NBA

Nuggets' Jamal Murray, others commit to playing for Canada in quest for Olympic berth

Jamal Murray has committed to play for Canada in its quest for a Tokyo Olympic men's basketball berth. The Denver Nuggets star guard from Kitchener, Ont., tweeted the news Tuesday.

Thunder guard Gilgeous-Alexander also tweets out commitment to national team

After signing a lucrative max contract extension over the summer, Jamal Murray has elevated his play and led the Denver Nuggets to nine wins in their last 10 games. (Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Jamal Murray has committed to play for Canada in its quest for a Tokyo Olympic men's basketball berth.

The Denver Nuggets star guard from Kitchener, Ont., tweeted the news Tuesday.

The news comes the day before Canada learns its five opponents for the six-country last-chance qualifying tournament in Victoria on June 23-28.

Oklahoma City guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander also tweeted his commitment to the national team on Tuesday, referencing Murray's announcement within his own.

The 21-year-old sophomore is in his first year with the Thunder after an off-season trade from the Los Angeles Clippers. Gilgeous-Alexander has started every game he's played with his new team, averaging 19.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and three assists per game.

New Orleans Pelicans guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Toronto Raptors forward Oshae Brissett also said they would play in Victoria.

Memphis swingman Dillon Brooks and Dallas forward Dwight Powell have both said they hope to suit up for the national team this summer.

The Canadians must win the tournament to earn a trip to Tokyo — what would be the team's first Olympic appearance since the 2000 Sydney Games.

Murray shone for Canada's men's team in its silver-medal performance at the 2015 Pan American Games, but has bowed out of national team duty since then for various reasons.

Canada's lack of NBA players was a storyline of last summer's World Cup in China.

The Canadians could have booked an automatic Olympic berth with a top-seven finish. Cory Joseph and Khem Birch were the lone NBA players to make the trip as one after another Canada's stars pulled out. The Canadians wound up 21st.

Murray becoming more than offensive threat for Nuggets

Murray was rewarded for his breakout 2018-19 season when the Denver Nuggets signed him to a lucrative max contract extension over the summer, but that deal came with expectations that he would make strides in defence and leadership to complement his offensive skills.

A comparison of Denver's last two home games against the Boston Celtics, almost one year apart, shows how Murray is justifying the Nuggets' five-year, $170-million US bet that he will evolve into the complete player they envision.

Murray, 22, had the game of his life last November when he dropped a career-high 48 points — the most ever by a Canadian in a regular-season game — on the visiting Celtics. 

WATCH | Jamal Murray hits circus shot during NBA Playoffs: 

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray of Kitchener, Ont., made an incredible shot to get Denver's first points in Game 4 of their second round series against the Portland Trail Blazers. 0:22

So far this season, Murray is averaging 18.9 points, five assists and 4.7 rebounds per game. Those numbers are slight improvements over last season, which was considered a breakout campaign. But Murray has been earning bigger plaudits from coach Michael Malone for bringing improved defence and leadership to the Nuggets, who brought a 12-3 record and a five-game winning streak into Tuesday's game against Washington.

The biggest takeaway from Murray's impressive start to the season, however, is how he is contributing when he's not scoring. He shot 4-of-16 for 10 points in a 105-95 win over Houston last Wednesday, but kept the offence flowing with nine assists and was a ball hawk on defence with six steals.

Even in a forgettable four-point performance against Brooklyn earlier this month, he was part of the Nuggets' smothering defence that held Irving and the Nets to 32 second-half points in a 101-93 win. He also overcame his poor shooting performance quickly, putting up a season-high 39 points in a 131-114 road win over Memphis three days later.

Malone said he has talked with Murray about becoming a more complete player, and so far this season he is pleased with what he's seen.

"If you want to be an all-star, if you want to be an all-NBA-type player, you have to impact your game in more than just your scoring, and I think Jamal is doing that more consistently this year than any of the years prior," Malone said.

"You can't allow your offence to dictate your defence, your rebounding, your playmaking. Because if you do that, now you're just a specialist."

The message has seemed to resonate with Murray, who said before the season that he wanted to take more accountability for the team this season.

"It's my job. I'm supposed to go out there, everyone looks to me," Murray said following a pre-season game against Portland. "I guess I didn't realize how guys really look to me on and off the court. They way I talk, what I do, what I say.

"I've always led by example, so its just transitioning to not just going out there and playing but talking. Talking in the huddles, talking in time outs, talking in practice, stopping practice, which coach gives me permission to do. Just being more mindful of taking more ownership of the team."

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