get back to the mentality of being shot-ready and when I get that ball I’m ready to let it fly.”

More 3-point attempts from Murray stretches the defense out and opens up the floor for Denver’s offense to be more dynamic. He’s a better 3-point shooter than the 34.5% he shot from distance this season and like Murray said, he’s usually had opportunities, whether it’s coming off screens or in catch-and-shoot situations, to rise and fire but sometimes he’s not shot-ready.

His 5.5 3-point attempts per game rank him 46th in the league among guards and behind middling 3-point shooters like Spencer Dinwiddie (6.3 attempts per game at 30.8%) and Marcus Smart (6.9 attempts per game at 34.8%). If he can get his 3-point percentage up a few points, seven-plus 3-point attempts per game would be a great number for Murray to shoot for.

Half-Court Heave

40+ in a playoff game

If you’re selling Murray stock heading into the restart then I’m buying. It’s going to be fascinating to see how a player who feeds off the crowd’s energy like Murray fares without fans in attendance, but I’m a believer in how locked in he is right now. Murray’s postseason high is currently 34 points. I’m betting on him to go over 40 in a playoff game this season.


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