The Denver Nuggets could possibly be grooming themselves as the next Western Conference dynasty once the Golden State Warriors’ reign is over. If a dynasty begins with great draft picks, smart offseason additions, and youth, then why not the Nuggets? Over the last two seasons, the Nuggets have quietly built a team to be reckoned with.
In 2018, the Nuggets rode the success of Nikola Jokic to 54-regular season wins and a first-round series win against the San Antonio Spurs. While they were eliminated in a tough seven-game series at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers, the Nuggets alerted the rest of the league they’re here for the long haul. Not just because of Jokic. There’s another star on the horizon by the name of Jamal Murray.
In just his third season, second as a full-time starter, Murray has carved his name out as one of the best young PG’s in the West. That’s no small feat when considering the West is full of talent at that position with the likes of Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, and Chris Paul.
But there he was this season posting numbers of 18.2 points, 4.8 assists, and 4.2 rebounds per game while shooting .437 percent. Murray has continued to improve but the Nuggets will go only as far as his game matures. Despite the huge success Jokic had during their two playoff-series, the Nuggets could not get over that hump as long as Murray struggled.
Each season, Murray has improved his per game averages. However, the Denver Nuggets need him to take what is considered a Lillard-like leap in year 4. Even that comparison may be a bit shallow considering that Lillard himself has not led the Trail Blazers far. But he was willing to accept that role of leadership. Lillard took on that responsibility to improve and now Murray has to do the same.
While paired against Lillard in the second round, Murray averaged 23.6 points, 5.3 assists, and 6.0 rebounds while shooting .403 percent from the floor. While he made a few key mental errors in Game 7, his total performance was outstanding.
Think about it. Against Lillard, a top three guard in the NBA, Murray, at the tender age of 21, and just in his second-ever playoff series, accounted for just 9 turnovers in seven games against the Blazers. He’s steady, smart, balanced, and has help.
The Nuggets are primarily a perimeter-based team with an array of guards. However, Murray is half of one of the NBA’s best duo’s. Murray, paired with Jokic, should have the Denver Nuggets as a top-tier team in the NBA for years to come.
Are there still improvements Murray could make heading into the 2019 season?
For one, Murray must improve on getting his teammates better involved. To become that complete player, Murray must to better than 4.8 assists per game. The Nuggets’ roster is stocked with perimeter players. The offense starts with Murray but it runs through Jokic.
For the season, Jokic, a Center, led the Nuggets in assists per game with 7.3. If Murray is to grow, the Nuggets will need to stretch the offense out a bit more. Murray has the ball-handing skills to break a defense down and the perimeter game to make a sagging opponent pay.
In the Western Conference, the competition will still be tough in 2019. While the Warriors, Rockets, Thunder, and possibly the Blazers could make major moves this offseason, it’s the Nuggets who may have the highest ceiling.
In order for Murray to take that next step, the Nuggets will need to fill areas of need on the roster. Their first order of business will be to let Paul Millsap walk. He’s a great veteran leader but his salary ($30M) is extremely to high especially with 2018 rookie Michael Porter Jr ready to go at the start of next season.
If the Denver Nuggets can place the right balance of shooters and post players around Jamal Murray, his game will reach the next level. For Jamal Murray, his individual success is withing reach. However, it’s the team success that Murray strives for.