When Jamal Murray inked a five-year max extension worth $170 million with the Nuggets in the summer of 2019, critics outside of Denver were not shy in expressing concern.

While Murray had shown potential, many considered it a gamble to extend him to a max deal so early, especially considering that in 2018-19 he only averaged 18.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.8 assists while shooting 36.7% from three. Those numbers improved in the playoffs, but in the second round against Portland he was borderline unplayable at times due to poor defense. At the time, Murray hadn’t yet reached true star level; even among point guards, he only ranked 27th in ESPN’s Real Plus Minus that season..

Despite uncertainty around the league, the Nuggets knew what they had signed up for and were glad to make the commitment. In the 2020 playoffs, they got their validation while witnessing Murray finally make his leap from average point guard to true superstar potential who earned the dollar value of his contract (which notably, didn’t kick in until this current season). Any questions of his legitimacy as an NBA star went up in flames as Murray scorched the Utah Jazz for 50 points twice and dropped 40 in Game 7 against the Los Angeles Clippers en route to a Western Conference finals appearance. 

All in all, Murray averaged 26.5 points per game, 4.8 rebounds, 6.6 assists and shot 45.3% from three on 7.2 attempts per game in the playoffs. 

Jamal has clearly put in the work both on the court and in the weight room to succeed and improve. His leap in the bubble was hopefully just the beginning, but next up for a player of his caliber is to start looking at adding individual accolades to his resume. The most glaring absence so far is an All-Star appearance. 

Will 2021 be the year Jamal Murray cracks the All-Star rotation?

First, let’s consider who the potential All-Star guards will be in the Western Conference. Last season, the guards selected for the game were James Harden, Luka Doncic, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Donovan Mitchell and Damian Lillard, who due to injury was replaced by Devin Booker. This year, as of writing, the list is already different in that Westbrook has gone to the Eastern Conference but would be replaced by Stephen Curry who will have returned from injury. Assuming everyone is healthy, Damian Lillard wouldn’t withdraw and since the older Paul and Booker are now both on the Suns, one of them is likely the odd man out.  

In addition to considering Murray, we’ll be generous and also include other notable guards like CJ McCollum, D’Angelo Russell, Ja Morant, and De’Aaron Fox. Let’s look at how all these players fared last season:

Player Points Rebounds Assists 3P% Games Played Team Record
Luka Doncic 28.8 9.4 8.8 31.6 61 43-32
James Harden 34.3 6.6 7.5 35.5 68 44-28
Stephen Curry* 27.3 5.3 5.2 43.7 69 57-25*
Damian Lillard 30 4.3 8 40.1 66 35-39
Donovan Mitchell 24 4.4 4.3 36.6 69 44-28
Chris Paul 17.6 5 6.7 36.5 70 44-28
Devin Booker 26.6 4.2 6.5 34.6 59 34-39
Jamal Murray 18.5 4 4.8 34.6 59 46-27
Ja Morant 17.8 3.9 7.3 33.5 67 34-39
CJ McCollum 22.2 4.2 4.4 37.9 70 35-39
D'Angelo Russell 23.1 3.9 6.3 36.7 45 31-41
De'Aaron Fox 21.1 3.8 6.8 29.2 51 19-45
*Stats from 2018-19

At face value it appears that the two biggest factors in earning a spot are a combination of points per game and team wins. Only Chris Paul averaged under 20 points last season and got the nod, but that’s because he led a rag-tag group of Thunder players to a wildly successful season given the circumstance. The Trail Blazers were under-.500, but Lillard averaged 30 points and scored over 60 points twice, including once during a six-game stretch in January where he averaged 48.8 points per game. He absolutely deserved to be there.

Murray finds himself in the sweet spot of having averaged fewer points but being on a team with the best record out of that group. Unfortunately, in that scenario points per game trumps all, which is why Booker got voted in for Lillard despite a sub-.500 record.

It is critical that Murray proves that his bubble ascendance wasn’t a fluke. While his performances in the playoffs were near other-wordly, up until the pandemic halted the season in March, Murray’s stats were freakishly on par with last year: 18.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists on 34.6% shooting from deep. Consistent, yes, but not quite All-Star caliber as we’ve seen. If he can topple the 20 point barrier while the Nuggets maintain a top seed it would seem egregious for him to not get voted in.

There remains a few barriers to entry for Murray to actually make the All-Star roster, however. Remember, the starters in each conference (two guards and three forwards) are selected by 50 percent of the fan vote, 25 percent of player vote and 25 percent media vote. Head coaches then vote on two guards, three forwards and two wild card spots from other teams within their respective conference to make up the seven reserve players for each team.

Murray doesn’t stand a chance at ever winning the fan vote, especially when Lakers fans spam the vote for undeserving candidates like Alex Caruso, who finished fourth in 2020 with nearly 1.3 million tallies. Jamal only accumulated 139,889 fan votes – 23rd among all Western Conference guards and well behind any of the All-Stars. In the weighted formula system the NBA uses, any improvement for Murray in fan voting will go a long way at increasing his chances at squeaking in as a starter. Murray already fared better with player votes, ranking 10th among guards, but still has room for improvement there as well. All the media votes in 2020 went to Doncic, Harden and Lillard.

ESPN analysts, who made up nearly a quarter of the media voting in 2020, have already seemed to buy into Jamal’s hype. In ESPN’s annual NBA Player Rankings for 2021, Murray finished 21st overall which is a welcome jump, but is the eighth best Western Conference guard on the list. That’s probably a pass. 

Indeed, getting past popular (and frankly, better) players like Doncic, Harden, Lillard and Curry will be nigh impossible barring Murray making a gargantuan leap this year. He will almost certainly have to get in by the coaches’ vote, but even then it’s not guaranteed as in addition to two of the aforementioned players he will be going up against incumbent stars in Mitchell, Paul and Booker for two, maybe three spots. 

Regardless, the best thing Murray can do to make his All-Star case in addition to increasing his scoring output is to do it in a memorable fashion. Undoubtedly his All-Star stock rose during the bubble, but by the time voting comes around over five months will have passed. He can sway fans, NBA peers, media and most importantly the coaches by putting up huge scoring nights like that again and staying relevant in the national discussion. It might be the only way to break into an already elite group.

Murray’s talent is indubitable and he deserves to be mentioned in the same tier of players who will be up for consideration. Whether that actually translates to an All-Star selection, however, remains to be seen.

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