It’s a stretch to say that Jamal Murray is finally back to his bubble self, but his last six games highlight that he’s on that trajectory. Since February 12, the enigmatic Orangeville-native has averaged 31.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. His field goal, three-point, and free throw shooting line percentages stand at 57.5 / 47.4 / 88 over a run that includes his 50 points on 21-of-25 shooting on February 19 in Cleveland. It’s the version of Murray that fans of the 16-14 Denver Nuggets have been waiting for even though the team is only 3-3 during this implosion, and an even lesser 4-6.
He’s already shown an ability to sustainably do this, see last year’s NBA Bubble experiment where he was one of the prime beneficiaries. Despite a slow (or, in the case of Murray counting stats, relatively standard) start, the 6-foot-3 combo guard dramatically elevated from his 18.5 points and 4.0 rebounds per game during the regular season, improving to 26.5 points, 6.0 rebounds (and 4.5 assists, a slight drop from his 4.8 before the postseason). And it wasn’t just Murray’s playoff leap, but it was a notable rise that could’ve ended in round one through a seven-game series with the Utah Jazz that was stretched through the Western Conference Finals, where the Nuggets lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in five.
But beforehand, Murray was a leading factor behind the team’s 3-1 series overcoming against Utah, which the replicated against the Los Angeles Clippers in the semifinals. Murray played 19 playoff games last summer and fall, over three-times his current stretch, but he’s showcasing similar outbursts. In games 4-through-6 against the Jazz last year, Murray posted 50, 42, and 50-point games consecutively. Until his recent 50-point showing, he hadn’t scored more than 36 this season, which was in Minnesota on January 3.
In fact, Murray’s entire month of January perfectly encapsulates who he is and has been in his first five NBA seasons. His point totals alone read as follows: 31, 36, 13, 21, 14, 9, 20, 17, 30, 5, 18, 26, 16, 14, 20, 16. The consistency is more in Murray’s rollercoaster January than we’ve seen in the last six games, as well as what we witnessed during the bubble. There also doesn’t seem to be a straight-line correlation with victories, as is the case when teammate Nikola Jokic goes for 43-6-5 and 33-7-9 in back-to-back losses, which was the case last week.
Does Murray need to consistently be closer to the guy he showed in the bubble to accompany Jokic’s MVP-level contribution adequately? Sure. But the Nuggets’ issues transcend whatever the best case scenario of the Jokic-Murray combination would out-weigh. Jerami Grant wouldn’t have been what he’s become in Detroit had he remained in Denver, but a leap of any sort would’ve been highly beneficial, especially in aiding a defense that is 21st in defensive rating. Michael Porter Jr hasn’t been as great as expected, particularly in post-COVID recovery, where the coronavirus ‘population control theorist’ battled with the virus in January, missing 10 games as a result.
But elsewhere, Will Barton, Gary Harris, and Paul Millsap have all dropped off from 2019-20, Monte Morris is roughly the same, and the team hasn’t gotten a ton out of talented projects, RJ Hampton and Bol Bol in particular. Between Porter Jr, draft picks and salary filler, they’re ones to watch for a shake-up trade between now and March 25’s deadline, and perhaps that’s what it takes to elevate their championship hopes. But for now, Murray needs to remain as constant as the help around him needs to improve.