Jamal Murray had a postseason for the ages.
Coming off of another solid regular season, Murray became a star before our very eyes on the biggest stage, leading the Denver Nuggets with averages of 26.5 points, 6.6 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game. Murray's strong play helped the Nuggets complete two 3-1 comebacks to make their first Western Conference Finals appearance in over a decade.
The question is, is that version of Murray here to stay or did he just catch fire at the right time?
Our NBA.com Staff explains whether they're buying or selling four key stats from the 2020 NBA Playoffs that could determine whether or not Murray has arrived.
43.2%: What Murray shot on pull-up 3s
Of players who attempted at least 25 3s off the dribble in the playoffs, only Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell converted them at a higher rate.
Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): Sell.
While I think that this is a part of Murray's game that is sustainable in the sense that he is learning the types of shots he should - and shouldn't - look to take, that 43.2% is high. Like, really high.
In fact, only five players - JJ Redick, Paul George, Damian Lillard, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart - shot over 40% on pull-up 3s during the 2019-20 regular season (min. 100 attempts). By no means do I think Smart is a better shooter than Murray, nor George for that matter, but that's just an insanely high benchmark to meet.
Conversely, Murray shot 32.4% on pull-up 3s in the regular season, which he is much better than. Moving forward, I could see him being somewhere in the middle of where he was in the regular season and where he was in the playoffs.
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): Sell.
Murray basically turned into Stephen Curry in the playoffs. According to NBA.com, Murray averaged 5.0 3-point pull-ups per game in the postseason and, as already noted, converted 43.2 percent of those opportunities. During the 2018-19 season, Curry averaged 4.9 pull-up 3s per game and made 41.5 percent of them. In 2017-18, 4.5 pull-up 3s per game at a 41.0 percent clip.
The difference with Murray and Curry is that Curry has consistently made those shots at a high rate, whereas Murray hasn't. He's always been a capable 3-point shooter off the dribble, but Murray made only 32.4 percent of those shots this season, 33.8 percent last season and 32.0 percent the season before.
For that reason, it's hard for me to believe that the rate Murray converted pull-up 3s in the playoffs, especially at that volume, is sustainable. But if he can be somewhere in the middle like Gil mentioned, that would be a huge step in the right direction.
The good news? There's no doubt that Murray knows how to create 3s for himself off the dribble. Based on the shots he takes, you'd think it's only a matter of time until he does become a more efficient 3-point shooter in that regard.
Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): Buy.
I'm going to play devil's advocate here. Like Gil mentioned in that list of names above, I bet you would have never guessed Smart would be a player that would be associated with the rest of that group. Why can't Murray be?
He was phenomenal in the playoffs and we've seen him raise his play before when the stakes are higher, but haven't yet seen him do it for an entire regular season. I'm going to be a believer in the breakout postseason Murray just had and say that he can carry that confidence level over into next season.
There were games where it seemed like every shot he took was going to fall - a type of zone very few players can get into with Curry, like Scott mentioned, being one of them. While the Nuggets just cracked the surface of what that team is capable of accomplishing, Murray has to maintain that level of play in order for them to maximize their potential. Becoming a consistent knock down shooter that teams always have to worry about is a part of that.
65.9%: What Murray shot in the restricted area
Murray increased his shooting percentage in the restricted area from 63.3 percent in the regular season to 65.9 percent in the playoffs. The latter was better than the likes of Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam and Jayson Tatum.
McGregor: Buy. Murray was finding ways to finish around the rim despite the fact that two of the three teams Denver faced had elite rim protection in the form of Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis and, to a lesser extent, JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard.
The up & under or the 360!?- NBA (@NBA) September 25, 2020
Which unreal Jamal Murray lay-up from this postseason was your favorite? pic.twitter.com/S3VBp7Yzc9
His dazzling finishes suggest he's figured something out in that area. That's all skill, not luck.
For all the reasons Gil mentioned, plus Murray mentioned how he put on 14 pounds of muscle during the hiatus.
To me, Murray seemed more comfortable absorbing and finishing through contact at the rim in the bubble. That was on full display in the first round, where he had a lot more success than I expected scoring against Rudy Gobert in the paint.
