The Denver Nuggets’ top pick in the 2016 draft is starting to show off his enormous potential.
The NBA is a league of adaptation. Coaches that don’t adjust to the changes in the league get left behind. Teams that can’t keep up with the league’s trends, or forge a style that works for them will fail to obtain the ultimate success.
And teams that can’t adjust when bitten by the injury bug are doomed to fall apart. For the Denver Nuggets, the injury bug may have provided them with a long-term gain.
After both Gary Harris and Will Barton went down with injuries, Jamal Murray began to receive minutes within their rotation. That playing time appears to have allowed him to get into a rhythm and he hasn’t stopped since.
The clearest example of this was the Nuggets 110-107 win over the Chicago Bulls. Murray exploded for 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting in just 22 minutes. He also recorded six rebounds and two assists with no turnovers.
You can see his highlights below:
The outing was a far cry from the production we saw from Murray in the first four games of the season. He started his NBA career with 0-for-16 shooting through his first four NBA games, which is a far cry from the prolific shooting he displayed in Kentucky.
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Since that point, his shooting has improved dramatically. Even if you include his 0-for-8 outing against Minnesota at the beginning of November, he is shooting 44.1 percent from the floor and 44 percent from deep.
Over that stretch his is averaging a solid 11.3 points and 2.3 assists per game. While he is still making some rookie mistakes, for the most part he is taking good care of the ball. In six out of his 10 November games, he didn’t record a single turnover.
There have been lowlights along the way, like his six-turnover outing against Portland. But it speaks towards him developing a better feel for the NBA game.
The Nuggets have a good problem at the guard position. Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris and Will Barton have all been solid players.
Barton provides the team with electric scoring off of the bench, while Harris and Mudiay have been able to supply the Nuggets with scoring and playmaking, despite inconsistent jumpshots.
Having two playmakers has been a look the Nuggets have benefited from in the past. If you go back to last season, Mudiay shot 4 percent better from the floor, 9.3 percent better from deep and had an improved assist-to-turnover ratio when Harris was on the court. (Stats via NBA.com).
Having a secondary playmaker helps reduce pressure on Mudiay and allows him to play more controlled.
Now Harris was able to shoot a career-high 35.8 percent from three last season, which helped a Nuggets offense that could become congested in the past.
But with Harris out with a foot injury, the Nuggets can begin to explore what their offense would look like with a legitimate shooter like Murray.
The question then becomes, if Murray continues this strong play, what do you do when the Nuggets are fully healthy? Murray isn’t a pure point guard like Mudiay, he is more of a combo guard.
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But at this point the lack of efficiency on the offensive end from Mudiay is cause for legitimate concern. His build allows him to make an impact defensively, but his poor finishing and shot selection calls into question how effective he really is.
Mike Malone will need to decide if Mudiay and Murray is the best starting combination, or if the team is better with two combo guards in Murray and Harris. Having multiple playmakers is becoming more and more common within modern NBA offenses.
Any of these combinations would provide Denver with this luxury.
Murray has some limitations defensively given his stature, plus he needs to learn NBA defense like any rookie. With that in mind, ideally you would like to pair him with Mudiay.
But with several strong frontcourt defenders on the Nuggets roster, Malone may be able to get away with Murray playing in a starting role with Harris. If Murray’s breakthrough continues, it’s a good problem for Denver to have.
For a team that hasn’t had an opportunity to draft a blue-chip prospect at the top of the draft, they have done a tremendous job finding value with later picks. Murray appears to be another draft night win for the Nuggets’ front office.