The Denver Nuggets need to give Jamal Murray the opportunity to win the Rookie of the Year award.
When the Nuggets season began, Jamal Murray was the third-string point guard behind Emmanuel Mudiay and Jameer Nelson. Despite his draft prodigy, as a top 10 pick, the Nuggets didn’t have a reason to play the former Kentucky Wildcat guard many minutes.
With Joel Embiid healthy for the first time since being drafted in 2014, there was a clear cut favorite for the Rookie of the Year award. Embiid didn’t disappoint, showing the potential that Philadelphia fans had been longing for. But an injury to Embiid’s knee sidelined him at the All-Star break, and the 76ers decided to shut down their franchise player for the remainder of the season with just 31 games played.
The NBA.com staff have kept a “Rookie Ladder” all season, and their most current edition still has Embiid in the top spot. Embiid’s teammate Dario Saric is second, followed by Malcolm Brogdon, Marquese Chriss, Buddy Hield, Willy Hernangomez, Isaiah Whitehead, Yogi Ferrell, Brandon Ingram, and Pascal Siakam.
These players all suck. Spare me the stats, but outside of Brogdon and Saric, Murray should be able to pass every other name on that list.
The Nuggets coaching staff seems to have figured out a rotation that gives Murray a healthy amount of minutes as a backup to Jameer Nelson. He’s been getting about 10 field goal attempts a game, and is running the point with the second unit.
It’s a smart move for the Nuggets, who have playoff aspirations, to play Murray. He averaged 11.2 points per game in February, shooting 35.7 percent on 3-point attempts, showing off the range that made him the No. 7 pick in the draft. The Nuggets have had a firm grip on the 8 seed for a few weeks, and don’t seem like they’ll be letting go of it over their remaining 20 or so games.
But with the Embiid injury, and with how well Murray has been playing, the Nuggets should make it a priority to give Murray more opportunities. Games like the one in Milwaukee, where Nelson was ill, are a great opportunity for Murray to shine. When the game is a blowout, put Murray back in and give him the green light to shoot whenever he wants. His teammates should get out and run after defensive rebounds, letting him show off his passing acumen in transition for highlight reel plays.
Remember the Trail Blazers game? Murray was let loose in garbage time, and couldn’t miss. Step backs, off screens, Murray was sinking everything. Let this happen more often!
Will he struggle with turnovers? Sure. Will he have the occasional lapse on defense? Absolutely. Will he score nine points in three possessions? Go on...
Look, the Nuggets are trying to make the postseason in order to show fans that they have a winning team in the Mile High City. The team is banking on the hope that wins will help bring fans back into the Pepsi Center. They’ve watched attendance plummet over the last four years, and it’s a serious issue.
You know what would also help get fans back in seats? Having the defending rookie of the year on the roster! Being able to honestly say that they have some of the best young players in the league on the roster and not having to cherry pick a stat, but just point at a trophy as evidence.
If Jamal Murray can be an impact player for a playoff team, he’ll have an argument that none of the other rookie of the year contenders have - he actually helped his team win games. Voters might be looking for a reason to give the award to anyone other than Embiid, because of how few games he played this season.
Plus, Murray is really freaking good. Let’s give him a chance to show how good he can be. I’m not saying that Murray should be the new starter at point guard - Jameer Nelson has done well in that role lately. However, I do think that instead of 20-23 minutes a game, Murray should be getting 25-28 minutes a game. Nudge his minutes up a little bit and encourage him to take advantage of the opportunity at hand.
Denver - do the right thing and do everything they can to help Jamal Murray be the 2017 rookie of the year.