Jamal Murray exited the 2020 NBA playoffs with a big statement. Big enough, that many wondered whether another Steph Curry-type shooter is in the cards. Could the Denver Nuggets‘ young guard truly be the next big perimeter threat in the NBA?
After what he and towering guard Nikola Jokic accomplished against the LA Clippers, in particular, it’s possible. It’d be too much to claim Murray will is 100% responsible for the next Steph Curry supernova season, as we saw in 2015. But Murray shouldn’t be dismissed for cutting a similar figure to Curry. Here’s why he comes closer than some think.
Jamal Murray had an NBA playoffs coming-out party
Forty points, five assists, four rebounds … That is, as NBC Sports reports, Murray’s ridiculous numbers against the Clippers, who were all-but-assured NBA finals candidates. Jokic laid out the mindset best in his post-game interview: “We are just not accepting that somebody’s better than us.”
That this came after being down 3-1 to the Clippers turns the Nuggets’ run into something legendary. This wasn’t just surprising because the Clippers were expected to be much better, however. The Nuggets, and Murray in particular, simply didn’t prove themselves to that level in the pre-bubble portion of the season.
Murray’s Basketball Reference stat sheet shows little improvement in the regular season from his third to his fifth season. The COVID-19 interruption seems to have shaken things up more than many might’ve assumed, giving young players essentially a second offseason to work on their flaws. It led to breakout moments from unexpected teams, often led by nascent stars.
Murray’s shooting justifies comparisons to Steph Curry
When comparing Murray and Curry, context is everything. No, Murray hasn’t accomplished the same mind-blowing heights Curry has at his best. But Murray is just 23, while Curry’s “Supernova” season was an experienced 27-year-old letting loose. In pro sports years, four seasons might as well be an eternity of development.
Then there’s the matter of the status of the long ball in the NBA. While there was a movement toward an emphasis on three-pointers before Curry’s reign, The Ringer reports that few were ready for the Warriors’ approach. Curry’s ridiculous range was a shock to the system. Murray has to contend with a league inoculated to the long-range sniper shots that once caught them completely off guard.
In terms of their playoff runs, FiveThirtyEight points out that Murray cuts a very similar figure to 2015 Curry. Their differences likely come down to the caveats noted above. Curry took over half his shots from beyond the arc, while Murray took just 36 percent. That sticks out, if one is looking for a 1:1 comparison. But Curry’s performance that year is exactly why Murray is generally accounted for by the opposing defense, even well back from the three-point line.
The Denver Nuggets’ playoff run wasn’t a fluke
Murray’s continued improvement is likely, if not guaranteed. As for the Nuggets as a whole, things are looking up. This playoff explosion was not limited to one breakout, even if he’s sucking up most of the oxygen. Denver has the depth of a young team on the verge of going off big.
The Ringer reports that the Nuggets are a team with a blueprint that has yet to fully pay off. Their cohesion in the bubble is what allowed them to perform well beyond expectations.
This is a team that has a core that needs just a little work, perhaps another veteran addition, to be able to take on a strong team that doesn’t suffer from the chemistry issues of the Clippers. Jokic and Murray are at the core, but their true advantage is how well those two stars work with their supporting cast.