Jamal Murray is a budding star poised for a third year breakout that is flying under the radar.
Known for his shooting ability, Murray grades as an elite off-ball and one-on-one player. He is also a skilled finisher around the rim, and all of these traits pave the way for him to become the next Canadian born NBA star.
One shot in particular that sets him up for future success is a step back moving towards his strong hand. All-NBA caliber guards need to be able to create off the bounce and hit seemingly impossible shots late in the shot clock to bail their teams out of a jam, and Murray already has this trick in his bag:
Does that look familiar to anyone? It should...
Murray actually outpaced Damian Lillard on stepback 3s last season, shooting 38.2 percent on 34 attempts compared to 31.4 percent on 35 attempts for Lillard. These are both admittedly small sample sizes, but Murray still outpaces Lillard over the last two season.
The similarities between the two guards don't stop there, either. As you can see below, Murray and Lillard have even had similar success over the past two seasons on floaters and pull-ups:
The volume obviously isn't as high, but the upshot for Murray is that he is already superior to Lillard in a number of other categories. While Lillard ranked in the 41st percentile on spot-up shots last season, Murray was a more dead-eye shooter, as his 1.18 points per spot-up possession and 60.7 eFG% landed him in the 88th percentile. Murray is also elite coming off screens, finishing in the 87th percentile in 2017-18 compared to the 64th percentile for Lillard.
As referenced in the outset, the Denver Nuggets guard also excels around the rim. Whereas Lillard has converted 56.5 percent of his career shot attempts within 3-feet of the basket, Murray had made 61.7 percent of his.
For context on how good Murray is around the rim, Kyrie Irving, who is considered by many as the best guard in the NBA at finishing in traffic, has made 60.2 percent of his career shot attempts from that distance.
Similar to Irving, Murray is an ambidextrous finisher at the hoop:
If there is more space in the lane next season, Murray may look to drive more often. A healthy Paul Millsap, plus Gary Harris, Will Barton and Nikola Jokic, will create a starting five for Denver with plenty of shooting, and thus more room for Murray to attack the basket.
Given how good Murray is at finishing around the rim, it should come as no surprise that he compares well to other stars. In scoring on 62.3 percent of his drives last season, Murray finished just behind CJ McCollum and ahead of established players such as Jimmy Butler, Jrue Holiday, Victor Oladipo and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
In fact, we have yet another category where Murray and Lillard were comparable last season:
|Drives Per Game||12.6||8.0|
When looking at how Murray can continue to grow to reach the level of a perennial All-Star like Lillard, the answer may be as simple as an increase in volume.
We've seen that Murray's efficiency numbers in many areas are right in line with Lillard's. As a 21-year-old that showed development from Year 1 to Year 2, it's safe to assume further development from Murray.
Remember, Lillard was playing against the likes of Sacramento State at Murray's current age, not Golden State.
However, the one thing that has held Murray back so far is his environment. While Lillard is the primary offensive option in Portland, as well as the primary distributor for his team, Murray is the secondary option in both regards for the Nuggets. With the offense running through Jokic, less is asked of Murray, though there's reason to believe that he could flourish with more responsibility.
Even so, there's no denying Murray already has skills comparable to prime Lillard, who was a member of the First Team All-NBA last season. If Murray continues along his current career trajectory, he could blossom into the next Lillard, which would propel him to being the best Canadian born player currently in the NBA. Such a rise to stardom would give the Nuggets one of the best one-two punches in the league when coupled with Jokic.
Look for the Nuggets to have an elite offense in 2018-19 and, despite a crowded Western Conference, earn their way into the playoffs, in no small part due to a third year leap from Murray.
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