Denver Nuggets star guard Jamal Murray tore his ACL against the Golden State Warriors on Monday and will miss the rest of the season. The injury occurred with just 50.6 seconds left in the fourth quarter of what would be a 116-107 loss for the Nuggets. Emotions were understandably high, and Nuggets head coach Mike Malone reported that Murray was “devastated” by the news that he would miss the remainder of the year.
— Jamal Murray (@BeMore27) April 13, 2021
The loss of Murray is a huge blow for the Nuggets, who are looking to compete for an NBA championship after reaching the Western Conference Finals last season and acquiring former Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon. They currently have the fifth best offense in the NBA in terms of points per game, and the fourth best offense in terms of offensive rating.
A Big Loss
Murray was a huge part of their ability to get as far as they did last year, and was particularly brilliant in the first round against the Utah Jazz. He posted averages of 31.6 points and 6.3 assists per game on 55% shooting from the field and 53.3% 3-point shooting on 8.6 3-points attempts per game. He also had two games where he scored 50 points and another where he scored 42. All in all, Murray averaged 26.5 points and 6.6 assists on 50.5% shooting from the field and 45.3% shooting on 3-pointers in the 2020 postseason. He had continued his brilliance into the 2021 season with regular season career highs in points per game (21.2), field goal percentage (47.7%), 3-point field goal percentage (40.4%) and 3-point attempts per game (6.6). His shot creation and playmaking will be sorely missed, and as coach Malone remarked in interviews on Wednesday, he is second on the team in essentially every major statistical category behind Nikola Jokic.
As excellent as Murray’s play has been, and as important he is to the team, his success and improvement has overshadowed that of one of his teammates: forward Michael Porter Jr, or MPJ as he has come to be known. MPJ had a coming out party of sorts early in the Orlando bubble last year after using the season hiatus to get healthy. He averaged 22 points and 8.6 rebounds per game on 55.1% shooting from the field and 42.2% shooting on 6.4 3-point attempts per game. Unfortunately, MPJ fell out of favor with coach Malone in the playoffs, as his shaky defense made him a serious liability in high-stakes playoffs games despite his offensive prowess. However, he has been given a much longer leash this season, and has averaged 30.5 minutes per game and started 37 of 44 games. He has posted averages of 17.3 points per game 53.4% from the field and 42.1% on 3-pointers in these contests. He has shown NBA fans why he was ESPN’s second ranked high school player in the nation in 2017, and finally overcame the back injuries that plagued him in college and earlier in his professional career.
Similar to Aaron Gordon, MPJ has largely thrived by playing alongside Nikola Jokic. He has a high offensive IQ and knows how to get open catch-and-shoot 3-pointers and also possesses a strong sense of timing and awareness when cutting to the basket. These skills meld perfectly with Jokic’s game, who can simply park at the elbow and terrorize opposing defense with perfectly threaded passses as the uber-athletic Porter and Gordon dash to the rim for easy dunks or relocate for easy jumpers. This system works well, but it works especially well when a player like Jamal Murray can draw attention as a shot creator who needs to always be accounted for with the ball in his hands.
Now, with Murray gone, MPJ will need to step up as a shot creator to fill the void. The Nuggets will need another playmaker to inject that extra spice and creativity that allows Jokic’s passing work as well as it does. As of right now, 72.1% of his 2-pointers are assisted and 93.% of his 3-pointers are unassisted. This will need to change if the Nuggets want to continue their trajectory as contenders. The question of course, is whether he will be able to step up to the plate and deliver as a primary creator. Only time will tell, but here’s to hoping that Michael Porter Jr. has what it takes to fill the large shoes left by Jamal Murray.
All stats courtesy of Pro Basketball Reference and ESPN