Jake Rauchbach coached at the collegiate level, founded The MindRight Pro Program and trained numerous professional and Olympic athletes. Now, Rauchbach provides high performance analysis on the NBA and college basketball and serves as the Player Performance Specialist for Temple University's men's basketball team.

Coming out of the University of Kentucky, Jamal Murray was a bonafide scorer, averaging 20 points as an 18-ytear-old freshman in the SEC conference. So far this season as a rookie, he is still exhibiting that elite level scoring potential but has also struggled in several other areas, both offensively and defensively. As a rookie, this is to be expected. However, Murray will need to consistently improve to live up to the expectations many have for him in Denver.

Let’s take an in-depth look and break down Murray’s game to determine his strengths and weaknesses and how he could improve his performance moving forward.

Statistics:  8.6 ppg, 1.8 apg, 2.6 rpg, 39% FG, 87% FT, 32% 3PT (51 Games)


Offensive End

One-on-One –Murray has been a killer when going one-on-one this year, ranking in the 91st percentile in the league and averaging 1.1 points per possession, while shooting 44% from the field in these situations. At the end of shot clock situations from the top of the key in ISOs Murray is the second most efficient scorer in the league right behind the Knicks’ Derrick Rose. Murray is also highly efficient, ranking in the 99th percentile in the league, scoring 16 points on 10 possessions. Murray rarely drives it all the way to the rim in ISO situations but rather, will gauge and probe his defender with dribbles and step backs in order to free himself up for his dribble jumper. The kid has a knack for scoring the ball. Take a look at how he dances into a step-back three pointer on fellow Kentucky Wildcat alumni, Brandon Knight.

Cut Scoring – His scoring knack enables Murray to know when to drive to the rim for an easy basket off of a teammate’s pass. This season, Murray ranks in the 65th percentile in the league in scoring efficiency when moving without the ball. Murray does a great job back cutting his defender to the basket when he sees his defender turn his head. Watch how the Utah Jazz’s George Hill helps heavily on a Will Barton drive, and by the time Hill recovers, Murray is drawing a foul at the rim.

Hand Off Situation Scoring – Murray is a good hand off scorer, ranking in the 61st percentile in the league, with .936 points per possession. He is particularly effective when receiving the ball on stationary hand off situations. He uses his teammate’s hand off as a screen and does a good job gauging what he needs to do to create separation from his defender. He likes to see if he can turn the corner to get downhill at the basket coming off of hand offs. In stationary situations, Murray ranks in 77th percentile in the league, scoring 21 points on 19 possessions so far this season.

Defensive end

Dribble Hand Off Coverage – Murray is a strong DHO defender. He ranks in the 92nd percentile in the league in defending handoffs, allowing just 20 points on 33 possessions.

Watch Murray’s textbook coverage as he switches onto the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford and then stays connected with Crawford while still going under the DHO created by Marreese Speights, forcing Crawford into a contested shot.

P&R Defender – Murray is a good pick and roll defender when guarding the ball handler. He ranks in the 55th percentile in the league and is allowing just .83 points per possession on 39% from the field in these situations. This season, Murray is showing that he is an elite level defender when chasing the ball handler over the screen. He ranks in the 92nd percentile in the league in these situations, allowing just .73 points per possession. In the clip below, Murray does a great job fighting through the screen set by a Marcin Gortat screen, avoiding running up the back of Trey Burke, who tries to “snake” him off of the screen. By hustling to get back in front, Murray effectively contests Burke’s floater in the lane.


Offensive End

Catch and Shoot –Last season at Kentucky, Murray shot 50% from the field and 40% from the three-point line. He has a great, compact release and tends to hop step into opportunities, which allows him to get his shot off quickly. However, this season, he is only shooting 32% from the perimeter and 39% and from the field. Murray ranks in the 28th percentile in the league in three-point shooting efficiency and in the 35th percentile in mid-range scoring. On catch and shoot situations, Murray ranks in the 41st percentile in the league, shooting 34% from the field..

Transition Play – In transition, Murray ranks in the 30th percentile in the league. He does an OK job finishing as the ball handler on the break but struggles scoring it when running the left lane in transition, ranking in the 14th percentile in the league efficiency.

Left Side Pick and Roll ActionMurray’s efficiency overall in pick and roll action has been just average this season. He ranks in the 32nd percentile in the league in overall P&R efficiency. However, from the left side of the floor, Murray ranks as the worst player in the league in scoring efficiency, recording zero points on 13 possessions. As good as Murray’s scoring instincts are, he at times looks uncomfortable turning the corner going right off of the ball screen, usually resorting to stopping behind the screen for his jumper as he does against the Heat in the below clip.

Defensive End

Isolation Coverage – In the NBA, Murray is an average athlete with average length, and this hurts him when guarding dynamic scorers in the league. He ranks in the 4th percentile in the league and really puts Denver at a disadvantage on the defensive end at times with his inability to guard his man straight up. In the below clip, Dallas’s Seth Curry, also an average athlete when compared to other NBA wings, drives right past Murray. His tendency to get on the side of guys defensively hurts Murray, as players capitalize on this and go right by him as Curry does here.

Poor Close Out Defender – Again, because of Murray’s limitations athletically, he struggles to effectively stymie his offensive man on close outs. Often, Murray will be in help side defense and have to sprint out to his man to contest a shot when the ball gets swung around the perimeter to him. Because Murray does not have great length, he many times cannot effectively contest the jumper, or ends up compensating for this by leaving his feet.  On the drive and kick out to the Detroit Pistons’ Stanley Johnson below, Murray find himself closing out too high, where the bigger, stronger Johnson takes advantage by displacing the Nuggets guard on the drive for a fairly easy runner in the lane.

In order for Murray to really improve in this area of this game, he is going to have to change his mindset. He will have to be the meanest, toughest player on the defensive end in order to compete with the bigger, stronger athletes, such as Johnson. Murray ranks in the 6th percentile in the league guarding players in spot up situations, allowing 1.3 points per possession.

Post Up – Murray also needs work guarding the post. He ranks in the 6th percentile in the league, giving up 1.25 points per possession. In the example below, the Utah Jazz are basically saying, with the below offensive set that there is no way that Murray can guard our veteran, George Hill. Take note as to how the Jazz clear out the side for Hill to operate for an easy low post bucket. As mentioned above, Murray will have to employ a more ferocious mentality in order to improve his defense. This also holds true with his coverage in the post.

Performance Improvement Suggestions – Often, when players are struggling with performing consistently at a high level, there are unconscious mental barriers that are present that prevent the player from elevating play over the long term. There is no telling if this is the case with Murray, without working with him. However, the Nuggets’ rookie could begin to enhance his overall offensive performance by implementing a strict but simple performance routine geared to sharpen pre and in-game focus. Improving focus in this manner has been shown to improve statistical performance at the collegiate level. Refining Murray’s focus for consistent high performance could not only help him on the offensive end, but on the defensive end as well.

* All statistics are courtesy of Synergy and Basketball-Reference.com and are current as of February 9, 2017