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So many players have changed their reputations in the NBA Bubble, taking leaps and making statements about ceilings raised. And perhaps no trio has forced more perceptual change than Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray.
Booker led his Suns to an 8-0 restart record, coming up just short of an improbable leap into the playoffs. He averaged 30.5 points, 6.0 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game over that stretch, playing engaged defense and draining a game-winning buzzer-beater over the outstretched arms of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. For a player whose resume suffered from a lack of success in the standings, this was a whole lot of winning in a short period of time.
Mitchell, famously, scored a bazillion points in the first-round for Utah, single-handedly carrying a short-handed offense and doing it on a true shooting percentage that scraped 70. It was another gear (or two?) for a talented young player who had already shown that he could be the primary offensive creator for a team pushing deep into the playoffs.
And then there is Murray, who has already helped lead the Nuggets to historic, back-to-back 3-1 comebacks and would have the Nuggets up 2-1 on the favorite Lakers if not for an Anthony Davis buzzer-beater. He’s raised his usage, assist and true shooting percentages by significant degrees over his regular-season marks and his teammate, Nikola Jokic, is the only player in the postseason who has added more win probability for his team with his shot-making.
Would you rather have Jamal Murray, Devin Booker or Donovan Mitchell?
These three players have been linked more by abstract arguments and hypothetical “would-you-rathers” than any meaningful on-court heat, at least until the Mitchell-Murray duel in the first round. But by virtue of being insanely talented, roughly the same position and extremely young (Murray is 22, Booker is 23 and Mitchell is 24) they are lumped together.
Going into these playoffs, I think the consensus would have Booker and Mitchell closely paired, with Murray trailing. In our preseason 25-under-25, Mitchell ranked fourth, Booker ranked fifth and Murray came in at No. 14. A recent poll of anonymous NBA executives asking which players they’d like to build around (conducted before Murray’s most recent exploits against the Lakers) went Booker (No. 3) — Mitchell (No. 5) — Murray (No. 7).
It’s worth noting that their career stats are fairly indistinguishable with regards to points, rebounds and assists per game (with the caveat that Murray is the only one who plays with another primary initiator in Jokic) and their shooting lines are equally similar. And after the current sample size, I’m not sure how you’d really divide or order them as spot-up shooters, pull-up shooters, finishers, passers or defenders. If you’re swayed by clutch, Murray might seem extra shiny right now but clutch performances are a notoriously noisy measure of player skill.
For me, the default setting for judgment is always aesthetics and what I enjoy the most. That makes my personal rankings — Mitchell (for his battering-ram power and explosive leaping), then Murray (for his chutzpah and irrational confidence) and then Booker (for the pristine purity of his skill set). But I suppose the biggest lesson from the NBA bubble is that there is no wrong way to rank these three incredible players.
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The Denver Nuggets struck back with a much-needed win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3, thanks in large part to a brilliant performance by Jamal Murray.