The Denver Nuggets have been one of the most exciting teams in the NBA. With their average age just above 24, Denver has been a huge surprise for a lot of basketball watchers, coming out of the gate scorching with a 9-1 record. For the last two years, the Nuggets have been known for their explosive offense, being in the top 10 for offensive efficiency and averaging 110 PPG last season.
The one thing that’s been the reason for this team not taking the next step has been their defense. They’ve ranked in the bottom third of the league the last three seasons that Micheal Malone has been the head coach. That’s not been the case this year, though. Denver ranks 3rd in defensive efficiency through 10 games, behind the Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics. One thing that is strange when looking at Denver this season is that their defense has been significantly better than their offense. Denver is averaging 111.8 PPG, which doesn’t seem bad at all, but when looking deeper you can see that it’s not what they’re fully capable of. They’re averaging 13.8 turnovers, and only shooting 31.5% on threes.
Jamal Murray: The Key for the Denver Nuggets
Denver is extremely young and has a plethora of offensive talent. Jamal Murray is 21, Gary Harris is 24, Nikola Jokic is 23, and the list goes on. But those players have not shown what we were expecting. Jokic started off the season looking like an MVP but has only averaged 6.6 PPG in Denver’s last three wins. However, Harris is only shooting 26% on his threes, Trey Lyles is only shooting 17% on his threes and 35% overall, and Torrey Craig is only shooting 15% on his threes. Those are players, who last season, were big offensive contributors, with Harris shooting 39% from deep, Lyles shooting 39% from deep, and Craig giving big minutes down the stretch.
The Blue Arrow
That’s where Jamal Murray comes in. He has been one of the most consistent players for the Nuggets, scoring double digits in his last 7 games, the latest being a 48 point explosion against Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics. Murray was the only offense Denver had that night. They scored 19 points in the first quarter, and Murray had 14 of them. He gave them the spark they desperately needed to get back into the game, and eventually win the game. With Will Barton out for at least another 4 weeks, Denver has to find a player they can rely on to score in clutch situations, and Murray can be that player. Denver needs to make him a bigger point in the offense.
So what exactly should the Nuggets do with Murray? Right now he is a second option, tied with Harris and behind Jokic. Denver should make him the first option in certain parts of the game. For example, Denver was down 10-2 to start the game against Boston. Murray then made 2 straight threes and proceeded to score 10 points in two minutes. In moments when they need offense, Murray should be the first option. Jokic is so good at finding shooters with his passing that he doesn’t need to score to affect a game.
In situations when Denver is playing in the clutch, Murray should get the ball. Whatever that ‘it’ factor entails, Murray has it. He’s shown it multiple times, not just in the game against the Celtics. Last season against Portland, he had a career-high (at the time) 38 points and the game-winning shot. Against the Thunder last season, Murray dropped 33 points and had a huge fourth quarter to keep Denver in the lead until Gary Harris had that dagger at the buzzer.
Potential for the Future
Murray probably won’t be a consistent number one option on the Nuggets as long as Jokic is on the team. That’s the beauty of how the Nuggets are built, though. They don’t need a man to rely on every single second of every game, just certain people to show up when they need it. If Denver wants to continue their rapid improvement, they must stick with that style of play. That’s not to say a player won’t just go off like Murray did, or have a stretch of games where they will dominate like Jokic did to end last year. Everyone needs to stay consistent on the team and they will be contenders for the foreseeable future.
If Jamal Murray leaves Denver, however, that is a different story. If he goes to a team where he is undeniably the best player, his ceiling is going to be All-Star like. Just look at Zach LaVine. After being shoved behind Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins his first few years, he has blossomed into a star with Chicago. If Murray goes to a place like New York or Minnesota, his ceiling will most likely be 20 PPG. In order to maximize his potential, he needs to have the ball in his hands more often.
The Denver Nuggets have a bright future, and there’s no denying that. With Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, and Jamal Murray, they are going to be a force. Murray is the most interesting case. Offensively, he can do everything a coach could ask him to do. Defensively, that’s a work in progress, but he is getting better every single game. Denver will go where Murray goes. If Denver is struggling and Murray can’t turn it on, then it’s going to be a long night. If the Nuggets can get good production from Murray consistently, then the Nuggets will benefit immensely.
Only time will tell how good the Nuggets and Murray are going to be, but early on it looks like something special is cooking in the Rockies.
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