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Jamal Murray: Maestro in the Making

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It’s been four years since the Denver Nuggets have made the NBA playoffs. The last time the Nuggets were playing in the postseason, they were eliminated in six games by an upstart Golden State Warriors team who were just showing flashes of the dominance they would put on display a few years later. But now, heading into the 2017–18 season, optimism is high that this is the year they make it back.

The Nuggets have quietly assembled a bright young core. With the centerpiece being star big Nikola Jokic, Denver has put together some good pieces to compliment the Serbian. Most of their growth has been through the draft but this year they landed a big time free agent in Paul Millsap. With the All-Star now slotted alongside Jokic, the Nuggets can take the next step towards contention. There are still some questions about this team though, particularly surrounding the much talked about young core. It will be interesting to see which player out of the group (excluding Jokic) stands out. One of the names to watch for will be shooting guard Jamal Murray. The rookie had a good initial season and showed he can be a bright piece in Denver’s future. He has a lot to work on, especially defensively, but at the same time there are a lot of things to like about him.

Last season was a solid one for the rookie from Kentucky. Murray showed his offensive potential, averaging 9.9 points per game while shooting an effective field goal percentage of 48.3. Sitting behind Gary Harris in the shooting guard depth chart, Murray made the most of his opportunities coming off the bench. He made a leap in his play after the All-Star break, averaging 12.1 points per game and improved his overall field goal percentage from 39.4 to 42.3 percent. All of this took place while he saw an uptick in minutes as well. It’s always a positive for any team to see a player, especially a rookie, not only maintain but improve in production when given more minutes. Down the stretch of the season, Murray gave a glimpse of some of the offensive firepower which made him such a highly touted draft prospect.

One of the numerous skills Murray displayed in his rookie season was an ability to break his opponents down when given space to create. He thrived in isolation situations and Denver also used the pick and roll, along with a number of dribble handoff plays, to help get him in mismatches he could take advantage of. Given space, Murray would also usually take advantage by playing well off the ball. Whether it was coming off screens or just a simple backdoor cut, Murray was able to read the floor very well and get to spots the defense left vacant.

Getting into specifics, there is one particular area which is very underrated about his game—one Murray should look to solidify: his pick and roll game.

Murray averaged 2.8 pick and roll plays per game and was decent when it came to scoring on those plays (0.84 PPP). Although it would be ideal if the number was higher, it’s a very good start. He was excellent in reading the game and used his craftiness to find open spots on the floor. 

Here this play begins with Murray in a standing dribble at the top of the key. He quickly receives a screen from Nikola Jokic and begins to break down the Thunder defense. Taj Gibson, who is guarding Jokic on this play, doesn’t elect to pressure Murray coming off the screen and instead chooses to fall back. This opens up space for Murray to come down into the lane with his man, Victor Oladipo, trailing him and giving him the upper hand. As Jokic rolls to the basket, a space vacates near the left side of the paint. Murray sees it and weaves his way towards that spot, all the while with Oladipo trailing him. With his man a step behind, Murray uses a side step move to get to the spot he wants and knocks down a comfortable mid-range jumper.

His threat of a three-point shot also came in handy in pick and roll situations. Despite shooting only 33.4 percent last year, Murray was still able to force defenders to think twice about going under screens when the Nuggets ran plays involving that kind of action. 

In this play, Murray is being guarded by the best player in the NBA in LeBron James. Murray receives a pass from Mason Plumlee at the top of the right wing and immediately goes into a pick and roll action with the big man. James makes the mistake of going underneath the screen, and with Channing Frye falling back there is nobody near Murray when he goes around the screen from Plumlee. He has plenty of time to rise up and knock down a very easy three-point shot.

This is something Murray should look to continue to refine. He’s very good shooting off the catch, with 71.3 percent of three-point attempts being assisted, but being able to make the three-point shot more consistently in pick and roll situations would make him an even bigger offensive threat. It would also do wonders for the Denver offense as Murray would force defenders to always go over screens and open space for the roll man to score.

Murray still has a long way to go in terms of becoming a complete player. There are questions about his playmaking skills (2.6 assists per game last year) and his defense needs to be worked on for him not to be a negative on that end of the court. He’s also in a unique position in which he is fighting for minutes with Harris. Mike Malone and his staff have already explored the possibility of Harris and Murray in the backcourt, running the latter at point guard. With his handles, quickness, and good grasp of running the pick and roll, Murray looks the part of being a part-time point guard. However, Denver could also opt for other options such as Emmanuel Mudiay or veteran Jameer Nelson.

It could be argued Murray is the second-most important player behind Jokic when it comes to Denver’s future. As long as he continues to improve on both sides of the court, especially offensively, the future is bright for Jamal Murray.

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Year 15 | A Mini Documentary

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What’s to come for the man on top, and what got him here?

It’s Year 15 of a man’s career, but it’s also Year 15 of a legacy…

Created by Tristan Laughton | Twitter: @Ctrice

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Editorial

Something Out of Nothing

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It’s March 2016, and I’m driving with Alan Shane Lewis to Montreal to meet with Marc Griffin and Phil Boileau. We’re meeting to speak about this exciting new idea I pitched to them. We were tired of spinning the wheels on our own individual internet shows, and I told them that it was time we stopped waiting for a network and became the network.

