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Stat of the Week: Checking in on Jamal Murray

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This week’s SOTW focuses on how Jamal Murray has performed to this point and some ideas for the future.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday night, Jamal Murray showed another layer of his scoring potential that the Denver Nuggets have been looking for. Playing minutes as the backup point guard with Emmanuel Mudiay sidelined Murray flourished, generating easy shots for himself and others. It was a side of Murray fans had not seen for awhile, and it was certainly encouraging.

Right now the Nuggets are trying to avoid as many mistakes as possible during a stretch run, and Michael Malone trusts Jameer Nelson more in this regard. Nelson is Malone’s security blanket, while Murray is still 19 years old. Murray was drafted to be a combo guard though, or so it was said in the beginning when he was drafted. Thus far, Murray has played 89 percent of his minutes at shooting guard and just nine percent at point guard, according to Basketball Reference. Most of those opportunities were during garbage time as well.

Either way, Murray is a player who has shown immense potential as a versatile scorer, and while his overall statistics don’t show it, he has clear potential.

Jamal Murray per game statistics:

Minutes Points Rebounds Assists FG% 3PT%
19.7 8.0 2.6 1.7 37.6 31.5

Nothing truly jumps out at the reader. Everything is relatively innocent and mostly subpar. The minutes are low, the percentages are Emmanuel Mudiay-esque. What makes Jamal Murray different?

For one thing, he passes the eye test with flying colors and for another, examining his play types provides promise. For a Denver Nuggets guard, the goal is to build around the strengths of Nikola Jokic, the likely focal point for the next decade. There are different play types that cater to Jokic’s strengths as a player that all Nuggets guards and forwards should try to optimize.

Based off of Murray’s play type results, he could potentially be a great match with Jokic for a long time.

Jamal Murray play type breakdown

Play Type Frequency Efficiency (PPP) Percentile Veteran Comparison
Spot Up 18.7% 1.10 PPP 74th Eric Gordon
Handoffs 8.9% 0.80 PPP 31st Manu Ginobili
Pick and Roll 22.0% 0.50 PPP 8th Marcus Thornton
Cuts 3.3% 1.27 PPP 58th C.J. McCollum
Off-Screen 17.5% 0.95 PPP 49th Evan Fournier
Isolation 5.0% 1.12 PPP 88th Stephen Curry

Lots to breakdown here, and I will start at the top:

Spot Ups

Murray’s production here has been up and down, but his three point percentage doesn’t really tell the story about how effective he’s been spotting up. At the 74th percentile in spot ups, Murray is a rhythm shooter, and when he’s involved in the game, he usually makes his spot up attempts.

This spot up is caused by a steal from Murray on defense. I may be cherry picking a little bit with a transition three pointer, but watch Chandler driving down the middle of the floor. He knows exactly where Murray is going: the right corner. Murray knows it too, and he catches quickly, shows off his quick trigger and makes a key three pointer, breaking the back of the Los Angeles Clippers early.

As Murray becomes more involved, these types of looks will be even more frequent, and Murray will make defenses pay.

Handoffs

This is still an aspect that Murray is learning, as he is just in the 31st percentile in handoffs. So much of the play is dependent on the spacing on the floor and the player handing the ball off though. The starting lineup has nearly perfected this with Jokic and Kenneth Faried as the pivot men.

With so much spacing on the floor in the above clip, Murray is able to gain free passage down the middle of the lane. He then is on a 2-on-1 with Faried against Marreese Speights and makes the right decision to take it himself. We likely won’t see this too often with the bench group, but it should certainly be a staple play. Murray can run it with Darrell Arthur, who would pop behind the three point line, or Jusuf Nurkic, who would roll to the rim next to him. Hopefully, the Nuggets keep running these play types for Murray as it’s an area I believe he can improve greatly this season.

Pick and Roll

This one is difficult. Murray passes the eye test greatly in the pick and roll, but so far, the efficiency is just not there, scoring a measly 0.50 PPP. For me, this one just needs repetition. Murray is not going to be a consistent pick and roll threat until he learns first hand. His usage is solid (74 possessions, 22.0% frequency), and I would like it to stay that way.

In the clip above, Murray makes a great move to gain separation, something I think he’s down reasonably well with the first half of the season. The shots just aren’t falling at this point. The hope is that, with added reps, the shots begin to go down, and based off of the separation he can generate with a quick move, I believe they will.

Cuts

Murray hasn’t been utilized as a cutter very frequently for most of the season, but lately, he’s been cutting more. With a 1.26 PPP, it’s a quick and easy way to generate a high percentage look at the rim, and with the passers in Denver, Murray should go wild here.

This is why Murray playing point guard is so important. Tyus Jones is 6’2, 195 pounds, a common size for an NBA point guard. In the above clip, Murray looks like he has at least two inches and 15 pounds on him. The size differential makes it easier for passers to find him cutting, but that difference is lost when he plays shooting guard. Murray is a good finisher around the rim as well, shooting 63.1 percent in between 0-3 feet. The Nuggets should take advantage here, as he provides a different dimension here that the 6’0 Jameer Nelson simply doesn’t have.

Off Screens

Here’s an interesting look at Murray running through the “elevator doors” off of a screen.

Murray hesitated and ultimately missed the open shot, but as he learns to simply catch-and-shoot, that exact play should be very dangerous for a long time. Murray is about average at this point coming off screens, but his closest comparison is Evan Fournier, a gifted shooter and the only capable perimeter shooting threat in Orlando. The below clip is a staple in Denver’s offense, and they should continue running it so long as it generates open shot attempts.

Isolation

Finally, we get to the part where I compare Murray to Stephen Curry. Yes, the sample size is small, and yes, Curry is awesome. So is Murray in isolation.

Murray recognizes the mismatch in front of him and resets behind the three point line, drawing Cole Aldrich out ever so slightly. This was all the room Murray needed to blow by him and hit a pretty floater. Scoring 1.12 PPP in isolation is simply great, and being in the 88th percentile means the Nuggets should continue to experiment with how good he can get. Plays should be drawn up to generate a switch of a big man on to Murray, and in this scenario, Murray is a threat to pop the jump shot and drive to the rim, leaving him options.

There’s also the fact that the Nuggets are missing a go-to isolation scorer who can generate a good shot attempt consistently. Danilo Gallinari and Will Barton are both capable, but Murray has the highest ceiling of the three based off of his large arsenal of moves.


So, there’s reason to believe in Jamal Murray. Nothing really jumps out statistically until we diagnose the play types and figure out what exactly Murray needs to improve on. My three biggest goals for Murray going into the second half of the season:

  1. Continue getting reps as the main pick and roll ball handler.
  2. Fly around when the ball isn’t in his hands, using cuts, screens, and handoffs to get free from the defense.
  3. Don’t hesitate. Shoot the ball if there’s room anywhere inside 28 feet.

Murray is a player who should have an aggressive play style when he’s on the floor. At the moment, he’s struggling to assert himself at times, as any 19-year-old combo guard forced to play off-ball would do. If he continues to be integrated into more backup point guard responsibilities, I expect a switch to flip for him. The ball will be in his hands more, and he seems to operate more confidently that way. As the season wears on, I hope Malone continues to deploy him in these ways, because the future is bright for the Blue Arrow.