Nuggets Find Success in Morris-Murray Pairing
For the Denver Nuggets, several injuries throughout the season have forced head coach Michael Malone’s hand into trying out different partnerships in both the backcourt and frontcourt. In the Nuggets’ 133-107 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday, Malone shortened his rotation and deployed a Monte Morris-Jamal Murray partnership in the backcourt for stretches of the game.
On the surface, the fit may seem strange. After all, these are two players that have both played over 70 percent of their total minutes this season at point guard (according to Basketball Reference). However, a deeper dive into each player’s style of play reveals a straight-forward fit in the backcourt.
Morris and Murray have shared the floor for a little over 1,000 possessions this season. However, it is the connection the two built heading into the season that allows the pairing to thrive in the backcourt.
“Me and Jamal have great chemistry,” Morris revealed. “We played a lot together in the summer. When he comes in, we've got a good feel for each other."
That chemistry has been on full display this season, as the pairing allows the two players to flourish in their natural roles. For Morris, this often means handling the ball and initiating the offense. Meanwhile, playing alongside a traditional point guard in Morris allows Murray to run around screens and get open for quality shots.
"Jamal has an advantage because he played off-the-ball at Kentucky. He knows how to get his shots off-the-ball just as he does on-the-ball,” Morris pointed out. “He can just lock in and say 'find me', so that's what I do. Then when he's on-the-ball he can turn to his scoring mentality, which is good.”
Morris has certainly done his fair share of finding Murray when the two share the floor. With Morris handling the ball, Murray will run around the court and navigate his way through off-ball screens to get open for quality looks. In the two clips below, Morris is able to find Murray for open 3-pointers after Murray capitalizes on a confused defense and runs to the 3-point line.
In Denver’s win over the Timberwolves on Tuesday, Morris scanned the court before handing the ball off to Murray, who used a screen from Paul Millsap to step into a 3-pointer.
Having two guards that can both handle the ball and thrive playing off-ball makes it incredibly difficult to stop Denver’s offense, and Michael Malone is certainly aware of that.
"They play well off-each other. Monte has been great this year. Getting him out there with Jamal is great for our team because now you have two playmakers on the floor,” Malone pointed out. “Those two guys really play off-each other at a high level."
While Morris often finds himself with the ball in his hands during these stretches, he too is a strong off-ball player, having knocked down 46.2 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-pointers this season. Murray isn’t far behind him, as he has shot 41.6 percent on such shots this season.
The overall numbers paint a positive picture surrounding the backcourt pairing. According to Cleaning the Glass, lineups with both Morris and Murray on the floor own a +4.0-net rating this season. This is mainly due to the strong offensive performance during those minutes, as those lineups have posted a 114.0 offensive rating.
As a result of having Morris on the floor as a steadying presence, lineups with the two guards on the floor together rarely turn the ball over. Those lineups have a turnover percentage of just 12.1 percent, which would be tied for the lowest in the league if translated over the course of the season.
With Michael Malone to tinker with the rotation leading up to the playoffs, he will likely turn to a Morris-Murray backcourt on a regular basis. Given the two players’ skill sets, the combination allows both guards to be comfortable in their respective roles, making it a natural pairing.