The Arrow is getting much needed rest.
It’s true. Jamal Murray had to have an injury to force him to sit down for a minute and the four games he’s missed were very winnable games, particularly with the steady skill of the above mentioned Morris.
What we’ve discovered, though is that the Nuggets are ill-equipped to handle injury to either Morris or Murray. The importance of Denver’s second-team can tend to be overlooked with the play of the starters but that squad is every bit as important to the Nuggets fortunes as the starters.
Morris is key to that second unit, his relationship with Plumlee being one of the most-important for the Nuggets. As we’ve mentioned, Mason’s skill set allows the Nuggets to run the second team with similar strategy to the starters. We’ve seen the special two-man game that Murray and Nikola Jokic exploit, Morris and Plumlee do the same. The problem is that guard injuries have created situations where Morris has started or been part of Michael Malone’s smart three-man rotations in the backcourt, limiting the time that Plumlee and Morris are on the floor together.
A healthy Isaiah Thomas could slide into the starter’s role were Murray to be injured again allowing Morris to continue his leadership of the second team. Thomas could also be a super sixth-man should Morris fall to injury. A vet minimum security blanket like that is invaluable to this Nuggets team but their fortunes are very much reliant on Murray.
Jamal has recently shaken off the inconsistency that plagued his early season and has become much more the point guard the Nuggets need. His synergy with Jokic is undeniable and the two seem to have a deep connection. So while we’ve detailed that defensive effort is the largest contributor to the Nuggets struggles over beatable teams, it can’t be overlooked that Murray’s absence is meaningful.
Murray averages 18.5/4.4 and 4.9 for the season but he’s a threat to go for 40+ at any time. At 21, he’s so far ahead of the curve it’s laughable he takes so much heat. As we mentioned this week, he’s substantially ahead of where Steph Curry was in year three, which isn’t as silly a comparison as it may seem, on the surface. The Nuggets have a ton of parallels with the Warriors, not the least of which is the shooting prowess from point guard. Watching Murray drain half-court shots at the encouragement of early arrivers during warmups confirms that he’s a shot of confidence away from being a Curry or Harden-like shooting talent.
Alongside Core-mates Jokic and Gary Harris, the Nuggets young core may be better overall than the Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson Warriors core. At least at a comparable point in development. Of course Denver will have to improve greatly and compete for the top of the Conference consistently to warrant Golden State comparisons but they are still ahead of where the Dubs were in 2013. Those Warriors rose up from a six seed to shock the Nuggets before succumbing to the eventual Champion San Antonio Spurs. Denver still has the inside track on the second seed, both they and the Warriors have earned a bit of separation from the rest of the pack. They should have home court for the first round of the playoffs and they are beastly at home.
Still, it’s going to take a full roster and Jamal Murray rested and ready if the Nuggets are going to get deep into the playoffs, perhaps all the way to the Western Conference Finals. If that’s in the cards, how awesome would it be for Denver to return the favor to Golden State and shock the basketball world?