Four year after their last winning season, the Denver Nuggets are still a team without a leader. Mike Miller and Jameer Nelson bring a combined 29 years of NBA experience to the locker room, and second-year point guard Emmanuel Mudiay has been the center of the team’s marketing campaign. But the Nuggets don’t have a true centerpiece.
Denver has made Danilo Gallinari their headliner. His 36.2 minutes are the most of any Nugget, and seventh in the entire league. Gallo has provided a valuable presence, but he isn’t cut out to be the primary scoring threat on a competitive team. If the 28-year-old small forward was placed on one of the league’s premier teams, he would likely serve as a third or fourth threat.
For the last four years, the Nuggets have said that they are rebuilding, leaving many fans to question how much longer this process will last. February 16th will mark the sixth anniversary of Carmelo Anthony’s last game in a powder blue uniform. The date will also mark the sixth anniversary of the Nuggets’ last moment of national relevance.
Since Anthony joined the Knicks, the Nuggets have lacked an identity. In three consecutive seasons, Denver has had three different players lead the team in shots per game. Four years ago, the Nuggets traded for Andre Igoudala and begged him to resign with the team before he ultimately left for Golden State. Denver has fired two head coaches, George Karl and Brian Shaw, in the last four years. Worst of all, the Nuggets are one of just three teams without a single All-Star since Anthony’s departure.
The lack of both identity and success has emptied the upper deck of the Pepsi Center. The Kroenkes, who own the team, beg for patience during a lengthy rebuild. But after four years, the process is losing momentum. The last of the draft assets gained in the trade of Carmelo Anthony have been used, and Denver has placed 11th, 12th, and 11th in the Western Conference in the last three seasons. Currently, the team is 7-10; good for 10th in the conference. The lack of progression from the team is disheartening.
The Nuggets need one of their young players to become a true, top-tier NBA player, and Jamal Murray could be the transcendent talent that the Nuggets have been searching for.
After one year of college ball at Kentucky, Murray was selected seventh overall in this year’s draft by the Nuggets. In his first four games, Murray missed every one of his 16 shots taken from the field. Since then, the rookie has averaged over 23 minutes and 13.5 points in 13 games. Murray has also shot 45 percent from the field and 46 percent from three. In the last five games, he has led the team in scoring three times.
More importantly, Murray has passed the eye test. He hustles across the court and impacts nearly every play. Prior to the draft, most scouts worried about his defensive capabilities, but thus far Murray has held his own. At times it is evident that he is still a rookie, but generally Murray has played fast, smart, efficient basketball.
Jamal Murray also has the backstory of an NBA superstar. Reportedly, Murray did push-ups outdoors during the winter, while growing up in Ontario. According to legend, Murray once hit 270 straight practice free throws. His Kung-fu training and frequent meditation add to the lore.
Friday night, with Oklahoma City in town, Murray walked to the free throw line with a chance to save the game. Facing a three-point deficit, the rookie made all three of his free throw attempts, sending the game to overtime.
Murray’s recent performances don’t guarantee a successful NBA career, but they provide hope for a franchise that has struggled in recent years. His combination of skill, passion and basketball IQ give him nearly unlimited potential.
Superstars are needed for playoff runs, and Murray could be the next one for Denver. There will be dry spells along the way, but the team needs to prioritize Murray’s development. With two shooting guards set to return from injury in coming weeks, head coach Mike Malone will have to make tough decisions about playing time. The Nuggets need to leave Jamal Murray on the court and allow him to continue his development. Murray could be the player that the Nuggets have been waiting for.