Jamal Murray’s future with the Denver Nuggets has been solidified. The Kitchener, Ontario native recently signed a five-year contract extension that will allow him to grow and develop as a member of the Nuggets.
As Murray enters his fourth season in the league and comes off an impressive playoff run in which he averaged 21.3 points, 4.7 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game, growth is exactly what will be expected from him. While Murray won’t be tasked with developing into Denver’s lead playmaker (there is a seven-foot Serbian big man who takes care of that responsibility), Murray will be depended on to, once again, be one of Denver’s top-two scorers.
Murray already achieved that feat for the first time in the 2018-19 season when he averaged a career-high 18.2 points per game. The key for the 22-year-old will be to increase his scoring while simultaneously improving his efficiency. During the 2017-18 season, Murray was effective from all areas of the floor. The former first-round pick shot 62 percent within three feet of the rim, 48 percent on mid-range jumpers (between 10 feet and 16 feet of the rim) and knocked down 37.8 percent from beyond the arc. The result was a 57.6 true shooting percentage, which was above the league average (55.6 percent).
Last season, Murray’s efficiency dipped across the board, as he shot 58.3 percent at the rim, 43.9 percent on those mid-range jumpers and 36.7 percent from three. Murray’s true shooting percentage dipped to 53.8 percent, which was below the league average of 56 percent.
It is important to note that true shooting percentage (TS%) is often considered to be a valuable measure of shooting efficiency and effectiveness because it accounts for 2-point field goals, 3-pointers and free throws. Given the emphasis on 3-pointers and shots at the rim in today’s NBA, TS% represents a more nuanced way to analyze a player’s efficiency.
Murray was still an effective offensive player for the Nuggets last season. Denver’s offense was 3.6 points per 100 possessions better when Murray was on the floor during the 2018-19 campaign, which ranks in the 79th percentile, according to Cleaning the Glass (which excludes garbage time). However, Murray had a more profound impact on the team’s offense during the 2017-18 season, in which the Nuggets’ offense was +10.8 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor (which ranked in the 98th percentile).
Murray’s shot distribution reflects a player that balances where his shots come from when on the floor. As seen in the table below, during the 2018-19 season, 23 percent of Murray’s shot attempts came at the rim, 43 percent came from the mid-range and 34 percent came from beyond the arc. That 34 percent of shot attempts from three represented a fairly steep decrease from the previous year, in which 39 percent of Murray’s shot attempts came from deep.
This is one of the areas that could stand to see an increase in the 2019-20 season. Given the increased value of a 3-point shot (especially compared to long mid-range jumpers), it would behoove Murray, who is a very strong 3-point shooter, to increase his 3-point attempt rate back up to around 36-38 percent.
The other area that would increase Murray’s effectiveness and allow him to be a consistent 20-point-per-game scorer would be to get to the free-throw line more often. Last season, Murray’s free throw rate (number of free throw attempts per FG attempt) was .190. For reference, the league average was .259. Given that Murray is an elite free-throw shooter (87.9 percent for his career), he should emphasize a more aggressive approach to get to the rim for layups, dunks and perhaps most importantly, trips to the free throw line.
Now, all of this shouldn’t come at the complete expense of Murray’s mid-range game, which fueled a good amount of his scoring in the playoffs. In the 2019 playoffs, Murray shot 48.1 percent on mid-range jumpers within 10 and 16 feet of the rim, which accounted for 20.6 percent of his total shot attempts. Murray also shot 66 percent from within three feet of the rim and increased his FT rate to .246.
Although Murray’s TS% was about the same in the playoffs as it was in the regular season, Murray shouldered a big load in Denver’s playoff offense and was very effective in doing so. Murray’s +3.0 offensive box plus-minus in the 2019 playoffs was a significant increase from the +1.1 OBPM he posted in the regular season, and a good amount of that is a result of his sweet-shooting from the mid-range.
Ultimately, what makes Jamal Murray such a capable scorer is his ability to hit shots from all areas of the court. While playing off of Nikola Jokić, Murray is able to dash around screens for 3-pointers, cut to the rim for layups and dunks, or dribble his way into tough mid-range jumpers.
As Murray continues to develop as a player, an increased effort to shoot more 3-pointers and get to the free throw line will only further support his impressive mid-range shooting, thus making him even more difficult to stop on a nightly basis.