Nuggets select Jamal Murray with No. 7 pick in NBA draft
AP Sports Writer
DENVER — Jamal Murray can score. The Denver Nuggets desperately needed a scorer.
So this was a rather slam dunk decision, especially since he fell down the board.
Denver selected the youthful Kentucky shooting guard with the No. 7 pick in the NBA draft on Thursday as they try to turn around a franchise that’s missed the playoffs the past three seasons.
The 19-year-old Murray is coming off a freshman season in which he averaged 20 points a game — the highest scoring average for a Wildcats player under coach John Calipari. The 6-foot-4 Murray also had 113 3-pointers, the second-most in NCAA history for a freshman. The only freshman who had more was Steph Curry (122).
That Murray slid was a surprise to him. No problem. He’ll just use it as motivation.
“I always believe I’m the best player, and when a team really sees the No. 1 choice, like Denver did, then I just want to play for them more,” Murray said during an NBA draft news conference in Brooklyn, New York. “I want to give them all I’ve got.”
Denver took power forward Juan Hernangomez of Spain at No. 15 and guard/forward Malik Beasley out of Florida State with the 19th pick.
The 6-foot-9 Hernangomez was originally an early candidate heading into the 2015 draft before withdrawing his name from consideration to gain more seasoning with his club team, Movistar Estudiantes. His brother, Willy Hernangomez, was selected in the second round in ’15 and his draft rights are owned by the New York Knicks.
“I have only one word for it, for this team, and that is, ‘Thank you.’ Thank you so much,” Juan Hernangomez said. “I really appreciate it.”
Beasley averaged 15.6 points in 34 games for the Seminoles. His 529 points were second-most for a season by a freshman in Florida State history.
“I have no doubt in my mind he is going to be successful and that his best basketball is ahead of him,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “As much as he has shown teams his potential to this point he still has a lot more room for growth.”
The Nuggets are coming off a season in which they finished 33-49 in coach Michael Malone’s first season in charge. They showed signs of improvement behind point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, the seventh overall selection a year ago.
Mudiay may now be paired with Murray to form a prolific backcourt.
“Me and Mudiay, we played in the Hoops Summit together for one year. I kind of got to see what he’s like,” Murray said. “We’ll be a good team. We’ll be working together and playing off each other.”
Murray’s strengths are listed like this: Dominant offensive talent who can play both guard positions. Can create space. Has a lethal mid- and long-range jumper. Confident ball handler. Great court vision.
His weakness: Defense. But that should soon change, given that Malone preaches defense above all else.
Still, the Nuggets were searching for another scoring threat and certainly got it in Murray, the Canadian sharpshooter who can score buckets in bunches.
The team needed that given the injury history of Danilo Gallinari, who went out with an ankle injury in February. Wilson Chandler will be back next season after missing all of last year following hip surgery.
A bright spot for Denver last season was the emergence of twin towers Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic. Malone experimented with pairing the tandem on the court late in the season and it proved effective. The 6-foot-10 Jokic made the NBA’s first-team all-rookie squad, while Nurkic turned in some of his best work down the stretch as he recovered from a knee injury.
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