By staying in present, Jamal Murray proving he can be top option for Canada in future

Draymond Green once said there are 82-game players and 16-game players in the NBA.

The Golden State Warriors star was referring to the difference of performing in the regular season versus winning in the playoffs, and how some players falter under the bright lights while others shine.

Canada’s Jamal Murray is proving he belongs in the latter camp.

The Denver Nuggets’ starting point guard has been a part of history these playoffs as the team became the first ever to come back from down 3-1 in two separate series to win.

His teams since high school have collectively yet to win a major title, but that’s not a slight on Murray.

At Orangeville Prep, the Kitchener, Ont., native combined with fellow NBAer Thon Maker to take down many unsuspecting American schools. Murray took MVP honours at multiple international high school showcase games where NBA and college scouts often lurk.

In 2016, a year before he was drafted by the Nuggets, Murray starred for Canada at the Pan Am Games in Toronto, leading the country to a silver medal at just 19 years old.

In his lone year at Kentucky, Murray averaged a freshman school record of 20 points per game while starting all 36 contests for the Wildcats.

In the NBA, the now 23-year-old has shown his mettle in the playoffs. His career points-per-game average jumps from 15.6 in the regular season to 24.2 in the playoffs. Rebounds and assists per game also increase in the post-season, along with shooting percentage.

“Jamal embraces the moment,” said Nuggets head coach Mike Malone. “He’s not afraid of it. Some people run away from those moments. He looks for them. And without Jamal Murray’s play, and not even just the points, but his attitude, that swagger, that confidence. That is contagious to all of our other players.”

WATCH | Murray making massive impact in NBA playoffs:

The Toronto Raptors are out of the NBA playoffs, but Canadian Jamal Murray is still shooting for an NBA Championship after a stellar season with the Denver Nuggets. 2:03

Malone’s words came after Game 5 against Utah in the first round, when Murray scored 50 points to help cut the Jazz series lead to 3-2. Since then, Murray scored 42 and 50 in Games 6 and 7 to knock out Utah, then 26, 21 and 40 to stun Kawhi Leonard’s Los Angeles Clippers in the second round.

Up next: LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, with a berth to the NBA Finals on the line.

Focused on the moment

Roger Murray, Jamal’s father, implemented unique training for the Nuggets star in his childhood. There were push-ups in the snow, and blindfolded shooting sessions in the gym.

At home, Roger would show Jamal old kung-fu movies featuring Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, where the emphasis would be not on the fighting, but on the patience, footwork and mental side of martial arts.

In a 2016 Players Tribune article, Murray said he wasn’t much of a skater growing up, though he did play some hockey in Kitchener — as a goalie.

In the same article, Murray also said visualization was a key to his pre-game mental preparation as he zoned in on the task at hand.

WATCH | Murray proud to represent Kitchener-Waterloo:

Jamal Murray talks about what representing his hometown of Kitchener, Ont. means to him in the bubble. 2:04

That hasn’t changed in the pros.

“There’s such thing called mental work too,” Murray said on Thursday. “It’s all about how you see things and what you let disrupt your game or what you let get you going, and I just try to be more in the moment, be more in the present.”

While his overall numbers speak for themselves, Murray has a proven penchant for coming up with a big play when his team needs it, too.

“If coach says, ‘This is the play we’re going to run and Jamal, this is where you want to shoot it,’ I’m going to step up and be ready to shoot it and that’s going for everybody on the team, not just me. Everybody’s stepped up and made big plays,” Murray said.

Eyes toward Olympics

Murray is Canada’s best hope of making noise on the Olympic stage next summer. The team — should it qualify for the Tokyo Games, which is no guarantee — was thought to be deep with solid contributors, but short on star talent.

Murray is changing that equation.

“Jamal Murray is a closer,” Canada Basketball general manager Rowan Barrett told CBC’s The Current. “There’s not a ton of those guys in the NBA. But he is one of them. And he’s been that for Denver for a number of years now.”

The Canadian team is helmed by reigning NBA Coach of the Year Nick Nurse, and at full strength features the likes of OKC’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort, Golden State’s Andrew Wiggins, Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson and Miami’s Kelly Olynyk.

It’s a varied roster with different skillsets, but for as much as Wiggins and New York’s RJ Barrett show potential, it lacks that closer outside of Murray.

“As a player … one of the things you always looked at, you looked at your opponents. You wanted to see any kind of difference in their body language. Any kind of rising emotion [that] you might be able to use to beat them,” the elder Barrett said.

“You don’t see that with him. Look at him. He’s calm, right. Shoulders back. He’s walking calmly. He’s not giddy, he’s not jumping up. He’s calm in that moment. He’s looking for that moment. He’s like a heat-seeking missile. He’s looking for what’s hot. He’s looking for that moment in the game to just detonate on, and he’s always been this way.”

For now, Murray must remain in the present. Game 1 against the Lakers goes Friday, and the Nuggets probably don’t want to face another 3-1 deficit.

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