In the Denver Nuggets’ preseason win over the Clippers, the Joker stayed on the floor for a few minutes while Blue Arrow was sidelined. However, the team coped well against a title contender and earned a win days before the start of the 2022-23 campaign.
Nikola Jokic just returned from a minor wrist injury, while Jamal Murray hasn’t played since he left the preseason game versus Chicago with thigh tightness. In any case, the Denver Nuggets can be a serious threat to the status-quo team of the Western Conference this season, if healthy.
If Jokic and Murray can be on the court as the formidable duo we had seen them be before Murray went down with the ACL injury, then the Nuggets can be a title contender.
With Murray still trying to find his footing, the Nuggets will have to exercise patience to see him in prime form alongside Nikola Jokic. Let’s not forget that the last time the Nuggets’ star duo was fully healthy, the team reached the Western Conference Finals.
When Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray play together
Both Nuggets’ superstars started to build an elite relationship on the court during the 2020 NBA Bubble in Orlando. That was the last time Jokic and Murray played a playoff game together on the court before the Canadian went down with an ACL injury.
Murray tore his ACL and was eventually sidelined for one and a half seasons. He gradually recovered from his injury, experiencing more of a mental setback during the last part of the 2021-22 season as Murray was medically ready to play.
Jokic has been excellent in taking advantage of cutters and elite shot-creators. Murray can do both, as he’s capable of playing away from the ball and also as the primary ball-handler. His one-two punch game with Jokic was a sight to see in the “bubble”.
During the 2020-21 regular season campaign, the two eventually mastered it. According to NBA.com, the Jokic-Murray duo was the third most used in Denver’s rotation during the 2020-21 season. The Denver Nuggets scored 122.3 points per 100 possessions on 1363 minutes.
With a net rating of plus 11.5 when Jokic and Murray were on the floor, Denver was one of the top teams in the West. The duo was one of the five most-used duos in the team that season and was the best the Nuggets had to offer in terms of offense and scoring production.
When there’s the ability to score in different settings on the court, there’s always more confidence going into a game or a season. While Nikola Jokic alone is a “weapon of mass destruction” on the offensive end, placing him alongside an All-Star talent like Murray makes him even more dangerous.
Expectations ahead of the 2022-23 season
The Denver Nuggets are entering an “all-in” season with the majority of the squad healthy. I believe the front office did everything in its power to put together a team ready to play on both ends of the floor, but in the postseason you’re only going as far as your core of stars can carry you.
Murray got some reps in the preseason games and showed that he made progress after deciding to stay out for the last part of the campaign. Before his injury setback, Murray was a legitimate All-Star candidate.
He posted career-best averages of 21.2 points, 4.8 assists, and 4.0 rebounds, shooting 47 percent from the field and 40.8 percent from the deep. As the star guard told NBA.com, he’s taking one step at a time and his offense will be there eventually.
"“I’ve been taking one day at a time and everybody’s always asking me what’s it going to look like two months from now. I don’t know. I’m on the right road.”"
I think Murray can return to his usual elite production at some point during the 2020-21 season going forward, but he’ll need 2-3 months to recalibrate and reach that level. Other NBA superstars took a while to get there, so Murray will too.
As for Jokic, he’s the established two-time MVP and his play will be a staple for the Denver Nuggets this season. Jokic will see an increase in assists with Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray on the floor, while he can retain his aggressiveness to hold his scoring production at the high 20s.
Last season, Jokic has an astonishing year, registering 27 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 7.9 assists. He led a relatively young and depleted team to the sixth seed of the Western Conference and there’s no reason to believe that he won’t be able to do it again with a more talented group around him.