Murray might lack traditional athleticism, but he's incredibly crafty and has great body control. It also helps that he plays alongside one of the best 3-point shooting centres in the league because there are a lot of times where the opposing team's centre is playing catchup when Murray drives to the basket. Luka Doncic benefits in a similar way playing next to Kristaps Porzingis and Maxi Kleber.
I'm with Gil and Scott here. Murray was a maestro at finishing around the rim in the playoffs, and I think that was a combination of confidence and gaining some extra muscle to feel like he can bang with big bodies in the paint.
After already seeing what worked and what didn't in these playoffs, I'd expect Murray to get back into the lab to find even more ways to finish amongst the trees in the paint, keeping that FG% in the restricted area in the mid-to-high 60s next season.
6.6: How many assists Murray averaged per game
Murray went from averaging 4.8 assists per game during the regular season to 6.6 assists per game in the playoffs.
While some situations called for it in the postseason, I think we all know that Denver is at its absolute best when the bulk of the assists belong to Nikola Jokic. That's not to say that I think Murray's assists numbers will take a steep dive, but I do think that an average of right around five per game is pretty much on point for the amount of distributing Murray should need to do for a successful Denver team.
Jokic is the best passer on the Nuggets, there's no doubt about that, but I do think that Murray becoming a more refined scorer will open up more opportunities for him to shine as a facilitator, the point where it wouldn't shock me if he were to average six-plus assists per game at some point of his career.
Put it this way: Murray averaged only 5.8 pick-and-roll possessions during the regular season. In the playoffs, that number spiked to 9.3. When Murray is scoring at the rate he did in the playoffs - 1.07 points per possession, ranking him in the 79th percentile - it makes pick-and-rolls with him and Jokic nearly impossible to guard because Murray can score at all three levels as the ball handler, as can Jokic as a screener.
The more attention defences have to pay to Murray in those situations, the more it frees up others, which would lead to more playmaking opportunities for Murray.
If Murray's scoring does increase next season similar to how it did in these playoffs, I think his assists will as well.
Even though I believe Murray's playmaking is key to him maintaining a superstar level of play, I agree with Gil here in that the offence runs through Jokic too much for Murray to average near seven assists per game.
I do, however, think Murray will average closer to 6.0 assists per game next season after averaging just 4.8 assists per game in each of his last two seasons. His ability to make the right reads in pick-and-roll situations all playoffs while very rarely turning the ball over should certainly earn him more opportunities to bump that assists average up.
39: How many points Murray scored in the clutch
Only Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (48) scored more clutch points than Murray in the playoffs. Murray was efficient, shooting 55.6 percent from the field and 72.7 percent from the 3-point line.
I've studied up on Murray's history to write about it and what I've learned is that he's shown up for the biggest moments on the biggest stages throughout his life. If there was any doubt before this postseason, it should be done away with by now. Nuggets fans should be confident when the ball is in Murray's hands in crucial situations.
He's built for it.
Murray was pretty clutch in the regular season as well. According to NBA.com, he scored 82 points in the clutch, ranking him 22nd in the league. His shooting splits with the game on the line? .394/.389/.826. Not great, especially when compared to what he was able to do in the playoffs, but he's proven that he's not afraid of the moment. As he continues to improve as a scorer, I think those percentages will pick up.
Sometimes when you're watching a player compete in close games you can see very clearly if they're built for the moment or not. Murray made it as clear as can be that he's the type of player that doesn't let the moment get to him.
Murray was cold-blooded all playoffs, stepping up whenever his team's back was against the wall. He wanted the ball when the game was on the line. He wanted to take and make the big shots for his team. Having that mentality goes a long way in producing the numbers he did in the clutch.
Jamal Murray was going off in the 4th 😤- SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 26, 2020
Hit these clutch shots in the final minutes. pic.twitter.com/WQD4dOzXVd
I think Murray will continue to be their top option in the clutch next season, even though Jokic is pretty great when magnitude is at its highest, too.
Not a bad problem to have if you're the Nuggets.
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