This week’s edition of Stat of the Week will focus on the recent success of the Denver Nuggets point guard platoon. Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay made up two halves of a shaky duo to begin the year. The release of Jameer Nelson to make room for the addition of Richard Jefferson made things both easier and more difficult. On one hand, head coach Michael Malone would be forced to play a young combo guard close to 100% of his minutes at point guard and give a potential bust minutes every game. On the other hand, playing those players through their struggles has helped each player improve as early as right games into the season.

During Week 1 of the NBA season, life wasn’t so great for the Murray and Mudiay duo. Here are the numbers for both guys through the first four games of the year.

Both players struggled with their overall efficiency, and while Mudiay was consistently knocking down his shots from beyond the arc, neither made much of a positive impact on the first four games.

In the next four though? Both have taken off.

Player Points Assists Rebounds Field Goal % 3-point %
Jamal Murray 8.5 3.8 2.5 29.8 10.5
Emmanuel Mudiay 8.8 2.0 4.0 33.3 40.0

It’s notable that Murray averages less assists in the second stint than the first stint. While the young combo guard has solid instincts as a passer, his instincts as a scorer are elite. This is why Murray went 7th overall in the draft. He gets buckets, and even though his outside shot hasn’t been falling until recently, he’s found other ways to score.

Murray’s drives to the rim this year have been very nice. In the first eight games, Murray has made 25/36 field goals within 10 feet of the rim, good for 69.4%. The top eight guards finishing within 10 feet so far:

  1. Jrue Holiday – 70.8%
  2. Eric Gordon – 70.3%
  3. Victor Oladipo – 70.0%
  4. Jamal Murray – 69.4%
  5. John Wall – 69.0%
  6. Russell Westbrook – 68.0%
  7. Gary Harris – 67.7%
  8. Bradley Beal – 67.6%

Now, 69.4% is likely unsustainable, but the film that Murray has put on tape for his drives has been excellent. Murray has finished back cuts, in transition, drives in the pick and roll, floaters, along with other twists and contortions in the paint with perfect touch. Watch here as he drives in transition for the easy euro step around Joe Harris.

And here, as he ball fakes after a dribble hand off to generate an easy layup against Charlotte.

Because of this, teams have to respect his finishing and either send help or sag off of his jump shot. In this case, the New York Knicks do both, but it doesn’t impede Murray from getting two more points as he gets a step back jumper to go.

Having excellent finishing skills around the rim makes things extremely easy for shooters. On one hand, a defender can sag off and allow the prospect of a three-pointer. On the other hand, a finisher as automatic as Murray can make the defense pay by guarding him too closely. While he still needs help getting by his defender, that part of his game will develop more consistently in due time. For now, Murray is an excellent finisher, and as his jump shot goes in more consistently, it will only make his scoring more dynamic.

For Mudiay, there have been similar occurrences which have manifested in different ways. His finishing numbers inside 10 feet are also improved, moving from 45.3% last year to 56.7% this year. While those numbers (and Murray’s) may be the product of small sample size, it’s encouraging to see the 6’5 guard use his body effectively.

What’s been really impressive with Mudiay is his three-point jumper. Mudiay has shot 10/22 from distance thus far, good for 45.5%. Among all guards who have attempted at least 20 threes, Mudiay is 15th in 3-point percentage, and it’s been a combination of success on the catch and pulling up. On catch-and-shoot threes, he has shot 5/13 from behind the arc (38.5%). On pull-up threes, he’s shot 5/9 from behind the arc (55.6%). Last year, Mudiay shot 35.8% on catch-and-shoot threes and 19.1% on pull-up threes. I have my doubts about the newfound success shooting off the dribble, but shooting on the catch? That might be here to stay.

Watch as Mudiay dishes to Paul Millsap and relocates to the corner while Millsap drives. The big man makes an excellent pass to Mudiay who drills an open look.

The next time down the floor, Mudiay pulls up in rhythm and drills a three over Spencer Dinwiddie.

Because of Mudiay’s shooting, the defense has to respect his jumper, and when he gives great hesitations like this, finishing becomes a lot easier.

The last four games have been a clear indicator that the front office and coaching staff may have made the correct decision to go young at the point guard position. Both players have flashed high potential, and crazily, Mudiay just put together arguably the most consistent four game stretch of his young career. Murray just averaged 23.3 points on a 74.4 TS% over his last three games. Both guards have shown some great potential over the last week, and if there was ever a thought about trading for Eric Bledsoe in the Nuggets front office, it has become that much more difficult to make a change due to the play of their young studs.

That’s it for this edition of Stat of the Week. Let me know what I should cover next in the comments section or on Twitter.

Player Points Assists Rebounds Field Goal % 3-point %
Jamal Murray 19.0 2.3 2.5 51.9 36.8
Emmanuel Mudiay 15.5 4.0 2.8 44.4 50.0