Denver Nuggets: Jamal Murray the next Ray Allen? (Sophomore Spotlight)

Denver’s brightest young guard is one part of the youth infusion taking over the Mile High City. His blistering shooting ability, ever-improving ball handling and offensive awareness makes the 20-year-old one of the better shooting guard prospects in the NBA.

Things weren’t always bright for Jamal Murray though. Despite being known for his sharpshooting, Murray missed his first 17 field goal attempts to begin his career. It was a rough week that ended with him shooting 40% in a game against the Pistons.

It took Murray a few months to get acclimated to the speed of the NBA, but he finished his rookie year on a true tear during February, March and especially the seven games in April to close out the regular season. While his overall shooting numbers were average, Murray showed a willingness to score when needed – a habit rarely practiced by young players.

Rookie skill set

The one thing most rookies must work on, Murray has already mastered. His shooting touch is among the purest in the game today and he has a hair trigger on offense, ready to launch into a shot at a moment’s notice.

The most noticeable takeaway from his game is his ability to stay within himself and not force anything on offense, which is usually one of the biggest mistakes a rookie can make. He didn’t display an aptitude to harness this ability consistently, so watch for him to work on controlling his tempo more as the years roll on.

The next thing a fan will notice is his deceptive athleticism. His comfort zone dictates how he will display his athleticism nightly – perimeter play will likely keep a player on both feet throughout the game. However, don’t be fooled – Murray is an athlete and will jump through a crowd for a dunk. The offensive onslaught he displayed against the New Orleans Pelicans in early April proves he has more weapons in his arsenal than first meets the eye.

Player potential

It’s taken this long to say it, but it will be said nonetheless – the Denver Nuggets have the next Ray Allen on their roster. Like a younger Allen showed in Milwaukee, Murray has the ability to break a defender down with a dribble drive, or step back and drill a three-pointer – both achieved with dangerous efficiency. Both players also play incredibly off the ball, using cuts to the basket to get easy points and draw costly fouls.

At this point in their careers, Murray is probably the better ball handler, and in fact, took over point guard duties at times for the Nuggets last season. However, Allen also made his name as a versatile ball handler - averaging at least 4.0 assists in five seasons during his career. Murray's versatility will be on full display for Denver while they develop his skill set – a combo guard with an electric scoring ability.

Of any sophomore player, Murray has the best chance to have a breakout season in 2017. The dreaded slump is always a scary reality, but the 20-year-old seems to have enough composure to weather any dip in form that could come his way, so expect a big year.

Future with Denver

Where Murray plays the majority of his minutes will depend highly on how Emmanuel Mudiay looks in training camp and preseason. Mudiay lost his starting position in the middle of last season and was then nailed to the bench when Denver was within playoff range late in the season. Mudiay still has a lot of work to do on his game, so Murray could again see minutes at the point.

If he does, this will greatly expand his skillset and future abilities as a Nuggets player. Whether he becomes a Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf type of player who plays point guard but acts as the team’s primary scorer depends, again, on the development of Mudiay who was once earmarked as the team’s future at point guard.

For all intents and purposes, the Canadian is better suited at the two-guard utilizing his quickness off the ball to generate easy points and his shooting ability to become a deadly spot up shooter. Expect Murray to be the team’s leading scorer within a few years, growing along with the team’s young nucleus of Mudiay, Nikola Jokic, and Gary Harris.

Aside from Jokic, Murray is the brightest spot on the Denver roster. He should be an untouchable player and therefore the toughest for opposing teams to acquire based on what he displayed in his rookie season. Say hello to the next great shooting guard in the NBA - the Kitchener Kid.

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