We spoke that weekend about creating a community of content creators that all loved ball and came together to make unique content with unique voices – voices we felt were never heard in the mainstream. This community was the base of Press and we’d continue to push forward from that spot. We spoke about some amazing show ideas, article ideas, social media plan. It was truly an exciting time, and still one of the best weekends of my life.

Two years later and that group is a lot smaller, and that idea is Press Basketball.

It caught fire at the beginning and we had people joining our bright shiny new plaything left, right, and center. It was exciting, but now I kind of realize that a lot of it was just that we were that “bright shiny new thing”.

We ended up with a lot of Press Basketball “members” but when I stepped back and looked at what was happening… it wasn’t what I’d imagined. The fire burned out. The idea was gone. We had just become another thing trying to stay alive, waiting for some deus ex machina to show up with money and make everything okay.

I’ve gone through most of my life making something out of nothing. It’s never easy, but when it happens it’s always worth it… ALWAYS. Press made me feel alive at a point. It was literally all I could think about, and while it still is on my mind, it doesn’t make me feel alive. This hurts more than I can ever explain.

Changes are coming my friends. We’re not laying down and dying, and if we do it’s not going to be like this.

The core of Press will be setting fire to a lot over the next few weeks and I personally can’t wait for this to start. From the ashes something new will rise (I watched a lot of XMEN growing up).

Stay tuned, because it’s not over.

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Lonzo Ball: The New Face of the Lakers

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Lonzo Ball is the new face of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise. The new savior. The Big Baller Brand is now here to stay and LaVar Ball’s family’s future is set. But is that enough?

Lonzo Ball is a great kid and athlete who knows his talent will take him to another level. The major question mark that remains is whether or not he will take the Lakers there as well. He has the platform and skillset to do so, but with that comes the added pressure from the city and league to basically become part of the next version of Kobe and Shaq. It’s too strainful for a young kid—a rookie—to achieve.  

Magic Johnson, the recently named President of Basketball of Operations for the Lakers, is taking an aggressive approach to get this team back into playoff contention his first year in. One of his first moves was sending D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th overall pick. Brook Lopez is definitely an upgrade at center, but has a couple of years already under his belt.   

Lopez will provide a much needed veteran presence with a great IQ for the game at his position. The only downfall is that a couple of years under his belt doesn’t really transfer to great experience, but simply wasted miles on his body. He isn’t as quick as he used to be and doesn’t even rank in the top 10 centers in the league. In fact, Bleacher Report had him last season at exactly 15 out of the top 30 centers in the NBA. While he is has improved by adding the three-point range to his arsenal, there is no doubt that he is nearly past his prime, and although he can still contribute on a nightly basis, who knows how much and what effect it will have with Lonzo Ball running the point.  

Ball has great court vision that has been often compared to that of LeBron James. Combined with his passing skills, he is a true PG with tremendous upside in the backcourt. With that being said, he will only reach a certain extent. His full potential is years from being maximized and people are buying into it early on. In fact, the pressure for him to lift a sub .500 team to the playoffs for the first time in five years is daunting. 

These are Lonzo Ball’s stats during his rookie—and only—year at UCLA: 

  • 14.6 Points
  • 7.6 Assists
  • 6.0  Rebounds
  • 1.8 Steals
  • 0.8 Blocks
  • 55.1 FG%
  • 41.2 3P%

He did a tremendous job maintaining that statline and even added a triple-double in the NBA Summer League, earning him the Summer League MVP.  

Don’t get me wrong, Ball seems ready for the challenge and is definitely a one-of-a-kind talent mirroring that of Steve Nash and Jason Kidd, but he is not an All-Star or MVP—at least, not yet. These way-too-early predictions that he is the Lakers’ new savior are farfetched. He has yet to face the elite NBA offensive threats and superstars that have been at it for 10-plus years. Defensively speaking he will not be able to keep up. Not in his first year. He still needs NBA experience and a more rounded roster to be able to reach the playoffs.  

He is off to a good start, but being named NBA Summer League MVP doesn’t necessarily mean a spectacular season is coming as some think it does. Especially if you consider the previous Summer League MVP winners.

Year Nat. Player Pos. Team
2012 Damian Lillard (co-MVPs) PG Portland Trail Blazers
Josh Selby (co-MVPs) PG Memphis Grizzlies
2013 Jonas Valančiūnas C Toronto Raptors
2014 Glen Rice Jr. SG Washington Wizards
2015 Kyle Anderson SF San Antonio Spurs
2016 Tyus Jones PG Minnesota Timberwolves
2017 Lonzo Ball PG Los Angeles Lakers

With the exceptions of Damian Lillard in 2012 and Jonas Valanciunas in 2013, the past five Summer League MVP winners have gone on to produce very mediocre NBA careers. All I’m saying is, don’t read too much into NBA Summer League. It’s the pre-preseason that no one really watches or cares about.  

The NBA season is nearing—exactly a month away—and my somewhat harsh criticism of Lonzo Ball isn’t too cruel. I am just not ready to jump on the Ball bandwagon following LaVar’s prophecies of his son being the Lakers prodigal son. He won’t be. Again, at least not yet. He needs to earn his spot and the transition will surprise him his first year in. It will hit him hard, but, despite my concerns, eventually Lonzo Ball will become a future NBA All-Star and a daring NBA point guard.  

Not yet though, and until then all we can do is prepare for his official NBA debut. Until then, we can enjoy and bask in his newly released rap single paying tribute to his little brother LaMelo Ball.  

If the NBA doesn’t end up being his calling in life, at least he has a back up career in mind.

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