Jamal Murray stands at just 6-foot-4 inches and weighs in at about 207lbs. But from the early looks at him, this 19-year-old kid can ball.
As a slightly shorter player he excels in guard skills such as spacing, passing and ball handling, but he truly shines as a scorer.
He spent last year playing for John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats, which resulted in a 4th seed in the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky annihilated Stony Brook 85-57 in the first round before losing to the Indiana Hoosiers in the second round 73-67. True to Calipari-style, Murray decided to apply for the 2016 NBA draft after one year of college ball.
Early NBA draft mock-ups had Jamal projected to go anywhere from the 3rd pick to the 7th pick. Murray ended up sliding down to the 7th pick, where he was happily taken by the Denver Nuggets.
The Nuggets are one of the toughest franchises to support. In 49 seasons they’ve made the playoffs 33 times, but have never made an NBA finals appearance. Nuggets fans have learned to live in the moments of the regular season, rather than reminiscing over past playoff victories.
One of the more consistent patterns in Nuggets regular season history is their fast-paced, run-and-gun offense usually led by a solid scorer on the roster. Past scoring-minded Nuggets such as Carmelo Anthony, Alex English, and Dan Issel stand out as top-level historical scorers, not just in the context of the franchise, but the entire NBA.
With his performance in the NCAA regular season, the NCAA Tournament and the NBA Summer League, Murray is entering the NBA expecting and looking to be an elite scorer. Murray has pleasantly displayed his scoring talents through the start to his hopefully illustrious career and looks to insert his name into the list of expert shot makers in Nuggets history.
Murray played 36 games in his single college year and was eager about showcasing his talents to the world of college basketball. He averaged exactly 20 points per game, good enough for 3rd in scoring in the vigorous SEC conference, and knocked in an extraordinary 131 3-pointers while shooting an impressive 41% from behind the 3-point line. Murray was also a proficient rebounder, grabbing 5.2 boards per game. On the other hand, Murray averaged slightly more turnovers than assists, averaging 2.2 assists and 2.3 turnovers. His play style seems fairly one-dimensional right off the bat, but that single dimension - shooting accuracy - can lead to a pivotal role for the 19-year-old rookie.
Rookies need a few years of professional experience under their belt before they can truly shine in this league. Thus, Murray has got to be ready to expand his game under Nuggets coach Michael Malone. He must improve his ball movement and shot selection in critical moments. Murray will likely need a year or two before fans can expect anything close to 20 points per game from him in the NBA.
When it came time for March Madness, there were two Kentucky Wildcats poised to lead the team deep into the tournament, Murray and point guard Tyler Ulis. Despite losing in the second round of the tournament, the backcourt duo had a chance to show the world what they are capable of doing with a basketball on one of the biggest stages in the world. In the game against Stony Brook Murray put up 19 points and grabbed 7 rebounds; Ulis put up 10 points and 7 assists. Murray somewhat lagged behind Ulis the next game against Indiana as Ulis exploded with 27 points while shooting 10-20 overall and hitting three 3-pointers while his buddy Murray scored 16 points on just 1-9 shooting from behind the 3-point line. However, Murray led the Wildcats in rebounding (7) and assists (4) that game. Ultimately the stats don't mean a lot for Kentucky, they lost. Still, for the Suns and Nuggets fans whose teams drafted Ulis and Murray respectively, these games are nice previews into the potential of the former Kentucky guards.
During the NBA Summer League, Jamal Murray brought his A-game to Las Vegas. Averaging 19.6 points, 5 rebounds, and 2.4 assists in 5 games.
Murray put up numbers almost identical to his NCAA regular season stats. In addition to being 11th in the Summer League in the scoring column (6th if you only count players who played three or more games), Murray had two games scoring 29 points, and led the Nuggets in scoring after Gary Harris and Emmanuel Mudiay played in just the first game. In addition to his scoring, Murray also brought an intensely emotional game to the court against Miami. Murray was having a personal competition with the Heat’s Damion Lee from Louisville. The former college rivals took shot after shot on each other, leading to Murray becoming a momentary ball-hog and killing his 3-point percentage. But Murray got a few great shots on Lee in the 4th quarter that brought Denver back into the game.
The edge Murray held on Lee came from his emotional energy, visible after every shot he made with screams and fist pumps. Though the Nuggets ultimately lost the meaningless Summer League game, Nuggets fans should feel excited seeing their Lottery Pick’s fiery on-court demeanor.
The Pepsi Center was last in attendance throughout the entire 2015-16 season, and the fans are desperate for some success in the Mile High. For the most part, the fans are jumping for joy over the opportunity to once again have an elite sharpshooter on the roster in Murray. Danilo Gallinari has been attempting to fill that void, but due to his hazardous health, he hasn’t quite cemented himself as an elite scorer in the NBA.
It may be up to Murray to carry the torch left behind by English and Anthony as the next potent Nuggets scorer., and it may take a while to materialize, but Murray is a scoring machine who will one day leave a big mark on the NBA.