Jamal Murray’s biggest weapon is his three-point shot. The Blue Arrow nickname conjures the image of a long-range assassin, deadliest from distance. Yet through four days of training camp, Murray’s shot seems to be the one part of his game that has been off.
“Jamal has not shot the ball well in camp,” Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone told reporters following Friday’s practice. “He had tweaked his ankle in September and we forced him to miss some time. So I don’t think he’s in great shape right now. And that’s really funny to say about Jamal because he’s one of our best conditioned athletes still, but for him, he’s not in great shape for Jamal Murray.”
Exasperating Murray’s fatigue is his understudy on the team’s second unit: Monte Morris. The undersized, second-year point guard has carved out an identity on the defensive end as an on-ball pest. To hear it from Malone, what Morris lacks in size he makes up for with “tremendous confidence, tremendous grit, and toughness.”
Murray himself has a different comparison for Morris.
“It’s kind of like back at Kentucky whenever I’d go against Tyler (Ulis), he’s always got good hands. Strips the ball, always getting steals and stuff. It kind of reminds me of the same kind of defensive playing style. Always handsy, always trying to strip the ball a lot. You just gotta be ready.”
In other words, Morris’s defensive style is to make himself as much of an annoying and pesky nuisance as he can, staying in his opponent’s face like a gnat. And if “pest” sounds like a derogatory term, it’s one Morris himself embraces. “I just can’t wait to get out there and defend people, pick them up and just be a pest out there 94 feet.”
Through four days of training camp, Morris seems to have executed his plan quite nicely, pushing Murray to adjust to such a frenetic style of pressure and annoyance. “He’s not going to allow teams or players to do whatever they want to do,” says Malone. “One of the reasons (Jamal is) tired is because Monte is making it hard for him. And I think that’s great that Monte understands that’s part of his role to push the guys ahead of them so that they can become better players as well.”
Despite the shooting struggles, Murray’s name has popped up all week as a guy who has stood out for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with shooting. “He has rebounded at an extremely high level,” Malone added. “He was, I think, our third leading rebounder as a point guard in camp which is terrific. Going into today he had something like 14 assists and only 4 turnovers in all of the live sessions.”
Murray isn’t worried about his shot. There is a reason that at just 21 years old he led the Nuggets in total three-point field goal makes last season, on an impressive 37.8%. Murray’s slump will come to a close. What won’t end is Morris’s energy level on defense. And after the final day of training camp on Saturday, Morris will finally get to focus that energy on somebody else.