Jamal Murray is somewhat back in the news again and no, it's not because there's another video out there of him getting his knob slobbed on. This time it's because when speaking to the media Murray came out and talked about how the Nuggets can in fact win a title this season. For context purposes, here was his whole quote
“We know we can go win the title,” the Nuggets’ guard said in a Zoom call with Denver reporters. “Me and Joker [Nikola Jokic] have been in Denver this whole time, working out.”
“Why not?” Murray later replied when asked about winning it all. “We have proven to be one the best teams year in and year out since we have been building. We have beaten good teams consistently. We shouldn’t have lost to Portland [last year in the conference semifinals]. That was more on us, our inexperience and they are a good team. But we don’t think that there is a team that can beat us in a seven-game series when we are playing at our best.”
Obviously, of course he is going to say this. What, you thought he would come out and say the Nuggets have no shot? But putting that aside for a second, how legit is his case? The thing with the Nuggets and I'm sure their fans will be quick to tell you, is that no matter what they do during the regular season people are hesitant to buy in. Remember last year they got off to that great start and everyone didn't buy in that they could be a top 2 seed and waited for their eventual drop down the standings? Well they won 54 games and finished a top 2 seed. They then had a couple of epic 7 game series both going the distance in the first two rounds, ultimately coming up short against POR losing Game 7 at home by 4 points.
Then enter this season. Everyone talking about LAL/LAC/HOU etc. Well, all the Nugget did was win 43 games (LAC has 44) and secure the 3 seed for the time being. They hold the 9th best offense, 12th best defense, and 9th best overall net rating in the league. When healthy, there is talent all over that roster. But let's dive into Murray's claims here. He says they've beaten good teams consistently. He's not totally wrong!
- Against teams .500 or better the Nuggets are 15-11. That is tied for the second most wins against good teams in the West
- Here are their records against Western Conference playoff teams
So you can see, against the teams on the bubble looking to make the playoffs, the Nuggets are great. A combined 12-2 record. Against everyone else though? That record looks more like 8-10. That's.....not so great. A look at their prospective 8 game ramp up schedule has the Nuggets facing DAL/SA/LAL/LAC/OKC/TOR/MIA/SA which is a pretty fucking tough slate. Remember, they only have a 1.5 game lead on UTA and a 2.5 game lead on OKC/HOU. It's certainly no lock that they finish in the 3rd spot. Even though it's unlikely, for the sake of this blog let's say things end the way they look now 1-8 in the West. That means DEN is looking at potential series against HOU and LAC if the Clippers get through. Given what we've seen during the regular season, that's tough. They then most likely play the Lakers in the WCF. We learned that even at full health, the Lakers size is simply too much for DEN. It's a matchup nightmare for them.
Looking closer, both of their wins against HOU came at the Pepsi Center. The same is true for their lone win over the Clippers. There is no denying that the altitude combined with their home arena which is a great crowd is an advantage for them. Now playing at a neutral site, that's gone. The Nuggets were just 18-14 on the road compared to a 25-8 record at home. No team in the West had more wins in their own building than the Nuggets.
I then look at style of play, and I think this may be one of the few advantages the Nuggets have over other teams in the field. We have no idea how teams will come back shooting wise, well outside shooting really isn't a huge factor in how the Nuggets play. They were already 25th in the league in 3PM a game and 26th in 3PA with a middle of the pack 15th ranked 3P%. Compare that to teams like HOU/DAL/MIL/BKN/TOR etc who heavily rely on outside shooting, that could be the one advantage DEN has. They are the best team in the West in terms of post up offense, ranking in the 89.7th percentile. Their 8.0 points via post ups are 3rd in the league and they shoot 53% in that type of set which is also 3rd in the league. That helps when you have someone like Nikola Jokic, who all reports say is in fantastic shape. I don't think it would be crazy to think in this weird time and new format that teams that have a legit reliable post presence might find themselves in a slightly better position while everyone shakes the rust off. Especially against a smaller team like HOU, who is going to defend Jokic? PJ Tucker?
I think a real wild card for their title chances is what version of Gary Harris is this team going to get. Will it be the one who has kinda stunk all season long and is shooting 42/33%, or will it be the one that started to turn a corner in March to the tune of 63/64% shooting splits in their 6 games before the break. If he can show to be a legit 3rd or 4th option for the Nuggets and give them some consistent outside shooting, I can see Murray's point.
But if the Nuggets are going to make a legit run, I do think the seeding is going to have to jumble a little bit. They just haven't shown the type of success against HOU/LAC/LAL that make you think if things stay how they look now that this is a team that can take down all three.