Over the next few weeks, the Denver Stiffs staff will be previewing the 2016-17 Denver Nuggets. The team enters Michael Malone’s second season with the Nuggets with a mix of new and familiar faces. With a roster mixed with young talent like Jamal Murray and more experienced veterans like Wilson Chandler, the Nuggets are looking to improve on their 33-49 record from last season.
Jamal Murray, the Nuggets first selection with the No. 7 pick in the 2016 draft, will hopefully be ranked much higher by the end of the season. Murray was one of the top shooting prospects in the draft, on par with the Wooden Award winner, Buddy Hield, who was selected by New Orleans with the No. 6 pick. The Kitchener, Ontario native had a tremendous freshman season at Kentucky, demonstrating the skills that had him ranked as one of the top 15 recruits in college basketball.
While at Kentucky, Murray had success playing as the two guard next to Tyler Ulis, who will be playing for the Phoenix Suns this season. With the opportunity to run off screens and be on the receiving end of Ulis’ passes, Murray made 113 3-point attempts, the second-highest mark ever recorded by a freshman (Steph Curry is first with 122).
With the Nuggets, Murray, head coach Michael Malone and the front office have repeatedly said that they consider Murray to be a point guard. The way that I understand basketball, I prefer to Murray as a “points guard.” A points guard is a guard that is asked to be the primary ballhandler with the responsibility to score the basketball rather than set up teammates for scoring opportunities. I think that Murray will be asked to score the ball - a lot - beginning with the second unit as an off-ball option while learning how to succeed as the primary ballhandler.
In Summer League, being used as a “points guard” was how Murray was used frequently. He struggled to score efficiently as a primary ballhandler, and the coaching staff realized they needed to run more plays for him to give him opportunities to be more efficient. His best performance came in the Nuggets final Summer League game, against Ulis and the Suns, where he dropped a cool 29 points including the final 14 points of the game.
Murray will not likely start the season as the backup point guard - Jameer Nelson is a wise, capable option there for the Nuggets. I expect him to compete with Will Barton to be the backup shooting guard at the beginning of the season, while eventually playing his way into more and more minutes as the season progresses. Coach Malone won’t play guys if they can’t defend, and it’ll take time and repetition for Murray to be ready to play sound defense.
Murray can shoot the basketball really well. While he finished Summer League shooting about 28 percent on 3-point attempts, he shot 40 percent on 3-point attempts at Kentucky. He has such a solid foundation on his jump shot, and is able to get off his attempts relatively quickly. He can shoot well off the dribble and is a knockdown shooter on set plays.
Murray has great intangibles, with a remarkable work ethic and is respected by his teammates. He cares a lot about winning, he has a great motor, and he’s very competitive. He’s the type of player that welcomes the pressure that comes in the closing minutes of games, because he knows what he is capable of and he knows that he’s prepared for that moment (unless he’s playing Indiana).
An underrated aspect of his game is his athleticism. He has enough burst and change of direction ability to get past his defender and into the paint, and has the strength to finish around the rim efficiently.
Like most rookies, Murray’s weaknesses are defense and conditioning. Murray wasn’t relied on for his defense while at Kentucky, and struggled at times to prevent penetration against more athletic players. There are going to be moments where he gets caught with his hands in his pockets, watching plays unfold rather than reacting to plays as they unfold. With time, he’ll have to learn how to take the best angle on defense and how to rotate as part of a unit.
As for the conditioning, Nuggets superstar strength coach Steve Hess is going to take care of that, one early morning Red Rocks run at a time. The Nuggets should be more worried about Murray being sponsored by Adidas (the shoe wore by players like Kevin Ware and Danilo Gallinari!)
Projected 2016-17 Season Stats
Courtesy of Hashtag Basketball, here are projections for Jamal Murray.
The Nuggets have team options they can exercise for Murray’s third and fourth season, and a qualifying offer they can extend for his fifth season. As of September 23, 1 Canadian dollar is equal to 0.76 US dollars - so Murray is going to be getting a good exchange rate for his loonies!