Last week in John Schumann’s 2018-19 GM Survey, 20% of 29 NBA General Managers when asked “Which player is most likely to have a breakout season?” answered Jamal Murray (GMs were not permitted to vote for their own players). You do the math. It means 6 opposing general managers recognized The Blue Arrow. His votes doubled that of any other player, including 2016 Draft classmate Brandon Ingram of the Los Angeles Lakers and Ingram’s fellow Duke “alumni” Jayson Tatum. A group of 6 players registered two votes apiece: Kawhi Leonard, Ben Simmons, Kyle Kuzma, Aaron Gordon, Lauri Markkanen and since injured DeJounte Murray.
Those leaders of front offices aren’t pulling at strings, there is a history of NBA players in their third seasons making significant jumps. Take a look at the history of the Most Improved Player Award. Four times in the last nine seasons a player in their third year won the award. CJ McCollum in 2016, Paul George in 2013, Kevin Love in 2011 & Aaron Brooks in 2010. That’s not all, Giannis Antetokounmpo won in 2017 which was his fourth season. In 2016 during his third season, he came in third in voting for the award. The winner in 2015, Jimmy Butler, won in his fourth season after only playing half a season his rookie year. Ryan Anderson was in his fourth year when he won in 2012 after missing an average of 20 games a season.
In 2018, Clint Capela finished second in voting for the award in his fourth season after only playing 12 games his rookie year. Spencer Dinwiddie finished right behind him at third also in his fourth season after only playing 46 games his first two seasons combined. Rudy Gobert only played 45 games his first season and finished in third place for the award TWICE, once in 2015 and again in 2017. Draymond Green in 2015, Lance Stephenson in 2014 finished in second place in their third years. In 2013, Greivis Vasquez and Larry Sanders joined Paul George in the top three of voting for the award and all three of them were from the same draft class. Reigning Finals MVP Kevin Durant came in 2nd in 2010 in his third year as well.
Murray’s teammate, Nikola Jokic, finished second place in 2017, his second NBA season. Jokic will be a huge catalyst for Murray’s potential breakout, as his unselfish play and their developed chemistry over the last 2 seasons could propel Murray to success. On the other side of the argument, what is stopping The Joker from breaking out again this year, putting himself in the All-NBA, All-Star and MVP conversations. Jokic could join Antetokounmpo & Gobert as only players to finish in the top 3 of Most Improved player award more than once.
You might be wondering why the focus on games played? Well, because Jamal Murray is TOUGH. Murray has missed one game through his two years in the NBA, famously playing through numerous injuries. This preseason he has been fighting a nagging ankle injury. This past February he was fighting a vague “chest soreness” injury, but he wouldn’t let it keep him down, giving Gina Mizell, former Nuggets Beat Writer for the Denver Post now covering the Phoenix Suns for The Athletic, an amazing quote.
Jamal Murray wouldn't go into detail on what specifically is causing his chest soreness, but he's been icing it. Said it was tough to breathe tonight but "I just stopped thinking about it. Pain is really nothing to me…can’t breathe? That’s not gonna stop me. " #Nuggets
— Gina Mizell (@ginamizell) February 14, 2018
A month before that, he went through the concussion protocol, which resulted in the only reason he has missed a single game. Over the offseason between his first and second year Murray had surgery to repair a hernia that he played through the entire season, Altitudes Sports Chris Dempsey reported.
How tough was #Nuggets rookie Jamal Murray? He played all 82 games this season through a sports hernia.
— Chris Dempsey (@chrisadempsey) April 13, 2017
How did the man dubbed Maple Curry get so tough? He lends credit to his dad.
Jamal’s father, father Roger Murray, taught Jamal meditation from an early age. Roger became fascinated with Eastern culture by watching old Bruce Lee movies, leading him to kung-fu & meditation, a passion passed on to his son.
After getting fouled late in a critical game during the playoff run last season, Murray had three free throws to tie the game and send it to overtime. He drilled all three, and after winning the game in overtime Jamal told reporters he meditates at the free throw line to shut out all distractions. I don’t know about you, but this sounds like something an all-time great would say.
The 21-year-old Canadian has shown his competitive spirit, while some Laker fans would call it pettiness. In three of the four matchups between the Nuggets & Lakers there was some significant, yet hilarous altercations. Once, Murray decided to dribble around Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball at the end of a game that Denver won.
The second instance came when former Los Angeles Lakers now Denver Nugget Isaiah Thomas threw a ball at Murray at the end of a Lakers win in March.
Don’t forget about the last stop on Murray’s amateur development journey with the John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats. Active players in the NBA who went to UK and were drafted at #7, where Jamal was picked, or higher include All-NBA guys Anthony Davis, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins & Karl Anthony-Towns. Still developing players like De’Aaron Fox and Julius Randle are also on that list as well as a few guys who have hit their ceiling as role players, Enes Kanter & Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and one question mark in Nerlens Noel.
Murray has shown creativity on the court, and no fear in attacking the rim. With foe-turned-friend Isaiah Thomas out for the first few weeks of the season and Will Barton joining Murray in the starting lineup, Jamal will be depended on for 30-38 minutes of running the offense immediately this season. Yes, Jokic is a focal point of play making and both Barton and Gary Harris are capable of initiating plays as well. Mason Plumlee can do a decent impression of Jokic with the second unit and Monte Morris had a great summer league and has looked legit in preseason so far. Tracking NBA experts’ predictions and Vegas win totals, the Nuggets are looking likely to improve and jump into the top 10 landscape of the NBA this season. Jamal Murray is focused, stronger and ready to win now and he is taking the Nuggets with him.