In the Denver Nuggets’ win last Monday over the injury-depleted Los Angeles Lakers, starting point guard Jamal Murray netted a season-high 34 points to lead all scorers in the game.
His performance showcased perhaps the strongest evidence so far that he’s closer than ever to regaining his previous form since recovering from the ACL injury he incurred on April 12, 2021, which sidelined him for well over a season and two Nuggets playoff runs.
Murray, Denver’s starting point guard and longtime co-pilot to back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic, had in fact not scored as many points in nearly two years, with his most recent 34-point (on the nose) performance dating back to less than a month before his injury.
The Blue Arrow’s big game against Los Angeles is not only a legitimate milestone in his rehabilitation process, but is also surely both another confidence-booster as he regains trust in his body and conditioning, and also a reorientation for the Nuggets that they have not only one superstar in Jokic (who carried the team with Herculean heroics in Murray’s absence), but arguably the NBA’s most lethal offensive duo in the form of their nearly unstoppable two-man game.
Murray’s fairly shaky and uneven start to the season was only to be expected after such a long absence from playing real live NBA basketball on the court. While there were flashes early in the season of “bubble Jamal” (a term which has now become shorthand for what is widely regarded as the thus-far career pinnacle of his performance in the 2020 playoffs), there were also stretches which appeared to be one step forward and two steps back.
That equation has clearly flipped in recent weeks, with Murray more and more consistently not only rediscovering his shooting rhythm, but also playmaking and defending at levels as good as, if not better than he’s seen in his overall career.
And it’s not only the “eye test,”, the numbers clearly back up Murray’s marked improvement over the course of this season.
In addition to overall counting stat production in points, rebounds and assists, Murray’s shooting and playmaking efficiency have seen an uptick across the board, with both his scoring and shooting percentages on the rise, as well as his assists.
The steady and steep upward trend this season in Murray’s cumulative true shooting percentage, which accounts for the added value of both three-pointers and free throws, is particularly noteworthy.
All of these advancements will inevitably plateau out at some point, of course, but considering the pace of Murray’s still-improving trajectory and his still-young age at 25 years old, the Nuggets should have a high degree of confidence that by the end of the regular season and the playoffs, their star point guard will not only have fully regained his previous form but stands a good chance of being even better.
Denver is currently on an extended tear, having won 18 of their last 24 games (or 75%), and during that span putting in an NBA third-best net rating of plus-6.6 points per possessions, the overall league-leading offensive rating of 119.7, and a 12th-best defensive rating 113.1 – which, while obviously still not cracking the top ten, is a massive improvement over being 24th in defense up to that point, per NBA.com.
And while the eternal caveat of correlation not necessarily equaling causation should be kept in mind, the data does indeed show a very strong correlation this season between strong single-game Jamal Murray performances and Denver Nuggets wins, as the chart below shows.
Plotted here are the results of Basketball Reference’s “game score” metric, which they describe as “a rough measure of a player's productivity for a single game,” for each of his games, in comparison with the point differential in Nuggets game outcomes (wins in the plus, losses in the minus), The yellow horizontal line represents Murray’s average game score this season of 13.9. The number of each point on the chart is Denver’s game number this season, with games Murray did not play excluded.
When Murray has had a game score above his season average, the Nuggets have won 15 games and lost only three, for an absolutely dominant win percentage of .833.
Also worth noting is that the preponderance of Murray’s games above his personal average show a game number of 20 or higher, another clear indicator that his performance really cranked up in the second quarter of the season as opposed to the first.
On the aforementioned correlation versus causation caveat, it needs to be pointed out that the Nuggets’ recent surge also coincides with the return of forward Michael Porter Jr., who has played in Denver’s last 11 games since returning on December 23rd from an injury absence of about a month. Clearly, his re-addition has also given the Nuggets a boost, as has head coach Michael Malone figuring out a bench rotation which has stopped hemorrhaging points at its woeful early season rates when Nikola Jokic is resting.
But the link between Murray playing great and the Nuggets winning is strong, at least to this point in the season, and that is fantastic news for Denver, who desperately missed his contributions in their last two playoff runs.
The Nuggets have unambiguous championship aspirations this season, and a healthy, recovered, fully armed and operational Jamal Murray is proving to make those hopes all the more realistic.