After the magnificent playoff performance that Jamal Murray put on last season, it’s hard to believe that he could slip under the radar again. But because of hamstring and ankle injuries that have kept him out of 13 of the Nuggets’ first 24 games, that is exactly what has happened.
Murray has been outstanding yet again this season, averaging 18.5 points, 6.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds. More than those stats show, he’s been invaluable to the team’s success. They’re a middling 7-6 in games without him and 8-3 in games that he’s played.
Murray is probably the best active player to never have made an All-Star Game. Given his games missed and a minutes restriction that he is currently under, that streak may continue, but he has a huge impact on winning. When he and Nikola Jokic have played together, they’ve maintained the Nuggets’ status as the prohibitive favorite to come out of the West.
Jamal Murray knows how to make plays
During the regular season, with less attention on him, he’s finding ways to affect games in subtle ways, too. He’s sprinting into plays to set up perfect 2-for-1s. He’s been making hustle plays despite not being 100 percent healthy. He’s the No. 1 player in the entire league in recovering loose balls, per BBall Index. And he’s been great at directing the offense, doing things like rewarding teammates for hustling down the floor.
Watch him throw a dime to Aaron Gordon on an early post seal:
That facilitating shows up in Murray’s assist numbers, where he’s averaging a career-high 6.5 per game. His field-goal attempts and scoring are both down in part because he’s looked to be more of a setup guy early in the season. That may hurt his All-Star candidacy, but he’s made the Nuggets offense much better without necessarily putting up a ton of points himself.
Jamal Murray has turned into one of the best pull-up shooters in the league
Murray didn’t come into the league with a very good pull-up 3. He hit only 28.8 percent of those shots as a rookie. But he’s improved every year, to the point where he is one of the best in the league at it. He’s connecting 45.9 percent of those tries this season, per NBA Stats, putting him behind only Duncan Robinson.
The window that Murray needs to get those 3s off is smaller than the Jordan Poole fan club. Good luck guarding the Jokic-Murray pick-and-roll when he can comfortably hit shots like this now:
Murray’s new superpower also makes it tougher for teams to switch that pick-and-roll. When he gets a big on him, he can now lull them to sleep and fire over them easily. He may not be thought of in the same light as players like Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard, but he’s been more accurate than both of them.
Jamal Murray is making things easier for Nikola Jokic
Teams couldn’t figure out a way to guard the two-man game between Jokic and Murray. There haven’t been any new answers this year. Per PBPStats, those two are outscoring teams by 14.7 points per 100 possessions when they share the court together.
Murray’s shooting development has made them even harder to guard. He’s at a sterling 45.0 percent from 3 and 90.3 percent from the line this season. The Nuggets will keep Murray one pass away on Jokic post-ups, making it harder to put an extra defender on him. When they do, Jokic is automatic on those kick-outs.
Murray is also giving Jokic some breathers, which it looks like he may need given his recent mini-slump. Murray has always been a surprisingly decent post-up player given his modest 6-4 height. This season, he is shooting 52.9 percent out of his post-ups. He’s not going to be taking Joel Embiid down to the block, but he is punishing smaller guards. He had zero chill against Trae Young, backing him down over and over for easy scores.
All of these developments lead to a player who is even better than the one who tore through the league during the playoffs. Murray’s minutes restriction have kept his raw stats lower than they could be, but that postseason showing was no fluke — he really is that guy, and he would be a well-deserving All-Star.
Source : ESPN.com