Jamal Murray Holds Unique Place in NBA History as Denver Nuggets Eye Repeat

By Scott Kacsmar

Jamal Murray knows that as long as Nikola Jokic is his teammate, he’ll never be the No. 1 star on the Denver Nuggets. But Murray already holds a unique place in NBA history as a No. 2 that is worthy of sharing the ball with the best player in the world despite the fact that he has never been an All-Star selection himself since he was drafted in 2016.

We can scoff at the All-Star process a little, but in his eighth season, Murray has never been named to any All-NBA or All-Defensive team either. His lone All-League selection was a second-team All-Rookie selection in 2016-17.

For his career, Murray averages 17.5 points and 4.5 assists per game. He’s never averaged more than 21.2 points per game in any season. His 16.9 career PER would not even rank among the 45 highest active players in the NBA.

But if you watched Muray in the playoffs with the Nuggets, you would think he was a future Hall of Famer instead of someone with a 0.04% chance for the HOF according to Basketball Reference.

That percentage might be going up after this season. Murray just completed a first-round series against the Lakers where he buried two late game-winning shots, including the series clincher in Game 5:

The idea of a “playoff riser” in NBA history has often been someone like Robert Horry or Derek Fisher, players who combined to win 12 championships with a few memorable shots in crunch time to earn their label despite career stats that were far from gaudy.

But Murray is doing something even greater than those players as he is clearly the No. 2 driving force behind this Denver run that has resulted in a championship last year and a good chance for an NBA repeat this year.

Murray may not be able to carry a team like this without the help of Jokic, but Jokic would not be looking at back-to-back championships without a healthy Murray as the Robin to his Batman.

Prior to the start of a crucial semifinals series against Minnesota, let’s look at the rarefied air Murray has put himself in with this postseason performances despite having very few regular season accomplishments to highlight.

Jamal Murray Is the Definition of a Playoff Performer

When people talk about a “playoff riser” in the NBA as someone who performs even better in the postseason than they do in the regular season, there are not many great names you can point to.

The simple truth is most players do not fare better in the playoffs where you generally are facing better teams and better defenses. Someone like LeBron James has done a great job of maintaining and slightly improving his regular-season stats in the playoffs over a very long career, but he is an outlier in many ways.

Jamal Murray is an outlier too, and we mean that in a good way.

We mentioned his Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 16.9 wouldn’t rank among the top 45 active players for his career, but his playoff PER (21.2) is ranked 14th among active players just behind Jimmy Butler (21.5) and Kyrie Irving (21.2).

Butler (“Playoff Jimmy”) is one of the few players known for elevating his game in the playoffs too. But Murray got the best of him in the NBA Finals last year when Murray averaged 21.4 points and 10.0 assists per game in the series win for Denver, the franchise’s first championship.

Murray also averages 24.9 points per game in the playoffs, which ranks 12th among active players and is just above Joel Embiid (24.7). The most amusing part here is that out of the top 18 active players in playoff points per game, Murray is the only one who isn’t at least a 3-time All-Star selection.

In fact, it gets much crazier than that. There have been 79 players in NBA history to average at least 20.0 points per game for their playoff careers, and a whopping 75 of them made multiple All-Star teams in their careers. The same 75 achieved that within their first eight seasons in the league too.

The only other three players on that list joining Murray:

  • Jalen Brunson made his first All-Star team in 2023-24, his sixth NBA season and only his second with the Knicks where he has stepped out of the shadow of Luka Doncic in Dallas and become a star in his own right.
  • Ben Gordon was a UConn star and known mostly for his time with the Bulls (2004-09), but he never made an All-Star team in 11 NBA seasons. He also averaged 20.2 points per game in just 29 playoff games, so he arguably shouldn’t make the list if we use a higher minimum standard for games played.
  • CJ McCollum has yet to make an All-Star team in 11 seasons where he spent most of that time as the sidekick to Damian Lillard in Portland. He has averaged 20.1 points per game in 67 playoff games, so he could still slide off this list entirely before his career ends.

With the way Brunson, who just knocked out the 76ers on Thursday night, is playing, he will likely make another All-Star team in the next year or two to take himself out of this list. So, Murray stands out even more when you just compare him to Gordon and McCollum, not to mention the other 75 players, many in the Hall of Fame, who all had multiple All-Star seasons early in their careers.

But how many of those All-Star players had multiple 50-point games in the playoffs like Murray? That’s where it gets crazier.

