When Paul Millsap had to take a seat after suffering a wrist injury, many of us Nuggets fans sighed, muttered “Nugglife” under our breaths and then resigned ourselves to a team built around a prodigious offense lead by Nikola Jokic with a porous defense.
Things got real shaky for the team after Jokic went and sprained his ankle against the Chicago Bulls on November 30. The absence of the franchise cornerstone made the future seem bleak, especially in the face of a difficult stretch of the schedule.
It’s not just that the Nuggets lost two players that were contributing 30 points, 16 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. They lost their offensive and defensive leaders, and the presence of two reliable players in the locker room.
it’s especially concerning to lose those two players considering the Nuggets are relying on a 20-year-old and 21-year-old point guard to lead the team. Jamal Murray has been inconsistent at times this season, his first as the starting point guard for the team. There’s no denying the tools he possesses to be a successful player, it has just been an issue of connecting those tools with his mental ability to decipher the game.
While I’m not privy to conversations Nuggets head coach Michael Malone has with his players (I don’t have any media access), I’d be surprised if Malone pulled Murray aside after Jokic’s injury and in some form or fashion told him that the team belonged to him now, and it was his time to lead. He can’t even get into a night club without a fake ID, how is he going to take over the leadership role for a professional basketball team?
While other players have risen to the challenge of being a team leader while Jokic recovers, Murray has definitely elevated his game to help the team find some success. Murray brought the fire and the fury for the Nuggets first game without Jokic, a fifteen point victory at home over Lonzo Ball and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Murray has had his struggles on the road, that’s undeniable. But his most recent performance against the Detroit Pistons is just another glimpse at the potential he has. Murray dropped 28 points on the Pistons, taking over the third quarter to help the team secure an easy victory on the road against one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.
Over his last six games, which stretches back to the Chicago game where Jokic was injured, Murray is averaging 18 points a game while shooting 46 percent from the field, 52 percent on 3-point attempts, and he’s made 20 of 21 free throws. The thing that is probably making Coach Malone the happiest is that Murray is averaging just 1.2 turnovers per game over this stretch - his ability to take care of the ball has been key.
During Nuggets’ five-game road trip— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) December 13, 2017
Nuggets Net Rating on-court: 8.9
Nuggets Net Rating off-court: -11.7
This isn’t meant to be a total fluff piece however. It’d be naive to say that everything has been great for Murray this season, especially over the last six games. Murray has struggled on this recent road trip against the Orlando Magic and Indiana Pacers, and he only played 16 minutes against the Magic. His teammate and backup, Emmanuel Mudiay, played well against the Magic, but it wasn’t like Murray deserved minutes with his play early in the game.
However, it is encouraging to see Murray develop his game further, as well as play with an intensity and fire that many fans are looking for in one of the young core players. The Nuggets have a lot of nice guys that are talented in their role, but to take the next jump, they need someone that can go out there and get buckets. Perhaps we’re seeing Jamal Murray develop into that guy for the team.