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One skill to improve: Jamal Murray

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The Nuggets gave the former Kentucky Wildcat the reins to the starting offense in his second year. What will be the key to a breakout in his third season?

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

This is the third part in a series where a Denver Stiffs writer identifies one skill that they would like to see that a player worked on over the summer. Today we’re writing about the Nuggets promising young starting point guard, Jamal Murray.

When Jamal Murray was drafted by the Nuggets, it seemed like they would have a three-headed monster at the guard positions, with the previous year’s selection Emmanuel Mudiay at point, Gary Harris off ball, and Murray able to alternate between the two positions.

Unfortunately for the Nuggets, over the next two seasons, Mudiay’s play would not only fail to improve, but seemingly worsened over time, and he was traded at the 2018 trade deadline to the Knicks in a three-team deal. By that time, Murray had already earned the starting point guard role, and was finding success on the court.

Murray averaged 16.7 points, 3.4 assists, and 3.7 rebounds per game, while starting 80 games for Denver. He improved his perimeter shot, raising his 3-point percentage from 33 percent his rookie year to 37 percent. He was one of the best free throw shooters in the league, finishing the season shooting 90 percent from the line on 3.1 attempts per game.

One thing that impressed me was his competitive fire, and willingness to play in big moments. For a 21-year-old, he has a lot of wisdom and maturity that few other player at his age can match.

While he was capable of scoring bursts like his season-high 38 points over the Trail Blazers in January (that was such a great game), the skill I’m hoping that he worked on during the offseason could lead to more big nights.

Perimeter Shooting

Seems counter-intuitive? Why would one of the Nuggets best shooters need to improve his perimeter shooting?

Murray had 15 games last season with more than three made 3-point attempts. By comparison, Kemba Walker had 28 games with more than three made 3-point attempts, Damian Lillard had 27, and Donovan Mitchell had 16. Personally, I’d like to see Murray pattern his game after Lillard, and in order to do that, he needs to improve his perimeter scoring. Murray will still be younger next season than Lillard was when he entered the league — there’s a hope that Murray could become as good as his division rival.

In order to get there, Murray will need to put hours in at the gym to improve his core strength. Lillard is a strong guard, and uses his muscular core to help get shots off effortlessly. To be able to play over 30 minutes a night, while still able to drive into the lane to finish and then on the next possession, shoot from 35 feet and hit nothing but net requires a high level of conditioning.

Once Murray has the muscle foundation, he can work on establishing a balance, rhythm, and hone in his sterling release. The Nuggets offense incorporates so many handoffs, cuts, screens, and weaves, he’s going to be able to get plenty of shot opportunities off motion. It’s going to take a lot of work and repetition to ingrain a multitude of shots from different locations into his muscle memory, but I believe if he puts in the work, he’ll be successful.

Murray finished with 165 made 3-pointers last season - that was 100 short of the league leader, James Harden. If he can raise his percentages up above 40 percent, and take two more 3-point attempts per game due to his improved ability to shoot off screens and off the dribble, he could find himself among the league leaders in made 3-pointers, and the Nuggets would likely find themselves in the playoffs.