Jamal Murray and the 2020 Bubble Playoffs

The introduction of Murray as a rising star really came in the 2020 playoffs, which were played in August and September in the bubble due to COVD-19. In that postseason, Murray (and Jokic) helped Denver become the first team in NBA history to overcome multiple 3-1 series deficits, coming back to beat the Jazz and Clippers.

That feat may deserve an asterisk since it did not include any travel for road games because of the bubble situation. We know going on the road in the playoffs is hard in the NBA, so that played a role for sure that year.

But Murray’s performances were also legendary. He had a 3-game stretch against Utah where he scored 50, 42, and 50 points.

The only players in NBA history with more 50-point playoff games than Murray are Michael Jordan (8), Wilt Chamberlain (4), and Allen Iverson (3) – elite company to say the least.

Murray is also the 31st player in NBA history to have at least 5 playoff games with 40 points scored. As you probably guessed, the other 30 players are all at least 4-time All-Stars.

Finally, Murray is one of 55 players in NBA history to have at least 17 playoff games with 30 points scored. The only other player on that list to not have at least 4 All-Star seasons was Gus Williams, a 2-time All-Star selection who won the 1979 NBA Finals with the SuperSonics.

Jamal Murray and the 2021 ACL Injury

If Murray’s incredible bubble performance in the 2020 playoffs was going to set him up for stardom in the 2020-21 season, injury ultimately did not allow him to achieve that.

His numbers did improve that year as he averaged over 20 points per game for the first time and shot a career-high 40.8% from 3-point territory. But his rebounds and assists did not budge at all despite his bigger role and the fact he averaged more minutes per game.

But Murray was having a good season as Denver looked poised to make another deep playoff run. In a game in Cleveland on February 19, 2021, Murray became the first player in NBA history to score 50 points without attempting a single free throw. He was 21-of-25 from the field, including 8-of-10 from deep.

However, his career trajectory hit a major roadblock in April when he tore his ACL. Murray missed the entire postseason where Denver was swept in the second round by Phoenix. The injury also cost Murray the entire 2021-22 season where Denver lost in five games to Golden State in the opening round despite an MVP year from Jokic.

Maybe the Denver championship runs could have started sooner in 2021 if Murray never tore his ACL, but that took a long time for him to recover. He made his return in the 2022-23 season opener, but Denver worked him back gingerly on that knee.

But Murray was ready for another playoff run last year.

The First Championship for the Denver Nuggets

It did not take long in the 2023 playoffs to see Murray was back to full health. He started Game 1 against the Timberwolves in the first round with 24 points and 8 assists. He dropped a 40-point effort in Game 2 as Denver built a 2-0 lead.

Murray eliminated the Timberwolves in Game 5 with 35 points, then dropped another 34 points in a Game 1 win over Phoenix in the semifinals. The Nuggets won that series in six games.

In the Western Conference Finals, Murray helped lead a sweep of the Lakers despite every game being competitive in the fourth quarter. But Murray hit numerous clutch shots and averaged 32.5 points per game in the series.

In the NBA Finals against Miami, Murray was fantastic with double-digit assists in each of the first four games. In Game 3, Murray and Jokic both had a 30-point triple-double, something that teammates had never done before in any game in NBA history (regular season or postseason).

The Nuggets won the series in Game 5 to win their first NBA championship. Murray had numbers good enough for Finals MVP in many years, but Jokic took that honor with a great series too.

Jamal Murray’s Best Season Yet?

Now a champion, Murray entered the 2023-24 season with high expectations as the Nuggets were the odds-on favorite to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals again. We know this league loves a repeat story.

In the 2023-24 season, Murray did not blow away his previous career numbers, but he did set career highs in numerous categories:

  • FG% (.481)
  • 3P% (.425)
  • Assists per game (6.5)
  • Blocks per game (0.7)
  • PER (20.7)
  • Wins Shares/48 minutes (.153)
  • Value Over Replacement Player (2.9)
  • Box Plus/Minus (+4.1)

In the first round of the playoffs, Murray did not pick apart the Lakers as well as he did a year ago, but he still hit a couple of daggers in Game 2 and Game 5 to break their hearts again.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, this made Murray the only player in the last 25 seasons to hit multiple go-ahead field goals in the final 5 seconds of a single playoff series. Not Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, or Steph Curry. It’s the guy from Canada who’s never made an All-Star game.

But as long as Murray keeps delivering in the playoffs like he has for Denver, they are not going to care about his lack of accolades in the regular season. If he can win a couple more rings as the sidekick to Jokic, he might end up in the Hall of Fame one day against all odds.

His resume is truly unique in NBA history.

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