The 2019 NBA playoffs have seen superhero-like performances from the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant — the NBA’s brightest stars.
In Denver, another standout scorer, albeit one that resides in a tier or two below — for now — has also been tearing it up for his team and has the Nuggets one win away from their first conference finals berth in a decade.
Jamal Murray, the Kitchener, ON native and one of the league’s top young talents, has been stellar this post-season.
The third-year guard, who projects to be a fixture atop the NBA’s scoring charts for years to come, is averaging 21.6 points per game in the playoffs and has been a crucial part of Denver’s playoff run.
What stands out about Murray isn’t just that he’s an effective and timely scorer, but it’s the way he manufacturers his points. Yes, he’s a solid shooter and, when he’s hot from beyond the arc, can be lethal from long-range. But it’s his arsenal of circus shots and wild attempts at the rim that helps set him apart.
JAMAL MURRAY MADE THAT #SCtop10
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 5, 2019
“Everybody’s copying somebody else now,” Murray told me just prior to being drafted 7th overall in 2016. “Nobody has their own style. Growing up I always wanted to create my own.”
And he’s doing just that. During his lone season at Kentucky, coach John Calipari would voice disbelief at Murray’s shooting repertoire in early practices, until the coach realized that what seemed like unorthodox moves were not only well-honed, but, more often than not, they went in. So the coach eventually stopped questioning his star guard’s choices on the court.
In the NBA, Murray’s unique style has only continued to blossom, particularly on a Nuggets team under coach Mike Malone that seem to be doing what they can to maximize Murray’s unorthodox game as opposed to trying to force the square peg in the round hole.
With his flashy, acrobatic drives and layups now on display to a wider playoff audience, now even video game manufacturers are embracing the fact that Murray’s game is virtually unlike any others and can’t be replicated with a templated set of moves.
Who needs a Jamal Murray layup package? QT with a GIF/video showing the Murray layup you'd want to see pic.twitter.com/LPPJARbA46
— NBA 2K19 (@NBA2K) May 9, 2019
The 22 year-old has been on a steady rise since joining the NBA ranks. As a rookie he averaged 9.9 points per game, and then 16.7 the following season. This past season he upped that number to over 18 points per game, while establishing himself as the Nuggets No. 2 scorer and a go-to player down the stretch for a team that finished in the West with 54 wins and the second seed in the playoffs — their first appearance since 2013.
That obviously means it’s Murray’s first NBA post-season as well, and suffice it to say he’s adjusting nicely.
Murray has upped his scoring average in the playoffs to 21.6 points per game, while shooting just over 44 per cent from the field. He’s tied with Raptors forward Pascal Siakam — another breakout star of the post-season and three years older than Murray — for ninth in points per game in the playoffs.
One of the most exciting things about watching Murray operate has been the way he and Nuggets MVP Nikola Jokic continue to develop into one of the most promising and exciting duos in the NBA.
The pairing of the unorthodox Murray with the unorthodox Jokic has been incredibly fun to watch and brings out the best in both players.
In the traditional pick-and-roll, Murray has excelled at finding his big man with this go-to maneuvre:
— NBA (@NBA) May 8, 2019
But the deadliest move these two put to use sees Jokic — already in the conversation among the best passing centres of all-time (he currently leads the playoffs in assists at 8.9 per game) — play the role of facilitator, finding Murray en route to the basket with a chance to score.
Thanks to the effective pairing, when Murray’s not scoring, he still remains a constant threat and a player defenses can’t ignore, which leads to opportunities for other teammates via Jokic’s passing:
— NBA (@NBA) May 9, 2019
Their approach is so different than the norm that it’s hard to find comparisons for Murray and Jokic, but Chauncey Billups sees one:
Of course, Murray would prefer to break the mould altogether, and he’s been pretty successful at it so far.
But maybe the most impressive thing about Murray’s 2019 playoff run is the simple fact that he’s doing it all at the age of 22. No other player in the post-season has more responsibility than Murray at his age. Ben Simmons is also 22, but frequently takes nights off while the star players around him attempt to pick up the slack.
It’s a luxury the Nuggets simply don’t have. They need Murray to be a 20 point-per-game scorer, to run both sides of the pick and roll, to attack the basket and hit his threees, and, above all, to continue to develop superb on-court chemistry with Jokic.
The Nuggets’ season is on the line on Sunday, when they’ll play Portland in Game 7 with a chance to advance to the West Finals. Regardless of what happens then, Murray’s helped to prove why the future is so bright in Denver.