Jamal Murray and the Denver Nuggets were positioned to be long-shot contenders for the 2020-21 NBA season. After a brilliant run in the 2020 NBA Playoffs, taking out the Utah Jazz and LA Clippers after facing 1-3 deficits twice, the team seemed primed to do something similar in the 2021 NBA Playoffs.
Alongside reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray was the team's perfect second option on offense, providing them with consistent scoring and a bit of playmaking.
However, while preparing for the final stretch of the 2020-21 NBA season, Murray suffered a knee injury on April 12th that ended his season. Although the Denver Nuggets showed that Jokic could carry them, the second round of the NBA Playoffs was the team's ceiling as the Phoenix Suns swept Jokic and company.
3 situations facing the Denver Nuggets in 2021-22 NBA season due to Jamal Murray's absence
Backcourt play proved to be huge in that series, with the committee from the Denver Nuggets (Facundo Campazzo, Monte Morris and Austin Rivers) unable to match the production of Phoenix's Chris Paul and Devin Booker.
The Denver Nuggets posted a 13-5 record to finish the 2020-21 regular season and grab the third seed in the West without Jamal Murray. They went on to beat the Portland Trail Blazers in a six-game first-round series and got swept by Phoenix in the Western semis.
For the 2021-22 NBA season, the Denver Nuggets aren't expected to count on Jamal Murray for the first part of the season, as he will still be recovering from his torn ACL.
We might see Jamal Murray back on an NBA court close to April, but the recovery time might be different for him than other athletes we've seen in the past. The Denver Nuggets are yet to announce a return date for Murray.
Here, we will discuss the concerns the Denver Nuggets should have regarding Jamal Murray's extended absence.
Without further ado, let us start.
#3 Jamal Murray might lose some of his athleticism, although recent cases have been successful
An ACL injury is scary not only because of the time an athlete will miss while recovering, but also because the physical ability said player had before the injury might take a slight toll.
Jamal Murray is a great attacker of the rim with athleticism that is definitely one of the best among the guards. Although he is not as explosive as other guards, he is certainly up there.
Although the Denver Nuggets could be worried about Murray losing part of the great athletic ability he possessed before the unfortunate injury, cases like Zach LaVine's (who tore his ACL in February 2017 and returned around a year later) give some hope. LaVine managed to get his athletic ability back and even improved as a player in recent years, making it to the All-Star Game in 2021.
#2 He might return and not fit the team's timeline
Although it should never be a problem for a roster to have lots of good players, Jamal Murray's return in the 2021-22 NBA season might come after the team has already adapted to another style of play.
We can expect NBA MVP Nikola Jokic to continue playing at superstar level, while Michael Porter Jr., who started to look like a star without Murray, could become the team's de facto second choice on offense, making it hard for Murray to fit in.
Of course, Porter Jr. could develop even more heading into his third NBA season. Individually, Porter Jr.'s Offensive Rating (124.9) was slightly better without Murray last year than with him on the court (123.3). By the time Murray returns, the Denver Nuggets could go into a phase of adaptation to ease the Canadian into the squad.
Still, the 24-year-old Murray should be able to adapt to any modification the team might have made without him on both ends of the floor and contribute to Michael Malone's squad and its success.
#1 The Denver Nuggets are not a better offensive team without Jamal Murray
Although the Denver Nuggets had a better winning percentage without Jamal Murray (.667 in 24 games) than with him (.646 in 48 games), the team did not have a better offensive game without the 24-year-old guard.
Jamal Murray was having a career year on offense last year, following up his performances from the 2020 NBA Playoffs with career-best averages of 21.2 points, 4.8 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. He also put up career highs in field-goal percentage (47%), three-point shooting percentage (40%) and Offensive Rating (116).
Of course, this is all debatable, but the numbers still suggest that the Denver Nuggets' offense with Jamal Murray was better (with a 118.5 Offensive Rating) than without him (116.9) in the 2020-21 NBA season.
The Denver Nuggets' defense also allowed more points per 100 possessions without Jamal Murray than it did with him (not the best defender) on the court. Without him, the Defensive Rating of the Denver Nuggets was at 113.2 in the 2020-21 NBA season, while Jamal Murray's presence (48 games) helped the team have a slightly better Defensive Rating (112.8).
The Denver Nuggets should definitely have concerns regarding Jamal Murray's long absence due to injury, as the team definitely need him on offense. The 2021 NBA offseason was not highly impactful on the Denver Nuggets' end, and that might show some confidence in Murray's long-awaited comeback.
The team might still struggle without him, although the reigning NBA MVP, Nikola Jokic, could be enough to navigate the regular season against uncompetitive teams.
Replicating last year's 47-25 record in the NBA regular season might not be impossible without Jamal Murray, but they still had him for 48 games and went 31-17 with him as the starting point guard.
For the upcoming season, the Denver Nuggets might fall down the order in the Western Conference if Murray misses more than half of the campaign, which could make them a 5-7 seed or, in the worst case, put the Denver Nuggets into the Play-In positions.