This week is all about the Denver Nuggets season in review. From Monday to Friday, we will be releasing season evaluations by position, beginning with point guard and ending with center. Ryan will break down what expectations were at the beginning of the season, what actually happened, hand out a letter grade, and ask what’s next for each player involved.

Point Guard Rotation

  • Starter – Jamal Murray
  • Rotation –  Reggie Jackson
  • Reserve(s) – Collin Gillespie (Two-Way), Jalen Pickett

Jamal Murray

Expectations entering 2023-24: “Jamal deserves to be in the Top 20 [Players in the NBA] now. It’s just facts. The way that he has shown up in every circumstance that he’s needed to, that is a pretty important piece.” – Pickaxe and Roll

Reality: Murray played 59 games this season, dealing with a variety of soft tissue injuries including a hamstring, groin, and calf strain (playoffs). He also had multiple sprained ankles. It was a year maligned by injury, and Murray, notorious for starting slow and building throughout the season, was unable to allow the season to play out in a similar fashion.

When Murray was on the floor, he was a borderline All-Star, tying his career high in points per game (21.2) and setting a new assists per game career mark (6.5) and three-point percentage (42.5%). Murray’s value to setting the table for Nikola Jokic, initiating Denver’s offense in the starting lineup, and operating as a scoring release valve was clear to all. With Jokic and Murray on the floor, the Nuggets produced a +15.4 Net Rating in 1,418 minutes, an incredible number. Where Murray still lacked in the regular season was his ability to propel most lineups without Jokic (-14.0 Net Rating in 444 minutes) and his ability to stay on the floor.

In the playoffs, Murray’s numbers fell across the board, averaging 20.6 points and 5.6 assists in 38.2 minutes per game. Murray’s 44.8 eFG% in the playoffs is the lowest among players to attempt at least 200 shots by a significant margin. Yes, there were some incredible moments in the first round against the Los Angeles Lakers. Murray’s buzzer beaters in Game 2 and Game 5 to send the Lakers home will be remembered fondly. So will Murray’s performance in Game 7 against the Minnesota Timberwolves with 35 points.

Still, the overall body of work from Murray this season was a disappointing one. Coming off of a championship and in his Age-26 season, this was meant to be Murray’s breakout year in the regular season. There was modest growth in the numbers, but the fundamental impact remained the same. While a strained calf and fatigue clearly hindered Murray at points in the playoffs, he was still not close to good enough within his role and within what the Nuggets asked him to do.

Season Grade: C-

What’s Next for Murray: The Nuggets starting point guard is entering a contract year and in line for a four-year, $204 million extension. While the impending media rights deal will help the salary cap increase, that remains a significant commitment for Murray, who has yet to make an All-Star game. The Nuggets need to be sure that such a contract gives them the best chance to win another championship while Jokic is still at the peak of his powers.

Beyond the contract, it’s time for Murray to make an All-Star game. The Nuggets should do everything in their power (from adding a legitimate rim rolling backup center to consistently playing shooters around Murray) to help him accomplish that goal. Because Murray playing that well and making the All-Star game in the Western Conference means he’s taken a step forward as a player entering his prime years.

Reggie Jackson

Expectations entering 2023-24: “There is a world where he is the fifth or sixth leading scorer on the team…He’s got to work to coexist and bolster guys like Christian Braun, Peyton Watson, and Zeke Nnaji, and make sure they get their opportunities too.” – Pickaxe and Roll

Reality: Reggie Jackson played too many minutes this regular season, but it wasn’t his fault. Murray missed 23 games and was hampered in a few others, and neither Jalen Pickett nor Collin Gillespie proved to be a stable option against good teams. As a result, Jackson played all 82 games this year and averaged 22.2 minutes per game, just 44 fewer total minutes than the starting point guard Murray. In that time, Jackson filled in well as a spot starter, playing Murray’s role exceptionally well in the 23 games Murray missed. In the other 59 games, Jackson averaged just 8.1 points and 3.2 assists per game on a 47.9 True Shooting %. Not great.

In the playoffs, Jackson’s role was greatly reduced to 9.8 minutes per game. He and Murray were unable to coexist throughout the year, and that limited Denver’s ability to feature two capable ball handlers at the same time. That weakness ultimately did the Nuggets in, and while Murray deserves the majority of that blame, Jackson is culpable too.

Season Grade: B-

What’s Next for Jackson: Jackson has a player option for $5.2 million this offseason, and it remains to be seen whether he will be back in Denver. For what the Nuggets needed in the regular season last year, Jackson served his purpose as a veteran orchestrating Denver’s young bench players. Unfortunately, he couldn’t help out Zeke Nnaji much as a roller, and it’s likely the Nuggets will seek to improve upon this position within their rotation. Whether Jackson picks up or declines his player option, I’d expect the Nuggets to seek out additional point guard help.

Collin Gillespie

Expectations entering 2023-24: “There were still some awesome moments from Gillespie as a scorer and playmaker, but it’s clear that the Villanova product could use more time to recover and more reps to develop a comfort level at the NBA level.” – Summer League Takeaways

Reality: Collin Gillespie played 225 minutes this season, which was more than Jalen Pickett and more than I expected him to play. On the season, he shot 46.4% from the field and 39.5% from three, both good numbers if maintained over a larger volume. He had sporadic opportunities throughout the year to shine, including multiple times against the G League Portland Trail Blazers. There were also times where he struggled though, especially with his size defensively, and was picked on by the opposing team’s backcourt stars.

Season Grade: C

What’s Next for Gillespie: Gillespie will be a restricted free agent as a two-way contract. With Jalen Pickett under contract for multiple years, it’s unlikely that the Nuggets retain Gillespie on a full-time contract unless they move Pickett. Gillespie may latch onto another team as a 14th or 15th man, sign an additional two-way contract with a new team, or explore options as a starting point guard in Europe. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t expect him to return to the Nuggets.

Jalen Pickett

Expectations entering 2023-24: “This is a player that, when Jamal Murray is off the floor, you can have run pick and rolls or DHO’s with Nikola Jokic.” – Pickaxe and Roll

Reality: Jalen Pickett played 122 minutes this year, the 14th most on the Nuggets roster. He had just two games of double-digit minutes and was clearly behind all three of Murray, Jackson, and Gillespie on the point guard depth chart. Pickett’s unique play style was slower to adjust to the NBA, and while it’s difficult to evaluate whether he can play at the NBA level, it’s not difficult to understand that he didn’t. The Nuggets drafted older rookies with the expectation that they would be able to play with some immediacy. Even with Murray’s injury status throughout the year, Pickett receiving just 122 minutes was an indication of his true readiness in the eyes of the coaching staff.

Season Grade: C-

What’s Next for Pickett: Summer League will be an important opportunity for Pickett. He’s unlikely to go into training camp with any assurances of play time this year at the NBA level, meaning that he will have limited opportunities to make an impression. If Pickett can show an increased control of the game in his second year, he might play. As it stands, the Nuggets can and probably should look for additional veteran point guard options, meaning the competition for Pickett will be steep.

Final Thoughts

The Nuggets point guard position was one of the most disappointing units this season. That’s on Jamal Murray first and foremost. It’s up to him to take this offseason to refocus, light a new fire for motivation, and improve to a true blue All-Star level. If he’s able to do that, the backup positions become a bit less important, but it would be nice for whoever enters the game when Murray exits to be a legitimate value add to the second unit rather than a question mark. There are worst options than Reggie Jackson, but there are better ones too.

Look for the Nuggets point guard room to add a new face or two this offseason.