Jamal Murray: The Denver Nuggets’ off-ball assassin

Jamal Murray is a lethal off-ball shooter for the Denver Nuggets. He makes use of diverse skill and remarkable savvy to deliver arrow after arrow to the heart of the opponent.

Good shooters can be stopped, but great shooters can only be contained. A great shooter has too many arrows in his quiver: off-screens, spot-ups—he’ll find a way to kill you. Denver Nuggets sophomore Jamal Murray is a great shooter.

Allow me a moment to assuage concerns that I might be throwing that label around too liberally. Yes, Murray is merely a career 34 percent 3-point shooter. Circumstances largely beyond Murray’s control have contributed a great deal to that less-than-elite mark.

Simply by eliminating attempts during garbage time, Murray’s career conversion rate from deep jumps up to 35.8 percent. Murray also tends to clean up his teammates’ messes, jumping on the proverbial grenade an inordinate amount: 11 percent of his career attempts from 3 have come within the last four seconds of the shot clock.

These suboptimal attempts have happened; we can’t pretend otherwise. But acknowledging this context allows us to understand why a truly great shooter’s overall numbers look so pedestrian.

Murray possesses savvy well beyond his years as an off-ball shooter. On spot-ups, he scores an impressive 1.12 points per possession. While spot-ups tend to be the easiest looks for shooters, this is another case of one number failing to tell the full story. Murray works for his spot-up looks:

Notice how Murray works his way into the driver’s line of sight and creates an unobstructed passing lane. He is uniquely good at relocating off-ball to generate great looks for himself:

Far too many good shooters remain stationary on the perimeter, willingly forfeiting open 3s—the NBA’s crude oil. Murray is remarkably good at not leaving that well untapped.

On more difficult off-screen shots, Murray also excels, scoring 1.39 points per possession. The Nuggets run Murray through a wide array of off-ball screens:

Murray has always been extremely effective shooting off screens (dating back to his days at Kentucky), because he’s excellent both at stopping on a dime and quickly reorienting his body into shooting position. Physically, these are not easy movements; they’re skills that many great shooters don’t develop until they’re on their second or third NBA contracts.

Murray’s greatest asset as an off-ball shooter, though, may be his intelligence. He’s unusually adept at reading the defense:

Murray sees his defender, Goran Dragic, cheating as he curls to the ball, so Murray flares out and creates an open look for himself.

Great as Murray is, he does, however, have room for growth. This year, he’s shooting 41.9 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s, but a paltry 25.9 percent on pull-ups. If he can remedy his struggles in that department (he was capable on pull-ups in college), he could elevate himself to the rarified status of uncontainable.

For now, though, Jamal Murray is a great shooter, an off-ball assassin who shoots his arrows with exceptional accuracy.