Dempsey's Deliveries: Jamal Murray Poised to Make the Jump, Defensive-Minded Point Guards, and Roster Discussions

This week’s Nuggets mailbag is here. A fresh new batch of questions have answers below and we thank you for them. We’re getting into the heat of the summer, a slower time for the NBA, so keep the questions coming each week and I’ll get them answered. There are roughly two months until the start of training camp.

Q: Do you think the current Nugget point guards can defend the guards in the west or do we need to make a trade? – Bruce Schlagel via Twitter (@BSchlagel5340).

A: Bruce — Of the top 11 scorers in the NBA last season overall, six of them were point guards. Nearly half of the top 20 were point guards. In the Western Conference alone, four of the top seven scorers were point guards. My point? This isn’t just a Nuggets issue; no one is stopping point guards league-wide. As a group they are the craftiest, most dynamic scorers in the NBA. Now, do the Nuggets have players capable of doing a good job defending on the perimeter? Yes. Gary Harris has already shown the ability to be a plus defender in the league. Wilson Chandler has built a solid defensive resume over the course of his career as well. Specifically at point guard, I like the potential that Jamal Murray brings to the table as a defender. Last season, his effort level was high, even if he didn’t do everything right. And effort is so much of the battle on defense. He’s got good length and quickness and the willingness to get down and dirty on that end of the court.

Remember, Murray also played in college for John Calipari, a coach who believes in defense first as well. So, putting in work on the defensive end isn’t a new concept he’s got to adjust to. Last season, in addition to the fact that he was a rookie and learning everything coming at him, he was also injured the majority of the season. A fully-healthy Murray combined with his physical tools and commitment to that end says to me he’ll be successful as a defender far more than he won’t. Emmanuel Mudiay brings even more size and length – and strength — to defending on the perimeter, and having seen him in Las Vegas at Summer League, is also looking like he’s in the best shape of his basketball life. His improved conditioning should be a big help. Physically, he’s got the ability to stay in front of almost anyone, and so he’ll look to combine that with effort and awareness. I think the Nuggets can have success guarding some of the West’s – and the NBA’s – top perimeter scorers.

Q: Where do you see the Nuggets in five years? Philip T. Brown via Twitter (@ptbrown23).

A: Philip – If the Nuggets stay on their current trajectory, I think it’s pretty reasonable to say they’ll be a contending team in five years. By that time, Nikola Jokić will be headed into his eighth season and should be established as one of the league’s best, most productive centers. Jamal Murray will be well into his career as well. In short, the core players will be in the prime of their careers. Other moves will have been made but I see a basketball team with experienced talent that should be making a deep run into the playoffs pretty much annually by then.

Q: (Gary Harris) made a huuuge jump in my eyes last year from the prior year. Who makes the jump this year for the Nuggets? – R I G via Twitter (@rtgeorgia).

A: R I G – Completely agree with your assessment of Gary Harris’ play last season. He was stellar and solidified himself at shooting guard as a result. Who can make that kind of a leap this season? Keep an eye on a couple of players. First, Jamal Murray. He made huge strides over the course of his rookie season, and was playing pretty high-level basketball by season’s end. His April numbers (15.1 points, 5.0 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 44.9 percent shooting) are completely attainable over the course of a season. And coming into the 2017-18 season fully healthy will give him the chance be more explosive and more dynamic from the start.

Second, is Will Barton. He’s quietly putting in another summer of game-changing work, as he did last summer, and will return better than before. But we already knew he was talented. He’s on this list because the opportunity should fit the talent this season. He’ll have to play more small forward in addition to shooting guard, but the departure of Danilo Gallinari means there are more perimeter minutes to be claimed in general. He’ll be the biggest beneficiary. And, as his stats bore out last season, the more Barton was on the court, the more productive he was.

Q: Do the Nuggets want to acquire anyone else in free agency? CJ via Twitter (ChrisEspinoza78).

A: CJ — With a packed roster and little space under the salary cap, don’t expect any other big free agent moves from the Nuggets this summer. Any other major roster moves could only come through a trade. The team’s major free agency focus was to sign Paul Millsap, and they got that mission accomplished. Expect minor tweaks from now until the start of training camp in September.

Christopher Dempsey: christopher.dempsey@altitude.tv and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.

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