Canada's Jamal Murray gets encouraging words from John Calipari
NBA guard's former college coach confident his shooting touch will return
As head coach of the University of Kentucky's men's basketball team, John Calipari had a front-row seat as Jamal Murray regularly drained 3-pointers for the Wildcats.
Then 18, Murray averaged 20 points a game as the team's shooting guard on the way to a SEC championship. After just one season, the Kitchener, Ont., resident chose to turn pro and was taken 7th overall by the Denver Nuggets in the 2016 NBA draft.
Now in his second year in the NBA, the 20-year-old Murray has found himself shifted to the point guard position, and his once hot-shooting hand has gone cold.
Late last month, Calipari caught up with his former star as the Nuggets played the Hornets in Charlotte.
Prior to the game, Murray, nicknamed the "Blue Arrow," sought out his esteemed college coach.
"He comes up to me and says, 'You know, I'm [2-for-14] from the three.' And I said, 'What? You could shoot  hooks from out there and go [2-for-14].' And he laughed," Calipari recalled.
"And I said, 'You better shoot 'em tonight,' And in that game, he ended up going [0-for-5]."
Calipari said two of those shots rattled off the front and back rims but refused to drop in what was an eventual 110-93 loss.
"He looked over like, 'That's what I'm dealing with now," Calipari said.
But Calipari said growing pains are to be expected as the young Canadian adjusts to his new position.
"Knowing the kid how I do, I think when you shift him to the primary point guard it could take away a little shooting, initially, until he settles down and figures it out," he said.
While Murray has briefly heated up, he has yet to hit his mark on a consistent basis.
Murray had another tough outing in a 105-100 win over the Atlanta Hawks a couple of nights later. However, in the following three games, the seventh pick in the 2016 draft shot 24-for-40, including 7-for-17 from beyond the arc.
But his hot streak didn't last, during the Nuggets' next three games he posted 16 points on 6-for-19 shooting.
On the year, he has averaged 11.5 points and 2.7 assists, with a below-average .493 true-shooting percentage (.239 from three and .398 from the field) in 24.7 minutes.
Play through his mistakes
The six-foot-four, 207-lb., combo-guard made just seven starts for Denver at point guard last season, averaging 13.6 points and 4.3 assists. But the team slotted him into the role full-time coming out of training camp.
Nuggets head coach Michael Malone is allowing Murray to play through his mistakes, and Murray is hoping to re-establish his reputation as a lights-out shooter. Despite two sports hernias that required off-season surgery, he made 33 per cent of his 3-pointers and shot .404 from the field in 82 games last season.
Calipari conceded Murray still has "a lot to learn" about playing point guard, but added he can be an efficient scorer for the Nuggets and possibly put up "all-star type numbers" over the next few years if he's put in a position to succeed.
At Kentucky, Murray often played off the ball or shared duties with Tyler Ulis at point guard, but Calipari said this allowed him to become a well-rounded player while maintaining a scorer's mentality.
"He learned to play out of position – it never took away his ability to play point," Calipari said.
Calipari said Denver needs Murray in its lineup to space the floor, and it will be a "problem" for them if he isn't hitting shots from outside the arc.
"[From] what I watched, it's too damn important that he is a perimeter threat," Calipari said.
Calipari isn't the only former coach who has monitored Murray's switch of positions.
Playmaking skills 'overlooked'
Tony McIntyre, director of basketball operations at the Athlete Institute Basketball Academy in Orangeville, Ont., where Murray played high school prep ball, said Murray played point guard most of his life and his playmaking skills are "severely overlooked."
He said Murray's biggest adjustment will be finding the balance between keeping his teammates happy and looking for his own opportunities to score.
But McIntyre stressed Murray will work to improve his craft as he is the "definition of a gym rat" and they often had to force him to leave the athletic facility as he wouldn't rest till he had made 500 3-pointers.
And it's this type of gunner's mentality Calipari believes will get him through his early-season woes.
"The one thing [about the NBA season] because it's so long, you really have to have amnesia," Calipari said. "The kid is so conscientious and wants to win so bad that sometimes he spends too much time worrying about stuff that's past."