Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay are both putting in strong performances taking turns at point guard. As the two battle for minutes, Denver is the real beneficiary.
Prior to the start of the 2017-18 season, the Denver Nuggets released veteran point guard Jameer Nelson. Nelson’s departure was the starting gun for a race between Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay for the starting point guard spot.
Mudiay had been waiting for this moment ever since the Nuggets chose him with the seventh overall pick in 2015. Unfortunately for him, two underwhelming seasons of poor shooting left the door open for Murray, a fellow seventh overall pick.
In contrast, to Mudiay, Murray did nothing but impress in his 2016-17 rookie season with Denver. “The Blue Arrow” proved to be a valuable outside shooter for a Nuggets team that needed the extra scoring.
Coach Mike Malone alternated the two at starter during the preseason, eventually settling on Murray before the season opener.
But while Murray ended up getting the job, the biggest winner of the battle has been the team. By forcing the two to compete, the Nuggets are somehow getting the best out of both players.
Mudiay in particular has shown tremendous improvement from his first two years. The Congo native has slimmed down, fine tuned his mechanics and found his shot from behind the arc. The results are a 5.4% increase in field goal percentage and 15.5% increase in three point percentage for the 21-year-old.
The new-look Mudiay was on full display in the Nuggets’ 102-94 win over Oklahoma City Thursday. Malone described him as the game’s “MVP” after he racked up 21 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Even more impressively, he shot 8-for-10 from field goal range and a perfect four-for-four from three.
MOODY DOES NOT CARE IF IT IS 1 v 4 pic.twitter.com/JofGIDWqbI
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) November 10, 2017
Not to be outdone, Murray went off in the next game for a career-high 32 points against the Magic. The former Kentucky Wildcat was electric from behind the arc and sunk quality shots from mid-range in the 125-107 win.
The 32: pic.twitter.com/XTRqOmWXXf
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) November 12, 2017
But the real beauty of both youngsters playing well is that the Nuggets can wield a two headed monster at point guard if they want to. The two players have slightly different skill sets, but both complement the team in different situations.
Murray can team up with Harris to spread the floor and knock down perimeter shots if Jokic is getting bullied in the post. Murray’s continued production from mid-range can also help open up lanes for Denver’s big men.
If the defense isn’t as tight down low, Mudiay can take advantage by slashing his way to the rim. Mudiay is also the better passer out of the two.
In either situation, the point guard has the benefit of playing with Jokic, the best dime-slinging center in the NBA. They also get to share the front court with Harris, who can provide consistent shooting and lock-down D on the opposing teams’s best guard.
Malone has made it clear that he’ll give more minutes to whichever player has the hot hand. As a result, Murray and Mudiay’s shares of playing time have crept nearer and nearer to a 50-50 split. Normally that’s not what what you want to see, but with the way the two have been playing, the strategy could really be an effective one-two punch on offense.
By competing, the two are actually working together to help Denver win games and its been working so far. The Nuggets are 8-6 and sitting on top the Northwest Division after a 5-1 homestead. If the M&M duo continue to shine, Denver’s playoff hopes could get even brighter.
Playing two young point guards does have its downsides of course. Take Tuesday’s loss at Portland as an example. Neither player had a single assist and both went cold from three. If Murray and Mudiay both have a bad game, the chances of the Nuggets winning aren’t very great. The two need to learn how to facilitate the offense instead of relying on Jokic and Millsap to do it for them.
We’ll see how the point guard experiment works out as the season progresses, but for now, they’re are definitely some promising signs.