Jamal Murray is a talented guard, but he has yet to reach his potential. Changing the types of shots he takes will drastically improve his performance.
Jamal Murray has developed nicely from last year to this year. His pocket passing in the pick and roll has improved specifically, along with the rest of his passing. His defense has stepped up, being effective in Coach Malone’s defensive rotations, picking lanes, as well as being disruptive in on ball defense.
Yet, Jamal Murray has not improved in his primary ability: Scoring
Why is this?
One of the important skills that Jamal Murray has is his ability to hit really difficult shots. He takes on the challenge of scoring in isolation, beating defenders and shooting difficult, contested mid-range shots. Per Cleaning the Glass, Jamal Murray is in the 90th percentile in the percentage of his shots taken in the mid-range. The problem is, he’s really good at them. He ranks in the 78th percentile in mid-range accuracy.
This really isn’t a problem. It’s definitely useful. When the Nuggets have difficulty finding an open three or getting to the rim, Jamal’s mid-range jumper coming off of a Jokic high-screen is certainly one way to score. The problem is when Jamal begins to lean on tougher shots like this, just because he’s good at them. Regardless of how good he is, contested mid-range jumpers are not nearly as efficient as a shot in the restricted area or a three, even with his lower percentage on threes this year.
Jamal Murray’s offensive potential is incredibly high, so why haven’t we seen much scoring improvement from him over the past couple years?
My argument would be focused on his shot selection.
Jamal Murray by the Numbers:
Jamal is a player oft compared to Damian Lillard. Rightfully so, as both are players who were recognized for their scoring skill early on in their careers. Damian Lillard developed into an elite scoring guard, and one of the best shooters in the game. Murray might never become the three-point shooter than Lillard is and has been, but taking more outside shots would benefit both him and the Nuggets.
Damian Lillard and Jamal Murray aren’t actually too far off in terms of career marks from beyond the arc. Lillard has hit 36.8% of his three’s in his career, while Jamal Murray has hit 35.8% of his career three’s. Jamal Murray would benefit from maximizing his attempts from deep.
Damian Lillard has taken 42% of his shots from three in his career, elevating it to 49.9% this year (and posting his highest true shooting percentage). Jamal Murray has taken 39.3% from three. While that seems close, Jamal Murray is trending towards less of those shots, only taking 33.8% of his shots as three this season. This disparity is one reason why Damian Lillard is sporting a TS% of 60.5% and Jamal is still only at 54.4%, despite them having a virtually identical FG%.
Taking more threes is only one way to improve his efficiency numbers.
Jamal Murray is actually a much better finisher at the rim than Damian Lillard. His highlight plays of his excellent touch with reverse layups and and-ones is simply a reflection of how well he actually does score around the basket. Per Basketball Reference, Jamal Murray hits 61.2% of his shots within 0-3 feet of the basket for his career, good for a very efficient 1.22 points per shot. It’s even better this season, hitting 65.7% of the same shots, for 1.314 point per shot.
Damian Lillard, who is more efficient from deep, falls short in comparison here, hitting a still efficient 59.8% of shots within 0-3 feet. Even noting this, Jamal Murray only takes 18.4% of his shots from around the rim, compared to Damian Lillard taking 28.5% of his shots from this area.
Based on the numbers, Jamal Murray would benefit greatly from taking more shots both around the rim and from beyond the arc.
Here’s what the shot charts show –
In a tangible manner, Jamal Murray often takes contested mid range shots in the pick & roll with Nikola Jokic. Starting with a high screen, Jamal often has ample opportunity to pop from beyond the arc, but most often, Jamal drives towards the basket, but stops and pulls up into a contested mid-range jump shot. He has four options here. He can pop for three, take the midrange, drive further towards contact, or hit a pocket pass back to a diving Nikola Jokic.
Jamal Murray by the Film:
Joel Rush at Forbes did a film study on the Jamal/Jokic pick-n-roll, so I’ll be using a lot of his clips to demonstrate these options:
Let’s start with looking at his mid-range jumpers –
Jamal Murray is still very good at his mid range jumper coming around this P&R, but often it’s in traffic where he takes these. His frequency of the more inefficient shots has increased this year. Tangibly, just in these plays (something the Nuggets frequently lean on), Jamal can increase his efficiency.
What else can he do?
As mentioned before, his finishing around the rim is excellent by the numbers, especially with Jokic’s facilitation. The film shows this as well.
Not only does this create a more efficient shot, but it draws help defenders further away from their assignments.
Another way he can come out of this play with an efficient shot is by taking the high screens and shooting from distance, instead of turning the corner into a contested mid range shot. He’s shown the ability to do this, but his selection frequently lands him in the mid range.
Here’s a few examples of what he could be doing –
There’s several great examples in this clip, (1:03 is probably the cleanest). He has the ability to shoot the three at a high volume and to get quality shots out of the pick and roll. At this point, he just needs to make a conscious effort to take shots from beyond the arc.
Something else to feature here as an alternative is his excellent pocket passing. Both shots near the rim and from the perimeter are pretty efficient, but these aren’t his only options. His pocket passing last year was already excellent, and he’s taken another step with it this year. He has a great chance to create more looks for his pick and roll partner as well, often Nikola Jokic.
Jamal Murray has the potential to be an effective three level scorer. He already is to a degree. To be more efficient, however, he needs to alter his shot preferences. By allowing him to score the same amount of points on less shots, Jamal can transcend into a much higher level scorer.
He is a good mid-range shooter admittedly, but when he has so many different options, this shot should become more of a last resort for him, rather than a first option.