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Canada set an NBA record for most non-American players on opening day rosters this season.
There were 16 in all, as well as four more on two-way contracts, meaning they could split time between the NBA and its development league, the G League. Two more Canadians got called up during the year.
In the coming weeks we’ll take a look at how the brightest lights of this golden generation of Canuck hoopsters fared in 2019-20.
Next up, Denver Nuggets scoring guard Jamal Murray.
RECAPPING THE SEASON
If there was ever a question about how highly the Denver Nuggets value Kitchener native Jamal Murray, it was answered last July 1.
Murray had the Canada Day of all Canada Day celebrations after the Nuggets hitched their wagon to the Canadian point guard for the next five years for $170-million.
That’s the new highwater mark for Canadian NBAers in terms of salary, surpassing the five-year, $148-million deal Andrew Wiggins got in Minnesota well before he was dealt to Golden State.
Murray, far from resting on his laurels, has continued to get better following his huge payday.
Through 55 games this season — he missed 10 games with a left ankle sprain — Murray is the second leading scorer on the Nuggets behind Nikola Jokic. He is averaging 18.8 points, 4.8 assists and 3.9 rebounds for the year.
The Nuggets, when the Coronavirus hit, were sitting in third place in the Western Conference behind the Lakers and Clippers, but ultimately headed for a finish anywhere between second and seventh in a very tight Western Conference race.
Murray has been a huge part of that. The Nuggets’ starting five (when healthy) has Murray and Gary Harris in the back court with Jokic, Paul Milsap and Will Barton up front.
It’s an elite starting five with Murray and Jokic the first and second options when it comes to scoring.
Murray endeared himself to Canadians across the nation midway through the season when he publicly committed to playing for Canada at the then-June-scheduled last chance Olympic qualifier in Victoria.
That tournament, under suspension along with all other FIBA tournaments as of March 13, was setting up to be the best possible collection of Canadian NBA talent on one team in this country’s basketball history.
Murray started the ball rolling in terms of commitments and was soon joined by the likes of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, RJ Barrett, Dillon Brooks, Chris Boucher, Oshae Brissett and a slew of other proud Canadians.
Murray would be that team’s go-to scorer, able to break down defences and get his own shot at will.
This season he has shot a career-best 45.5% from the field while his three-point game has seen a slight drop to where he’s shooting just 34.5% from distance, compared to his career best of 37.8% in his second year in the league.
To date, Murray’s career-high for scoring came last season against the Celtics when he had 48 points on 19-of-30 shooting in a November 2018 win over Boston.
Through the 55 games he has played this year, however, he has six 30-plus point games on his resume.
At 23, Murray is just getting started and is clearly among the leaders of that younger generation of Canadian basketball talent that is poised to make a big move on the international scene, not to mention what he will do for the Nuggets.
The Nuggets are set up for a nice little run looking ahead and Murray is a big part of it.
While he is one year into a five-year deal, Jokic — the other focal point of the Nuggets offence — is on a similar five-year deal signed a year earlier.
Back-court mate Gary Harris has two more years left on his extension, as does Will Barton.
Paul Millsap is 35 and on the final year of his deal, so it’s unlikely he’ll be back, especially with a Jerami Grant under contract for two more years and still in the formative years of his career.
On the roster and just getting started is former lottery pick Michael Porter Jr. so this team has a lot going for it and Murray appears to have a bright future surrounded by all this talent.
It’s not absurd to suggest that a future all-star berth is in the cards should Murray keep improving.
And with 14 playoff games already under his belt through four seasons and a playoff scoring average of over 21 points, it’s also safe to say this young man is going to be a huge factor if or when Denver puts it together for a long playoff run.
THE BEST OF JAMAL
The top outings of Jamal Murray’s fourth season in the NBA:
Nov. 17: Memphis 14-24 shooting, 7-for-12 from three, 39 points, 8 assists, four rebounds.
Dec. 18: Orlando 11-19 shooting, 2-for-8 from three, 33 points, 1 assist, 5 rebounds.
Jan. 4: Washington 13-19 shooting, 3-for-7 from three, 39 points, 4 assists, 1 rebound.
Feb. 5: Utah 12-26 shooting, 4-for-9 from three, 31 points, 4 assists, 1 rebound.
Feb. 8: Phoenix 14-17 shooting, 6-for-8 from three, 36 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds.
Feb. 12 Lakers 13-25 shooting, 3-for-8 from three, 32 points, 10 assists, 3 rebounds.
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