When asked about the competition at the starting and backup point guard positions, head coach Michael Malone didn’t offer very many insights into who would get the first crack at the job.
“I’m looking forward to a very interesting point guard battle in training camp,” Malone said. “We are going to let our point guards earn that job.”
At this time, the other four starters are set in stone, barring unforeseen circumstances. Gary Harris will play shooting guard. Wilson Chandler will play small forward. Paul Millsap will play power forward. Nikola Jokic will play center. These are positions that provide rotation stability, and all four players will be heavy minute guys for the Nuggets this year.
The three players competing for the starting point guard role (apologies Monte Morris) are Jameer Nelson, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Jamal Murray. Nelson and Mudiay spent the majority of the season combining to be the starter last season. Neither player truly capitalized on their opportunity, and one could argue that point guard issues were Denver’s downfall last season. Jamal Murray spent time as the backup and a small block of time as a starter. He wasn’t perfect, but the team performed well with him in there.
|Point Guard||True Shooting %||Team O-Rating||Team D-Rating||Team Net Rating|
*Numbers pulled from nbawowy.com separating minutes for each player’s exclusive stint at point guard.
The Nuggets performed best with Jameer Nelson as the exclusive point guard on both sides. When he was on the floor and Emmanuel Mudiay was not, there was one less ball handler to remove touches from Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets found the steadying hand they needed, and they nearly made the playoffs because of it.
Jamal Murray though? He did well. He had the highest true shooting percentage of the three players, and the Net Rating while he was on the floor was positive in the 719 minutes he spent without Mudiay or Nelson. The team responded well to him in a point guard role, even though he wasn’t considered the point guard. Nikola Jokic was.
The following was said by Malone at media day yesterday:
"The ball will be in Nikola and Paul's hands so much, we don't need a prototypical John Stockton" Malone on DEN style of play and PG needs— Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares) September 25, 2017
As Malone said, the Nuggets don’t need a player at point guard who creates everything. Jokic and Millsap will be creating offense out of different sets while whoever the point guard is, Harris, and Chandler cut and run off screens around them. John Stockton created everything for the Utah Jazz, but Denver doesn’t need a guard to try and do that in their starting lineup.
After hearing this, I first thought of Jamal Murray. Throughout his rookie year, Murray knew when to give the ball to Jokic, Gallinari, Chandler, Plumlee, and other players to let them create. He used this to his advantage. While he wasn’t great in Spot Up situations, according to Synergy, Murray was in the 70th percentile as a cutter and in the 58th percentile coming off screens. Both numbers were impressive for a 19-year-old, and they are nearly guaranteed to see improvement.
Because of Murray’s ability to play off-ball coming out of college, he’s set up to meet the needs of what Denver needs from the point guard this season. Can he handle the ball? Yes. He was in the 73rd percentile as an isolation player and the 62nd percentile as a pick and roll ball handler. He combines on-ball ability with off-ball tendencies, which should blend really well with the other four starters.
The only question is whether he will take the reins.
After handing the point guard job to Mudiay the last two seasons, the Nuggets are likely wary of handing the job to Murray this season. He’s young, and giving him too much job security at the beginning of the year could lead to complacency. The Nuggets are going to challenge him in camp, force him to not beat out the other players, but truly win the competition on both ends of the floor.
Will he be perfect? No, but he does need to show improvement as a facilitator, defender, and with his overall efficiency. Scoring comes naturally to him, but in order to be the point guard and fit in next to the other four starters, he may need to put scoring on hold during some games and focus on other things. The Nuggets really struggled to defend point guards last season, and Murray was no different. He was in the 7th percentile defensively when guarding isolations, and opposing players knew they had an advantage on the rookie all night. Now? Murray must show some growth.
The Nuggets will give Murray every opportunity to win this point guard battle. They want him to play as much as possible, as he’s shown star power as a young player that can only be matched by Jokic a similar age. Now, the ball is in Murray’s court. Nothing will be given to him.
He has to take it for himself.