Denver Nuggets Friday Film Study: Jamal Murray’s 3-point shooting and decision-making

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer

A sudden reset can be beneficial from time to time.

Is your phone or computer not working? The “quick fix” is a reset that allows the system to reboot and iron out any kinks. Well when it comes to basketball, a reset can help energize a player, provide a new perspective on the game and help the body recuperate from wear and tear.

Four games into his return from an ankle injury that sidelined him through the second half of January (and first couple of days in February), it appears the reset has done wonders for Jamal Murray. With averages of 29 points and 6.2 assists per game this month on an eye-popping 67.9 true shooting percentage, the 22-year-old guard has played like an All-Star for the Nuggets when they’ve needed it most.

First it was a 20-point, six-assist performance in his return against the Portland Trail Blazers. Despite being on a minute restriction (he played just 20 minutes), Murray was uber-efficient on 6-of-9 shooting from the field, which included 3 of 6 from beyond the arc. Hot shooting has quickly become a theme of his return over the past week.

A key aspect of Murray’s return performance was his quick and decisive decision-making. When off-ball, the fourth-year guard routinely made an effort to cut towards the basket and Nikola Jokić made sure to find him for easy baskets.

The other important component of Murray’s efficient performance against Portland was his willingness to let it fly from deep in a variety of situations. Lose your defender off-ball? Let that catch-and-shoot 3-pointer fly. Your defender went underneath the screen? Pull up from deep and make the defense pay.

As mentioned earlier, six of Murray’s nine shot attempts were 3-pointers, which is a key step in his offensive evolution. Absent (for the most part) from this performance against the Trail Blazers were the contested mid-range jumpers that came following extended dribble sequences.

Even more impressive was Murray’s follow-up performance the next night, when he dropped 31 points in 43 minutes of action as a shorthanded Nuggets team defeated the Utah Jazz on the road. With only seven players taking the court that night for Denver, the team needed every single point from Murray and he delivered with a dazzling shot-making display, which included 4-of-9 shooting from downtown.

Once again, it was Murray’s quick decision-making to pull from deep that really put pressure on the defense. In the video below, Murray comes off a screen and goes straight into his jumper, while in the second clip he again burns the defense by pulling up out of a pick-and-roll situation when his defender when under the screen.

Murray’s third game back from injury was his best of the past week. Although the Nuggets received a boost from the return of Paul Millsap and the addition of recently-acquired players such as Keita Bates-Diop, Murray took over for Denver to the tune of 36 points and five assists on 14-of-17 shooting from the field, including 6 of 8 from beyond the arc. The 82.4 percent shooting set a new career-high for the 22-year-old guard.

Murray’s shot chart from that victory is a thing of beauty, with his love for contested mid-range jumpers being replaced by 3-point attempts or shots around the rim.

In the first clip below, you will notice the Nuggets ran the same action to get Murray running around an off-ball screen before receiving the pass at the top of arc. Once again, Murray fired instantly and made the defense pay for not sticking with him. The former No. 7 overall pick in the 2016 draft followed that up with another three out of the pick-and-roll when he faked out his primary defender (Mikal Bridges) with a behind-the-back dribble, which got him open since the big man wasn’t in proper position to defend the pick-and-roll and prevent the open look.

One of the more exciting 3-pointers from Murray on that night came in the third quarter, when the Nuggets deployed him in Steph Curry fashion off the ball. Murray darted around two screens (the first of which was set by Bates-Diop and completely took Jevon Carter out of reach) to get open for the 3-pointer. If Murray is willing to shoot with this confidence and is knocking these shots down at an above-average clip, Denver’s offense will be even more deadly down the stretch of the season.

Now, Murray won’t always shoot 48.4 percent from downtown like he has in four February games. What’s more important is the volume of attempts, and Murray has cranked that up to 7.8 per game this month, a very healthy number given his shooting ability and the lack of other elite shooters on the Nuggets’ roster.

Even though he only shot 2 of 8 from deep against the San Antonio Spurs Monday, the volume was high enough to continuously stretch the defense, while Murray was able to catch fire in the second half on his way to 26 points on 11-of-21 shooting from the field (yes, that means he shot 9-of-13 from inside the arc, which is incredible efficiency).

The big positives from Murray’s return lie in his quick decision-making and 3-point shooting. While the percentages will regress to the mean, this hot stretch is also showing that Murray is more than the 30-32 percent 3-point shooter he was up until he suffered the injury. If Murray can bounce back up to 36-37 percent from beyond the arc while increasing his volume to 6-8 attempts per game, both he and the team will benefit tremendously.

Since Murray returned to the lineup on Feb. 4, the Nuggets own the second-ranked offensive rating in the league, which has been boosted by 42.1 percent shooting from downtown.

As the Nuggets continue to get players back from injury following the All-Star break, their vision of having an elite one-two punch with Jokić and Murray has been realized throughout the past 10 days. If that continues moving forward as the supporting cast gets healthy and slots into their roles, Denver will be a tough assignment for every team in the league on any given night.


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