With a nickname like Blue Arrow, you would expect Jamal Murray to be automatic from long-range.
However, after shooting 37.8% from three in 2017-18 and 36.7% from three in 2018-19, Denver Nuggets point guard Jamal Murray’s long-distance precision has experienced a sharp decline in 2019-20.
Shooting just 34.5% from three this season, the lowest mark of his career since he was a rookie, the problem stems from his pull-up three-pointers. While shooting 38.9% from deep as a spot-up shooter, Murray only shoots 32.5% from three when he’s pulling up from distance.
In all fairness to Murray, he’s never shown himself to be a strong shooter when he’s pulling up for three. According to NBA Advanced Stats, he was shooting 33.8% on pull-up threes in 2018-19, 32.0% on pull-up threes in 2017-18 and 28.8% on pull-up threes in 2016-17.
The difference has been the frequency with which he’s been taking pull-up three-pointers. After taking just 1.6 per game as a rookie (compared to 2.5 spot-up threes per game), he took 2.1 per game in 2017-18 (compared to 3.2 spot-up threes per game) and 2.8 per game in 2018-19 (compared to 2.7 spot-up threes per game). This season, he’s taking 3.0 pull-up threes per game, compared to 2.4 spot-up threes per game.
As you can see, Murray has become increasingly reliant on pull-up threes, to the point where he’s been favoring them heavily over spot-up threes.
While the attention he’s been drawing has increased due to him switching from a shooting guard to a point guard and averaging 17.8 points per game over the last three seasons, the should-be sharpshooter needs to find more ways to get his shots off-the-ball.
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The question is, how?
Simply put, the ball needs to be out of Murray’s hands more often and in another player’s.
Among Denver’s starters, superstar center Nikola Jokic has both the highest usage rate (26.6%) and highest assist percentage (34.3%) in 2019-20. Murray has the second-highest usage rate among starters (25.2%) and the second-highest assist percentage (22.7%).
Looking at the Nuggets’ starters — outside of Jokic and Murray — who could handle the ball and thus get Murray more spot-up opportunities, one name sticks out:
Will Barton, an eight-year veteran whose ball-handling and scoring ability have made him an x-factor for Denver.
Barton has a usage rate of 20.0%, the fourth-highest among the team’s starters. His assist percentage of 16.0% is the third-highest among the team’s starters.
When considered the attention he draws as a scorer (15.1 points per game in 2019-20), his ball-handling ability and his solid court vision, Nuggets head coach Mike Malone should put the ball in his hands more with the specific intention of getting the ball to Murray when he’s spotting up.
Looking at NBA Advanced Stats, 18.4% of Barton‘s passes have gone to Murray this season, the second-most of any player. However, of those passes, only 0.3 per game lead to assists for Murray.
Running pick-and-pops with Jokic as the ball-handler and Murray as the screener is another wrinkle Malone can explore. As is playing Murray with backup point guard Monte Morris more often, as Morris’ 23.3% assist rate is the second-highest on the team in 2019-20.
Per Basketball Reference, Denver’s 20 most used five-man lineups this season, the sole lineup to have both Morris and Murray is ranked 17th, with just 33 minutes of play.
As Murray is shooting 38.5% from three in the Nuggets’ wins and 25.3% in the team’s losses, it would appear that his accuracy from deep has a strong correlation with the game’s outcome. So Denver needs to discover ways to get Murray off-the-ball more as soon as possible in order to remedy this issue.
Right now, it appears that Will “The Thrill” will be key in their efforts.