Watching Nuggets third-year point guard Jamal Murray lurch from 40-point games to 8-point games has been a difficult experience. We’ve seen enough to know that he can score like Stephen Curry in spurts but each three-point shot still feels like a chore, a relief when it goes in. Steph suffers from no such deficiency of confidence.
It’s not that Jamal doesn’t contribute. Every game, he is among the minute leaders. He’s turned a corner on ball security, staving off a stretch where he turned the ball over a lot. He’s developed a great rapport with Nikola Jokic, the two trading assists to each other has become a staple of Nuggets basketball.
Jamal needs to be Alpha. At least to an extent, he’s fine distributing but it’s been just within the last 10 games that he and Jokic have learned to co-exist atop the Denver hierarchy. Jokic came to the role easily during his development. The strength of his game naturally led to his being a primary decision-maker on-the-floor.
It has come somewhat more slowly to the incredibly talented Murray. Finding the balance with two players that need to lead has been no small task but it seems that Michael Malone, Murray and Jokic have struck the proper balance. Murray has the chops now and the confidence to wave Jokic off, even though that’s not always the best course of action. For his part, Jokic seems fine with letting Murray develop his playmaking and is always around to clean up after the streaky guard’s growing pains. Again, they’ve developed into an incredible one-two punch offensively.
So, while Jamal tries to establish himself alongside Jokic as leadership, he has to be mindful of the inconsistency that’s dogged him this season. It’s almost as-if he’s been given a glimpse of his future and he’s impatient for it. When his pull-up three-point shots start falling, Jamal’s game will get exponentially more dangerous. As it stands, teams don’t have to honor him as a Curry or Harden-esque shooter and that allows defenders to stay in front of him, limiting his driving and passing lanes in the p-n-r offense that is the fallback for most NBA teams.
Once that pull-up starts falling, once defenders have to press Murray, so much will open up and his two-man game with Jokic will be unstoppable. We have zero doubt that superstardom is in the 21 year old Murray’s future, it’s hard to be patient when we see what he’s capable of. Like Harris and Jokic, Murray is integral to the Nuggets rise and to the prospects for how high they can reach. A little consistency and the Nuggets move from a novelty to a contender. It feels like it’s imminent, it feels like the Nuggets have another level they can rise to even though they sit atop the West and are third in the NBA.
None of that matters without a playoff run and this year is setting up for that run. If The Core can fine-tune, stay healthy and find some consistency, Denver’s timetable becomes now.