The Step Back is rolling out its 25-under-25 list over this week. Follow along with our rankings of the top 25 NBA players under the age of 25.
Coming in at No. 15 in the 25-under-25, Jamal Murray made a huge jump in 2017-18. A sensational second season for Murray accompanied a Denver Nuggets run that fell desperately short of the playoffs, as they dropped the regular season’s final contest against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Still just 21 years old, Murray has formed the nucleus of a destructive Nuggets back court with Gary Harris.
Murray managed to up his scoring average from 9.9 points per game to 16.5. In fact, across the board it’s hard to find a statistical category that didn’t receive a boost, as he made the leap from rotation player to full-time starter on the 46-win squad.
Highlighting the leap he took in year two, via Basketball-Reference, Murray was one of only five players under-25 to average over 16 points and 3 assists, while knocking down greater than 37 percent of his 3-point tries. Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, Brandon Ingram and Denver teammate Nikola Jokic made up the remaining names in that group.
Importantly, Murray was able to produce increased percentages in 3-point shooting (33.4 to 37.8), and true shooting percentage (51.8 to 57.8). The rise in shooting efficiency is especially impressive when you consider he was jacking up 4.2 more shots per game and working through an increased usage percentage (21.6 to 22.8).
With arguably the best passing big man in the league, Jokic by his side, Murray was able to become a deadly threat in catch-and-shoot situations.
According to NBA.com tracking numbers, he buried 42 percent of his catch-and-shoot attempts from beyond the arc last season, with this example from the Nov. 11 contest against the Orlando Magic one of his six makes for the night. While the shot was hardly a heavily contested attempt, it’s a good illustration of his solid form when receiving the ball in position to fire.
Just two nights later, he struggled and missed all seven of his long ball tries. Below we see an example of a bad miss off the dribble early in the game against the Portland Trailblazers.
Given some room to operate, Murray works around a Paul Millsap pick set at the top of the key. C.J McCollum chooses to go under the screen, but Murray still misses long. His off the dribble shooting remains a work in progress after 2017-18, as his percentage from outside dipped 10 percentage points to 32 on pull-up 3s.
Inside the paint, he has been able to translate his college prowess to the NBA, connecting on 57.5 percent of his 285 shots from within five feet in 2017-18.
Though not your traditional athletic monster, he is a sneaky threat in transition, and is able to use his 6-foot-4 frame to get to dangerous spots and finish with authority- – perhaps no finish was more impressive than the fearsome throw down over J.J Redick in the tweet below.
Defensively, the Nuggets were hardly inducing nightmares, ranking 26th in the league for defensive rating, as they instead relied heavily on their top-six offense power them to victories. Murray himself has plenty of defensive problems and the opportunity to improve dramatically at that end.
Going back to his pre draft scouting profile, DraftExpress had this to say about his play on that end of the floor.
"Defensively, Murray will also require an adjustment period in making the step up to the NBA level. He tends to be somewhat upright in his stance off the ball, does not possess great length or lateral quickness, and has a tough time getting a hand up and contesting shots effectively against similarly sized or bigger opponents."
While he possesses some physical attributes to be an at least average defender at the level, to this point, he hasn’t been able to be a difference-maker — though to be fair, defense has hardly been a priority at the Pepsi Center since his arrival.
In a scary thought for his opposition, despite his prodigious offensive talent, Murray still has some legitimate room for growth. Increased shooting efficiency off the dribble will be an area of focus, as will be improving on his 2.7 assists to 1.7 turnovers per game in his 163 game NBA career.
The Nuggets project to be once again a playoff contender, which is no small feat in a conference that has as many as 11 franchises with a legitimate case for playing late April hoops. Jamal Murray is already one of the leagues top young talents, and with plenty still to work on, you should probably keep an eye on him in the Most Improved Player race this season, he may just take it home.