Q&A: Jamal Murray on Nuggets, uncertain Canada Basketball plans

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) wrote the latest chapter in his rivalry with the Lakers Tuesday. (Kathy Willens/AP)

Jamal Murray is feeling a mix of emotions.

Watching the NBA Finals, he’s sad the Denver Nuggets just missed out on the post-season by a single game. However, he’s making the most of it by attacking his training regimen in the hopes of improving his game.

It’s been a whirlwind for Murray since finishing his college career. Two years ago, Murray was on duty playing for Canada for the majority of the summer. Last off-season, the Kitchener, Ont. native, was recovering from double hernia surgery, but was still able to raise his averages in his sophomore NBA season in points (16.7), rebounds (3.7), assists (3.4), steals (1.0), field goal percentage (45.1), 3-point percentage (37.8) and free throw percentage (90.5). The Nuggets guard was one of the most improved players on one of the most rapidly improving teams in the league.

But Murray isn’t satisfied and is hoping for greater gains this summer.

During a private NBA Finals viewing party at the immersive Samsung Experience Store in Toronto, Murray was on hand to sign autographs and meet and greet his Canadian NBA fans. Also in attendance was NBA Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo.

As the two settled in on a couch to watch Game 1 of the Finals on the various 4K screens around them, Murray was in constant conversation with the former NBA great, picking Mutombo’s brain on everything from defensive coverages to shot selection to substitution patterns. Not just a fan of the two Finals participants, Murray was using the experience to study the competition at its highest level.

In a break from the action, Sportsnet spoke to Murray about his 2017-18 season, his off-season plans, and the upcoming summer for Canada Basketball.

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Sportsnet: Coming off a great playoff chase how happy are you with the way your season went as an individual even though you couldn’t finish the way you wanted to as a team?

Jamal Murray: I feel the same way about it as an individual. I want to improve. I want to do better. I’m not going to settle for the way I was playing this year, there is much room for improvement. I thank God for the year I had. My ceiling is much higher than the way I’m playing right now.

SN: We talked after your first year about the fact that you were playing with a hernia. How was it this year knowing that, you can feel a bit freer on the court since you were healthier?

JM: I mean it hurt me and hampered me in ways that wasn’t just on the court. It was a double hernia, both sides. Getting out of bed, walking on the stairs, warming up for practice, unimaginable pain. To not have to deal with that just to get ready to play was awesome.

SN: We’re watching the Finals now. How far do you think you guys are from where these teams are?

JM: Not far at all to be honest. We actually played the top teams tough. We just need to be more consistent against the lower teams in the league. The margin between winning and losing is slim. Even though we missed the playoffs I don’t think we’re far away from contending.

SN: You’re a fan of the game tonight. You want to compete at this level but is it a bit frustrating watching the playoffs and not being on the court?

JM: It was the first two rounds. First round, I didn’t want to watch it at all. Now watching these guys playing is different. They are what I’m chasing, investing to become.

I can become a fan now. The guys and I can’t wait to get back on the court and practice and play with my team and just get better. So, this isn’t as hard for me.

SN: You guys have your core group coming back, next year. Have you guys been in contact about what you guys can do as a team to get better and be playing at this time of year, next year?

JM: Everybody is taking time off right now but as soon as everybody gets back in town, we definitely talk about it. Especially me and Joker (Nikola Jokic) and Gary [Harris] keep in touch. We definitely are vocal on what we need to do collectively to take the necessary steps to get better next year.

SN: What’s the next thing that you really want to improve in your game?

JM: Just my consistency. I don’t want to be hitting one day then not hitting my shots the next day. My defence, that is something I can better at individually.

SN: This past year you had people saying that you already are the best Canadian player we have in the country. What’s it like for you in your second year to be in that conversation?

JM: I really pride myself on playing for Canada and representing the country in any way I can. It is humbling to be considered in that category. You’ve got Kelly Olynyk. You know you got Steve Nash who is an all-time favourite of mine and a Hall of Famer, he was considered to own that category for his entire career. He changed the game to the point that now there are so many Canadians playing to debate about. So, to be considered amongst them is great.

SN: This is a big summer for you guys. This is the most pros Canada’s ever had on one squad. What’s your excitement level being able to play with all those guys and represent the country?

JM: I don’t know if I’m playing yet.

SN: Oh, I thought you were.

JM: Nah, I don’t know. But if we do it will be great to finally get a good squad together and have everybody playing that’s in the NBA. We’ll be lethal. We’ll be competing for that top spot.

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