What’s next for the Nuggets with Jamal Murray’s extended absence

Nov 7, 2023, 2:40 AM | Updated: 12:07 pm

The Denver Nuggets didn’t get through their eight-game stretch over 13 days without injury, Jamal Murray is going to miss some time with his first absence coming Monday night against the New Orleans Pelicans.

“I don’t expect Jamal Murray back in the near future,” team head coach Michael Malone said after the game. Before the matchup, he had said this wouldn’t be a one or two-game injury and it’d be longer than the team would like but the team would keep the bigger picture in mind.

So with Murray sidelined possibly for a while, where do the Nuggets go from here? First off, it’s important to note that Denver will not go anywhere this postseason without the Blue Arrow. We’ve seen two Nuggets playoff runs without Murray and it doesn’t end well. In the near team though, it might not be so bad for Murray to play it safe with his hamstring injury. It will keep the tough Murray off his legs for a while, at the same time it will give the Nuggets an opportunity to experiment with some stuff.

The experimenting began Monday with Reggie Jackson getting his first start of the season, Julian Strawther’s most extended action and Collin Gillespie’s first shot in the rotation. The beginning didn’t go great as the Nuggets found themselves behind 20. But thanks to the third-best second half in franchise history by margin, Denver topped the Pels 134-116.

Jackson struggled with his shooting throughout the game but the steady veteran has had a very good NBA career and should be fine in spelling Murray for a stretch. Jackson has played 778 games, 506 of which have been as a starter, scoring 15.5 points, and throwing 5.2 assists per game while shooting 35% from deep in those contests.

Most impressive on Monday and maybe the bright spot the Nuggets could develop in Murray’s missing is Strawther. The Nuggets rookie became the first in NBA history to score 20-plus points and make five or more threes in fewer than 20 minutes of action in a game. The first-round pick starred for Gonzaga last season shooting over 40% from deep as he scored 15 points per game.

Gillespie scored his first NBA bucket on Saturday then had some valued contributions against New Orleans. The point guard finally debuted after breaking his leg before playing in his first season and missing the 2022-23 campaign.

The best news for the Nuggets is that their real point guard Nikola Jokic recorded yet another triple-double on Monday. Jokic too was banged up before the game but again stepped up for his team. Denver will miss Murray’s career-best pace in assists at eight a game.

The Nuggets best option in the short term is likely a combo of Jackson and Strawther. It’s a chance for Denver to get Jackson to test some of the newfound confidence of Jackson after an offseason of preparing for the task. And it’s an opportunity for a very early look at Strawter in the rotation and possibly playing alongside Jokic at times.

Where the Murray injury may really impact the Nuggets is in the long term. The point guard is extension-eligible at season’s end and will obviously be offered a max deal by the Nuggets. That could however be a supermax if Murray makes an All-NBA team this season. Due to the new collective bargaining agreement, it’s extremely prohibitive to the Nuggets to go into the second apron of the luxury tax which is more likely if Murray earns the supermax. But that same CBA details that players must play 65 games to qualify for end-of-season awards. Murray would need to return by Dec. 16’s game against Oklahoma City and play in every game the rest of the year to still qualify. The best case for the Nuggets might be for Murray to come back after Denver’s upcoming five-game road trip, which would mean a total of a nine-game absence for Murray.

Again the Nuggets will need Murray to defend their title, yet it will give them a chance to further find a true Bruce Brown replacement at guard and do so very early into the season.


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