Over one-third of the way through the 2018-19 NBA season, the Denver Nuggets sat atop the Western Conference with a 23-11 record thanks in part to the play of Jamal Murray (Kitchener, Ont.), who is on pace for the best year of his young career.
Despite Denver's fast start, Murray knows his team's ultimate goals are far from accomplished. NBA.com recently sat down with the Kitchener native to discuss a wide range of topics including his offseason improvements, the team's fast start and his chances to become an All-Star this season.
Through 34 games, Murray is averaging career-highs in points (17.8 ppg), assists (4.8 apg) and rebounds (4.5 rpg). The 21-year-old entered the offseason with big plans to improve and he credits his start this year to the work he put in over the summer.
"The offseason was a lot for my body. I got to rest, put some pounds on - ate good being at home. Just to work on my body and work on myself helped a lot, so I get to go out this year and have a [better] understanding of what I gotta do. I watched a lot of film, so I feel like I went into the season more prepared."
Much of the offseason focus was fueled by the 2017-18 season ending in disappointment for the Nuggets, a letdown that Murray says motivated the team coming into this season.
"Just having an understanding of what we've got to do. Missing the playoffs by one game, we're trying to take every game seriously, just being more consistent with our defence and not letting teams just run over us."
The defensive consistency has been a major component to the team's success as Denver currently boasts the league's fourth-best Defensive Rating (104.1) and third-best scoring defence, allowing just 102.9 points per game - last season's team ranked in the bottom-10 of the league in both categories.
Murray, who has already scored a career-high 48 points over the Celtics this season, continues to prove himself as one of the premier guards in the Western Conference. While individual success comes with accolades, the third-year guard remains focused on team success while rumblings of his All-Star candidacy begin to circulate.
"As long as we keep winning, that will keep the hopes [of becoming an All-Star] up but that's not really my focus. We've got a lot of games until All-Star, I've just got to keep doing my thing and keep the Nuggets in the seed that we're in right now and stay focused."
How can Denver maintain its hold on the West's top seed? Murray says it comes down to continuous improvement and preparedness.
"We've got to improve our game as well. As teams get better and teams start to scout you more and they know your plays more, you just got to stay focused and be even more prepared than we are now. It's all going to come around for us, we've just got to take it one game at a time."
The Nuggets early success has come while the team has dealt with an abundance of injuries. As Murray and the team continue to improve while players gradually return from injury, it's only a matter of time before things come around for this Nuggets team.