When drafting in the top 10, the expectation usually is that whoever you select in the lottery will be a starter for your franchise moving forward.
So when the Nuggets selected Jamal Murray, who played almost exclusively off the ball at Kentucky, questions were raised around how he would fit in with the established backcourt of Emmanuel Mudiay and Gary Harris.
“It’s Gary’s job,” Connelly said in reference to who Denver’s starting shooting guard is moving forward. “Certainly, I hope Jamal does everything he does to take the job. Gary’s our starting 2-guard.”
With Harris cemented at shooting guard to at least start the season, the focus shifts towards Murray and what his role will be.
Growing up and throughout high school, Murray ran point. At the 2015 Nike Hoops Summit when Murray really burst onto the national scene with 30 points and 5 assists, he played both on and off the ball. Then at Kentucky last season, Murray flourished, averaging 20.0 points per game and shooting 40.8 percent from three, playing mostly off-ball.
On his conference call with the Denver media after he was selected, Murray said he’s “a point guard in a 2-guard’s body,” but went on to say that he’s looking forward to playing off of Mudiay.
Simply put, Murray can play both backcourt positions at a high level.
“We had Jamal primarily on the ball,” Connelly said of Murray’s position at the next level. “I think he’s experienced with the Canadian national team, you saw him play quite a bit on the ball, but I think he’s the definition of a combo guard. When you look at the size in our backcourt with Emmanuel and Gary as our starters, you see three pretty unique players but they’re all between that 6-4 and 6-5. I think it allows us to do quite a few things on both sides of the ball, be creative.”
The Nuggets can get creative, as Connelly put it, by continuing to play similar lineup combinations that they did last year.
Think of Murray in the role of D.J. Augustin after the All-Star break last season. Augustin spent a significant amount of minutes sharing the backcourt with Mudiay and the Nuggets ran a highly-efficient offense when both played together.
In 159 minutes last season the Augustin-Mudiay backcourt pairing scored 118.9 points per 100 possessions. As a team, the Nuggets scored just 102.7 points per 100 possessions last year.
When Augustin and Mudiay shared the floor, Denver’s offense ran smoothly. Throw Gary Harris’ gravity in the far corner and Denver suddenly had some resemblance of spacing on that end of the court.
With both Mudiay and Augustin on the floor, Denver had two players with above average vision. Murray can fill a similar role next to Mudiay.
“He was the guy that we thought most fit us,” Connelly said of Murray. “I think his ability to play both on and off the ball. I think it’s also a testament to Jamal that he played full time off the ball this year and it’s not secret that our shotmaking was a major concern. This whole process started months and months ago, he’s been a guy we targeted heavily.”
Murray had arguably the third highest ceiling in this year’s draft, but regardless of what happens throughout his career, next season he should spend time playing and excelling alongside both Mudiay and Harris.