• Jeremy Freed

2018-19 Off the Glass Breakout Player Series: Jamal Murray

The Denver Post

With the 2018-2019 NBA season upon us, Off the Glass is making predictions on who breakout players from each team will be. Today we look at Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets.

After missing the 2017-18 playoffs by the slimmest of margins -- a lost play-in game on the road in Minnesota -- the Denver Nuggets will consider the 2018-19 season a failure if they don't get to the postseason for the first time since the 2012-13 campaign. If these dreams are to become reality, the player who needs to make the biggest jump is third-year guard Jamal Murray.

Somewhat unbelievably, Murray is the final piece of the Carmelo Anthony trade, which included the right to swap 2016 first round draft picks with the Knicks. That trade seems almost of a different era of the NBA, but like the Nets-Celtics trade that built the current Eastern Conference finalist, the Carmelo trade was the gift that kept on giving.

The Canadian-born Murray spent a single year at Kentucky, where he was a third-team All-American. But he distinguished himself in Kentucky lore by becoming the sole 20-point-scoring freshman in Wildcats history. This distinction, of course, made him John Calipari’s most prolific-scoring one-and-done player -- a list that includes NBA stars Anthony Davis, John Wall, Devin Booker, and Karl-Anthony Towns, among others.

On the heels of the aforementioned pick-swap, the Nuggets snagged Murray with the 7th overall selection, and the pick paid off from Day One. Within his first month in the league, Murray notched his first 20 point outing, and by the end of his rookie year, had poured in 30, showing the league that his elite scoring skills would successfully translate to the big time. He was eminently durable, appearing in all 82 contests, and through his first two years, has appeared in 163 of 164 possible games.

In his sophomore campaign, Murray took the next step, showing on a consistent basis that he could be a key piece of the Nuggets’ future. Pick an attribute of Murray’s game and chances are he improved it in Year Two. Inaccurate volume shooter? He improved his true shooting percentage from .518 to .576, moving above the .556 league average. One dimensional? He raised his PER up from 11.9 to 16.1 (15.00 is the league average). Prefer some nice counting stats? Murray went from a 9.9-2.6-2.1 (points-rebounds-assists) to 16.7-3.7-3.4.

After an impressive first half put him in the Rising Stars Challenge -- an event he had been omitted from his rookie year -- Murray capitalized, leading the World team to a 150-141 win in an MVP performance: 36 points (including 9-14 from three), 11 assists, and 3 rebounds. When the NBA showcased its most electrifying young talent, Murray set himself apart.

No one is expecting linear progression in year three -- that's a 23.5-4.8-4.7 stat line, for those keeping track -- but he'll need to keep trending upwards for the Nuggets to break their postseason streak. After trading out of the pick that became Donovan Mitchell, the Nuggets need Murray to provide that dynamism, scoring, and leadership, lest the gap between Northwest Division foes grow larger.

For the 'Blue Arrow' to hit his mark, the target should be Boston Guard Kyrie Irving. Both are nominal point guards, who early in their careers found themselves partnered with ball-dominant front court players. Just as the Cavs offense went through LeBron, so too does the Nuggets' flow through Nikola Jokic, freeing up Murray to be a primary scorer and secondary facilitator. As Gary Harris continues to improve, and Jokic makes the leap to superduperstardom, the Nuggets find themselves on the verge of a young core the envy of the Association -- and one that will be crucial to combat the super-teams of the modern NBA.

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