2017-18 Nuggets Player Breakdown: Jamal Murray
This offseason is finally his. Jamal Murray gets to dictate how his summer goes, making his own schedule for the first time since Summer ’15, prior to his freshman season at Kentucky. And the Nuggets’ starting point guard has big plans.
“It is my first time that I should be able to work my body, work my game,” Murray said. “Last year, injuries, surgery. Year before that, Team Canada and all of that. It was a lot on my body. So, this year is going to be really time for me to work and really put the effort in I need to get better.”
And he’s excited at the prospect of what could happen.
“I know I’m going to get better this summer,” Murray said. “Now, it’s about going in there and putting in the work, taking the time I used to take in my game. I’m not putting in the same time in my game as I was before just because of those situations, injuries and all of that. I’m really excited to be out there, back home and work on myself.”
Even more tantalizing? This is what Murray did when he didn’t have a chance to fully work on his game.
He improved year-over-year in points (16.7), rebounds (3.7), assists (3.4), steals (1.0), field goal percentage (45.1), 3-point percentage (37.8) and free throw percentage (90.5). Murray was fifth in the NBA in free throw percentage, and was tied for first in the NBA (with Houston’s Chris Paul) in free throw percentage in clutch situations (minimum: 15 attempts). Murray made 96.3 percent of his free throws (26-of-27) in the clutch.
He came into the 2017-18 season fully healthy after double hernia surgery last offseason, and the benefits showed up immediately. He averaged 5.8 points in the paint – a hefty average for a guard – which accounted for more than a third of his per game average and was a significant improvement over the 3.2 from his rookie season. Pain-free, Murray was more explosive, and this is where it showed up most.
His unassisted 2-point field goals made skyrocketed from 51.7 percent as a rookie to 60.2 percent this season. Again, this suggests his improved health allowed him more of an ability to consistently get his own shot. Additionally, the Nuggets’ coaching staff did a good job of getting him off the ball resulting in more 3-point attempts in catch-and-shoot situations. His percentage of assisted 3-pointers rose nearly six percent to 77.0 from 71.3 in his rookie season.
OFFENSE: Murray was one of the NBA’s best catch-and-shoot players. He averaged a robust 1.278 points per possession in these situations, according to Synergy stats, and shot 43.2 percent in these situations. Murray was simply a devastating long range scorer when he was off the ball and coming off screens.
Here’s who he was better than in those situations: Washington’s John Wall, L.A. Clippers’ Lou Williams, Boston’s Kyrie Irving, Cleveland’s Kevin Love, Golden State’s Klay Thompson and New Orleans’ Jrue Holiday.
In pick-and-roll, Murray was much better in his second season. He was good at turning the corner diagnosing what was in front of him and making the correct reads. His passing in tight spaces was vastly improved. His awareness of matchups to take advantage of was better as well. He’ll continue to work on having a plan in coming off of those screens. That’s something that will improve with experience – the ability to know what he’ll likely face and to have real answers on the fly.
Coming off screens in the midrange, stopped short of the elbow on many occasions, resulting in longer, odd-angle jump shots. He can get right to the elbow if he wants, and make those shots easier and more fluid.
In other words, if he has spots he wants to get to, he can make a point to get to them. He’s got all of the tools he needs, most notably and improved handle, to get anywhere he wants. This season he took a lot of off-foot, or off-balance or sudden-stop jump shots. It’s the difference between coming off the screen and making a quick determination of what’s available – and shooting those – and coming off the screen knowing you want to get to a certain area; then getting there and taking an in-rhythm shot.
At the rim, Murray was much better finishing with his left hand. His off-ball movement was really good. In particular in “scramble” situations after an offensive rebound or when the Nuggets recovered a loose ball and were whipping the ball around the court, looking for an open shooter. He drifted away from defenders and found open spots with ease.
The Nuggets asked him to screen a lot, and he was not afraid to stick his head in and be physical with the screen.
In matters of running a team, getting an offense going quickly, Murray got better as the season wore on. It is likely, however, the coaching staff will demand an ever quicker pace from him. He directed traffic. Knew time, score, situation, who needed the ball, etc. with more detail as the season wore on. On assists, Murray was good at reading the situation and getting the ball to the right man. The Nuggets offense has many outlets built into its plays, and Murray was good at knowing where those were and making good passes to get teammates shots in rhythm.
Murray’s most common turnovers were lost ball and bad pass turnovers. His lost ball miscues came mainly when driving into high-traffic areas. The bad passes were mainly born of getting in the air with nowhere to go, and other times “experimenting” with high risk pass attempts.
DEFENSE: Defensively, Murray was active, and raised his steals output over his rookie season. He’ll continue to work on his lateral footspeed, which will aid him in improving his one-on-one defense at the point of attack.
He was a sneaky shot blocker, and did the bulk of his damage on his own man, whether staying in front of the shooter the entire time and rising up to get a piece of the attempt, or recovering to get the block. Murray continues to be an improving defender.
“He is a guy that has a chance to be special,” Nuggets president of basketball operations, Tim Connelly, said. “The next step with Jamal is consistency. He had flashes of brilliance. … Super proud of Jamal. I think he’s reflective of everything we want to be as a person and as a player. He can be special, special as a lead guard in our league.”
Christopher Dempsey: email@example.com and @chrisadempsey on Twitter