Jamal Murray’s battle after his ACL tear hasn’t been easy for the 25-year-old Denver Nuggets point guard, but after watching him rip the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday night, it looks like Murray has turned a corner on his return. self vintage.
Murray had a level of comfort from start to finish when playing against Spurs that had only been seen in flashes. Instead of overthinking his way through a game that was so fast he felt stuck in second gear, Murray was in complete control.
“I feel good. Like you said, I’m just finding my rhythm and getting better every game,” Murray told me after posting 13 points and nine assists on 60% shooting.
“I’ve been out for a while, so thinking about plays, thinking about covers and matchups was very quick at first,” Murray told me. “Now it becomes natural and I don’t have to focus on it anymore.”
Two years is an incredibly long time to be away from NBA basketball. Picking up the necessary timing as well as the required knowledge base is hard enough, but learning how you adapt to new teammates and how to maximize everyone on the field after two years is almost cruel.
Despite that, Murray overcame the discomfort of the start of the season on the court and – thanks to an assist from Nuggets head coach Michael Malone on Saturday night – Murray now appears to be reinstated and on the pace.
That help from Malone to Murray came in the form of confidence via play calls. Of the Nuggets’ first 10 offensive possessions against Spurs, seven of them involved Murray at the low post in some way; as a scorer, creator and even decoy.
“If you go back to the first quarter – you know, one thing we talked about in the summer is that he’s a really good low post player – we felt we could put him there and we ran that same play. probably the first six minutes of the game,” Malone told reporters after the Nuggets’ 126-121 loss to San Antonio.
To kick things off, Malone asked the Nuggets to throw a post-up for Murray down the left side of the field. This is a set play meant to give Murray the space to get into a rhythm early. Murray took full advantage with a wicked spinning floater to start the score.
This, according to Murray, has been incredibly helpful for him in finding and keeping a rhythm.
“Very, very helpful,” Murray told me when I asked him about all his post touches in the first quarter. “It helps me find the rhythm for the rest of the game, even when I miss shots. It keeps me in a rhythm. The coach inspires confidence in the team and in me. As you said, giving space to work, which was new this year.
When something works, why walk away from it, right? On the ensuing possession, the Nuggets went straight back to Murray in the same spot on the floor, but this time Spurs were unwilling to let Murray cook.
Yes, what you see is correct. In the second game of the game, Murray at the low post commanded a San Antonio double team. Murray stayed patient, went low, made the double team fully engage, then dropped a beauty of a dump pass to Aaron Gordon for a dunk.
“We found a lot of offense from that,” Malone said during his postgame presser. “Not just Jamal scoring, but he started commanding a double team and doing the right double team play.”
Two Nuggets offensive possessions later, the Nuggets returned Murray to the position yet again; the third time in four possessions.
At this point, Murray was already on pace and comfortable. This spinning fade is a vintage Murray post-up and is a welcome sight for the Nuggets.
Murray posted for the next four possessions and, in total, seven of the first 10 possessions for the Nuggets, including this post-up variation that results in Murray isolating himself on the left wing and attacking the baseline.
It’s a fantastic job from Nuggets head coach Michael Malone. He knew he had an opportunity against a tired Spurs side at home to warm Murray against a lag. He made an effort to put Murray in places where he feels comfortable from the very first possession of the game. This is exactly how to get your star player back into rhythm.
After the first 10 possessions, the rest of Murray’s game started to percolate. A joy and a swagger returned.
That no-look pass to Jokic in transition after a fantastic steal from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is nothing but basketball joy. There is no evidence of overthinking or rushing by Murray. It has control, plays smoothly, and makes great real-time reads. There’s nothing fabricated about that penny. It’s just basketball bliss between arguably the best tandem in the NBA.
Murray’s passing continued to thrive as the game progressed.
It’s a classic two-way match between Nikola Jokic and Murray. Yes, things get a bit tricky at the start of possession, but there is never a give up. Murray and Jokic continue to screen and re-screen using each other’s gravity to create an advantage. In the end, Murray was able to get the defense sucked into the paint after a devastating screen from Jokic before delivering an unexpected no-look pass to Jokic from under the rim. This pass is creative, in the flow of the attack and a read that Murray made on the fly. His comfort level was increasing before our eyes.
Murray’s chemistry with the rest of the roster seems to be growing day by day.
“It gets better with every game,” Murray told me. “We move the ball very well so that everyone feels involved. It was a progression. When we mess up, we get together in timeouts, talk about it, and get the job done.
“We are disinterested. If the pass is there, the pass is there. Especially when I leave early. It helps the team and myself.
As icing on the cake, here’s just a wonderful overhead no-look pass from Murray to Jokic for an easy floater.
There wasn’t even an ounce of hesitation or timidity for Murray. He was playing the way he plays and Spurs had to react to his strong performance. He struck first and continued to strike; even after the game was over when he blatantly stated that Spurs’ gameplay was “unsuccessful tonight”.
“That was how they played me. They were trying to dive and stuff and I was beating them to the basket,” Murray explained to me. “Even when Bones was on the inside, he was going to the rack, forcing someone to step in and make offloading passes. The way they were playing didn’t work out tonight.
Not only did Murray look alike on the pitch, but his bravado and confidence off the pitch were also undeniable.
Before my conversation with Murray ended and he left the Ball Arena, Bones Hyland interrupted us to make sure everyone understood what had just happened; that Jamal Murray is back on the beat.
” It’s bad ! That’s what he does !