Early in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s Nuggets-Jazz game, Jamal Murray came off a screen and caught the ball near the top of the key. He dribbled twice, took off and, once he was in the air, did his best impression of a certain former Chicago Bull who had a penchant for sticking out his tongue.
The bucket gave Denver a 16-point lead, and the Nuggets would hang on to earn a 103-93 victory over the Jazz. Murray finished the game with five points and five assists in 17 minutes. The acrobatic layup was his only field goal on the night, but it was certainly an impressive one.
It was hard not to see the resemblance between Murray’s move and this one…
“I just jumped, and I didn’t think I could dunk it, so I just switched it up,” Murray said after the game.
Nikola Jokic (23 points, 11 rebounds, six assists), Jameer Nelson (17 points, seven assists) and Darrell Arthur (16 points, eight rebounds) did the heavy lifting Tuesday. But Murray at least gave us a glimpse of why so many are excited about the 19-year-old’s future.
Denver took Murray seventh overall in last summer’s draft. From day one, he’s been adamant that while he’s capable of playing both guard positions, he prefers to play point guard. The last two games, Murray’s gotten the chance to gobble up backup point guard minutes with Emmanuel Mudiay out because of back issues.
Murray looked great in that role in Denver’s loss to Minnesota on Monday. He poured in 17 points to go along with five rebounds and three assists. His numbers weren’t as gaudy against the Jazz, but Nuggets coach Mike Malone said he came away impressed.
“What I like about Jamal is tonight he had five assists. In Minnesota, he had six rebounds,” Malone said. “He’s not just a guard who can come out there and make shots. I try to get him shots, get him looks, get him some separation. He’s getting better. And I think every opportunity he gets to play will only aid in that development. By the end of the year, he’ll be a heck of a player for us.”
Murray’s numbers this season don’t jump out at you. He’s averaging 8.0 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists and shooting 37.6 percent from the field and 31.5 percent on 3s. It’s important to keep in mind that he doesn’t turn 20 until February and that his minutes have fluctuated wildly because of the depth the Nuggets have in the backcourt.
Murray has the tools to be a special scorer, and he’s demonstrated at least in small doses that he can make plays for others. The way that Malone divvies up the guard minutes between Murray, Mudiay and Gary Harris, who’s having an excellent third season, is something to monitor going forward.
The Nuggets are going to have a decision to make at point guard somewhere down the road. It’s highly possible Murray is the long-term answer there.
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