Houston Rockets vs Denver Nuggets: Player to watch
The Nuggets run through Nikola Jokic, but because his utter dominance is a given at this point, deeming him the player to watch is boring. He can and does go off against anyone. If the Rockets can slow him down, they will have a chance, but no one really slows him down anyways.
However, outside of Jokic, the Nuggets’ most dangerous offensive player, in theory, is Jamal Murray. Murray very well may determine the Nuggets’ ceiling this season. Jokic is the constant that gives them a tremendous floor night in and night out, Michael Porter Jr. is who Rockets fans dream Jabari Smith Jr. will be on offense, and Murray is the secondary creator that theoretically takes the pressure off Jokic and gives the Nuggets an unstoppable offense.
What’s amazing is that with that trio on the court, the Nuggets have produced an offensive rating of 122.7, and that’s with Murray being substandard this season. Murray is in the midst of his worst scoring season since his rookie year (16.4 points per game) as he tried to shake off the rust following a torn ACL.
For a scoring guard who plays next to a playmaking hub, Murray’s shooting needs to carry the day, and thus far, he has been concerningly poor. He’s shooting career worsts or near worsts in every shot region except for long-twos, where he’s shooting a career-best 58.1%.
However, there are some positive indicators that Murray’s struggles aren’t simply due to injury and rust but are actually due to changes in his game. He is being assisted on a career-low percentage of his field goals, he has a career-low 3-point attempt rate, and he has a career-high assist percentage and usage. Murray is being asked to perform more as a primary on-ball creator than he ever has, which is why his drop in efficiency, coming off an injury and extended layoff, isn’t as large of a concern.
Now, the shot has to start falling for him to regain his previous levels of performance, but the Rockets cannot be the team that allows him to get right. When Murray has even a decent game, the Nuggets are borderline unstoppable. In games where he has an offensive rating of 110 or better, the league average is 112.6, the Nuggets are 5-0 and outscore their opponents by 17.2 points per game.
In the Nuggets’ remaining ten games that Murray has suited up, they’re 4-6 and have been outscored by 5.6 points per game. With Jokic’s excellence such a constant, the key to beating the Nuggets is to beat Jamal Murray. If he gets right, the Nuggets could be the class of the Western Conference, but until he does, the Rockets will have a chance if they can keep him from approaching league-average offensive efficiency.