Canada's Jamal Murray learning on the fly amid playoff chase with Nuggets
Denver's starting point guard plays confidently despite being a sophomore
Jamal Murray's NBA classroom has been the basketball court, and he's proving to be a fast learner.
In just his second season in the league, the barely 21-year-old Canadian has been tasked with taking the Denver Nuggets to the playoffs.
After spending his rookie season as the backup shooting guard, he's now the team's starting point guard. But he certainly hasn't shown any signs the pressure of the playoff race is getting to him.
"With Jamal, I don't see a guy that is afraid of the moment," said Nuggets coach Michael Malone. "I see Jamal's confident growing and a guy who is never intimidated no matter what is thrown at him."
Zero self doubt
The Kitchener, Ont., native was in Toronto on Tuesday, as his Nuggets dropped a 114-110 decision to the Toronto Raptors that dropped Denver two games out of the eighth and final post-season spot in the West.
Murray finished with 15 points and was big down the stretch, scoring on a 37-foot three-pointer with three minutes to play that sparked eight straight points from the Canadian.
There is zero self doubt in Murray's six-foot-frame, a self-assurance that was evident way back in 2015 when, as a high schooler, he was one of Canada's best players on the Pan American Games team.
"Nah. I've never questioned myself," he said. "Even when I'm shooting 2-for-22 or something ridiculous. You have to have confidence. Your job is to shoot the basketball, go out there and score. I can't have second guesses. They need me to do that and whether it's happening or not, I have to be aggressive."
Malone said he knew going in that Murray would have his hands full in his season of learning on the job.
"He was going to have some nights where he looked like the player we envisioned him being in a few years, and there's going to be other nights where he looks like a 20-year-old," the coach said. "But I think Jamal has done a great job of continuing to develop, to learn, to get better, and I think the biggest area is just being more consistent."
Leading No. 1 offence
Raptors coach Dwane Casey said Murray's confidence is obvious.
"That's his DNA. That's innate with him. I think he had that at Kentucky and I'm sure he had it when he was here in high school. He's just a confident young man," Casey said. "He plays with a lot of passion, enthusiasm, which you like to see in a young player. It's infectious. I'm sure that other players around him get that same vibe. And I know his shooting has rubbed off because they're the No. 1 offensive team after the all-star break."
The way he's sometimes carried himself on the court, though has made him Public Enemy No. 1 with the Los Angeles Lakers. It started when Murray dribbled around Lonzo Ball as the clock was ticking down on a Nuggets win. Critics claimed he was showboating. Ball called it a "punk move."
In their next meeting, Murray said something to Lakers coach Luke Walton after sealing another win at the free-throw line. Walton called his behaviour "disrespectful." Lakers fans, meanwhile, serenaded the Canadian with boos during introductions in L.A., and broke into a "Murray sucks!" chant.
The No. 7 pick in the 2016 draft received a warm ovation on Tuesday in just his second visit to the Air Canada Centre as a Nugget.
Canadians making big impact
He's one of 12 Canadians in the NBA, and one of two on the Nuggets — Trey Lyles is the other.
"They're doing a great job," Murray said of Canadians around the league. "[Dillon] Brooks is doing his thing [in Memphis], better than a lot of people thought he would, just because he goes out and plays hard. A lot us Canadian kids came from a place where it wasn't easy to get looked at, so we take every game as an opportunity. [Kelly] Olynyk, Cory [Joseph], they all go play with that same fire and passion that we all played with growing up."
The Canadian team has two World Cup qualifying games this summer, on June 29 in Toronto and July 2 in Ottawa. Murray said he hopes to play.
"I'd love to," he said. "I have to think about my body first and what's happening and rest and all of that. But it's only two weeks so I might go out there, get some treatment while I'm at it and work on some kinks in my game and just practise."