Mudiay or Murray? The Denver Nuggets have starters set at every position except for one

Mudiay, who Denver chose seventh overall in 2015, began last season as the starter but injured his back in January. By the time Mudiay returned, he was third in the point-guard pecking order.

Emmanuel Mudiay is vying for the Nuggets' starting point guard job. (Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports)
Emmanuel Mudiay is vying for the Nuggets' starting point guard job. (Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports)
Emmanuel Mudiay is vying for the Nuggets’ starting point guard job. (Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports)

Michael Malone brought up an old commercial slogan to shed some light on how he’d handle the Nuggets point guard battle about to break out.

“There was an old commercial,” Malone said Monday at media day. “It said, ‘They make money the old fashioned way. They earn it.’ We’re going to let our point guards earn that job.”

The ad Malone was referring to was made in 1979. It featured a man with an English accent stumping for Smith Barney, an investment company that was absorbed by Morgan Stanley in 2012.

How Malone remembered a commercial slogan from nearly four decades ago is a mystery. But what’s clear is how Malone plans to go about choosing a starting point guard: the best man wins.

Right now, the frontrunners appear to be Emmanuel Mudiay and Jamal Murray. Veteran point guard Jameer Nelson, who started 39 games last year, missed another day of practice Thursday with a toe injury. Malone said Nelson won’t be available for Denver’s first preseason game Saturday, which could mean the young guns have the inside track on getting the starting gig.

“Jamal’s had great moments. Emmanuel’s had great moments,” Malone said. “For me, it’s exciting to see a healthy competition for that spot. Those guys are working their butts off. It’s going to be a tough decision.”

Mudiay, who Denver chose seventh overall in 2015, began last season as the starter but injured his back in January. Nelson took over the starting duties and Murray became the backup in Mudiay’s absence. By the time Mudiay returned, he was third in the point-guard pecking order.

Mudiay wound up shooting 37.7 percent from the field last year — below 40 percent for the second consecutive season. There were questions about how he’d fit into Denver’s crowded back court in 2017-18. But the reports are that Mudiay’s looked great in the early going.

“I’ll tell you, he’s had some really good practices,” Malone said. “This is practice number five today. I don’t know if you guys can tell, but he’s a lot leaner. He’s lost weight. He’s in unbelievable shape. He’s pushing the ball with great pace. And he’s shooting the ball very well.”

Malone said Mudiay and Murray have taken turns with the starting group this week. They’ll switch off as starters in Denver’s first three preseason games.

Murray started at point guard toward the end of the 2016-17 season. He earned minutes in all 82 games even though he was dealing with a sports hernia that required surgery this offseason.

“It hurt to get out of bed some days,” Murray said at media day. “It comes down to how much do you want to play, how much do you want to win.”

Malone said he’d like to choose a starting point guard by Oct. 8, Denver’s second-to-last preseason game. The rest of the team’s starting lineup is set with Gary Harris at shooting guard, Wilson Chandler at small forward, Paul Millsap at power forward and Nikola Jokic at center.

With Denver’s preseason schedule set to begin Saturday against Golden State, a decision on the starting point guard could be coming soon.

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Christian Clark

Author: Christian Clark

Christian Clark covers sports. He's worked for outlets that include the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Oklahoman, Columbia Missourian and Dave Campbell's Texas Football magazine. He likes music and Mexican food. Lots and lots of Mexican food. Got questions? Tips? You can reach him at cclark@denverite.com.