Seven years after leaving New Orleans an as assistant, Michael Malone connected his former point guard there with the burgeoning lead guard of his new team in Denver during the summer of 2018.
Malone wanted Jamal Murray to visit Chris Paul at his summer camp in Winston-Salem, N.C., for several reasons. As a teenage star from Toronto's suburbs, an All-SEC freshman during his lone season at Kentucky, and a rookie NBA season in 2016-17 during which he backed up Denver's off-guard, Gary Harris, Murray primarily played around the perimeter but off the ball.
Paul, regarded as one of the NBA's great point guards, could teach the mechanics of the position like few others. Yet learning how to read the pick-and-roll play was just step one.
The hope, Malone said, was for Murray to return understanding better how to read his teammates.
"The best leader I've ever been around is Chris Paul," said Malone, who had coached LeBron James for five years as a Cleveland assistant. "Chris was willing to do whatever he could do to help."
Murray proved a willing student. That August, he posted a picture of himself listening to Paul. "One of the best to ever do it," he wrote on Instagram, "tellin me how he did it."
Two years after attending Paul's point-guard finishing school, Murray has helped Denver reach its first Western Conference finals since 2009 by finishing off both Utah and the Clippers despite trailing 3-1 in each best-of-seven series.
Murray, 23, devastated the Jazz with his scoring, averaging 31.6 points a game. He was held in check by Clippers guards for most of the second round until exploding for 40 points in Game 7, outscoring Kawhi Leonard and Paul George combined, to secure a matchup against the Lakers.
"Jamal has stepped up in every way possible," rookie wing Michael Porter Jr. said. "Vocally, on the floor, picking guys up. I'm really proud of him."
The 6-foot-4 Canadian's ability to score was never really the question; it was part of why the Nuggets pegged him as the third-best draft prospect in his class, and were elated he fell to them at No. 7 in the draft.