DENVER — Jamal Murray is getting closer to returning from a hamstring injury and will join the Denver Nuggets on their upcoming five-game road trip.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after practice Thursday that he wasn’t sure whether his dynamic point guard would play during the long road trip that begins Friday in New Orleans as part of the NBA midseason tournament.
“But from all the reports I’m getting, I know he’s working really hard to get back into the game and make positive progress every day,” said Malone, whose team is now 2-0 in the season opener.
Murray and two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic helped the Nuggets win the team’s first championship last season. Murray averaged 26.1 points in the postseason, in which the Nuggets went 16-4.
Murray, 26, was off to a great start this season, averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 assists, when he injured his hamstring on November 4 against Chicago. The team is taking a cautious approach to his recovery. Murray missed the entire 2021-22 season as he recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Denver has gone 3-1 so far in Murray’s absence, with veteran Reggie Jackson taking his place in the starting lineup. Jackson averaged 14.8 points this season, helping the Nuggets stay atop the Western Conference standings (9-2).
“When guys get hurt, especially when they’re out for a long time, you need guys to step up,” Malone said. “Reggie is a veteran. He played many important matches in his career. And the job he did, stepping in with the first starting unit and also anchoring the second unit, was just great in every way.
Rookie Jalen Pickett saw his role increase in the win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night when he scored five points in nearly 17 minutes of play. He said Murray’s guidance was instrumental in shortening his learning curve.
“He’s been telling me things since this summer,” explained Pickett, the 32nd overall pick in the 2023 draft out of Penn State. “Seeing (Murray) just step into that leadership role even though he’s hurt, and for him to still be on the bench and helping me is great.”
Collin Gillespie has also had more playing time in Murray’s absence after sitting out last season while recovering from a broken leg. Gillespie played a season-high 20 minutes in last Sunday’s loss to Houston (he didn’t play against the Clippers).
Michael Porter Jr. believes that giving time to younger players now – including Julian Strawther – will only pay off later.
“It’s a long season and some players will miss games,” Porter said. “And when the guys have representatives in different roles, it’s always good. So I think it was good for a lot of different guys, not just Reggie, but Collin getting some minutes and Jalen getting some minutes. A lot of different guys stepped up.