FIBA World Cup: Jamal Murray Status Weighing on Team Canada

Jamal Murray, Nuggets star, stiil is not certain to play for Team Canada in the coming World Cup

Getty Jamal Murray, Nuggets star, stiil is not certain to play for Team Canada in the coming World Cup

How good is Team Canada, packed with NBA players, heading into this year’s FIBA World Cup in Eastern Asia? Good enough that their chances to win the country’s first-ever medal in the tournament aren’t entirely obliterated by news that the status of Nuggets star Jamal Murray is iffy.

On Monday, Canada Basketball announced that Murray would not play in the team’s exhibition games leading up to the actual tournament.

The World Cup opens August 25, with sites in Japan, the Philippines and Indonesia. Canada has begun its training camp and, without a doubt, Murray is the one of the two best players on the squad, with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and is one of the best players expected to be in the tournament, period.

But he has been uncertain about whether he will play after a grueling NBA slate saw him win a championship with Denver.

Even if Murray is worn down (he is a year removed from rehabbing and recovering from ACL surgery), Canada ranks among the contenders in the World Cup field. The U.S. will enter as the favorites, but Canada is among its biggest threats, along with Australia, Serbia, Slovenia and France—depending on which international stars wind up suiting up for the tournament. Draft Kings has Canada listed as the second favorite in the tournament, at plus-400.

Beyond Murray and SGA, the Canadians have an NBA-stocked roster—R.J. Barrett, Lu Dort, Cory Joseph and Nickeil Alexander-Walker in the backcourt, Kelly Olynyk, Dillon Brooks, Dwight Powell and Oshae Brissett on the wings and up front. Canada also has two veteran international role players, brothers Phil and Thomas Scrubb, to give the mostly inexperienced international team some ballast.

Canada Considered Among World Cup Favorites

Certainly, the Americans have better overall talent, with it starting guards coming from a pool of Tyrese Haliburton, Jalen Brunson, Austin Reaves and Anthony Edwards, and with its frontcourt being made up of some combination of Paolo Banchero, Mikal Bridges, Brandon Ingram and Jaren Jackson Jr.

But Team Canada would matchup vs. the U.S. well—assuming it can handle its very difficult group, which includes defending World Cup champ France as well as Latvia, with Kristaps Porzingis and Davis Bertans on hand. Murray’s health and energy could be key.

“He’s come in after a very, very long season, coming off of an injury, and he’s here,” Team Canada GM Rowan Barrett (R.J.’s father) said. “I think, at the same time, we need to be smart with him. We’re gonna watch. He’s coming in very tired, so we’ve gotta really watch him and work with our therapy team and make the right decision for him medically as well. Looks good so far.”

Barrett said Murray will need to play before the team opens its tournament in Jakarta, and the key will be getting him to pace himself.

“It’s tough,” Barrett said. “You’ve almost gotta save him from himself. He doesn’t stop, right? … So it’s gonna be tough managing him, but in the end, we’re going to make the right decision for him. Obviously, he wants to play, he wants to be here, we want him here.”

Canada Basketball Eager for a Medal

This tournament, as well as the Paris Olympics next year, can be seen as the culmination of nearly a decade of development in Canada’s international system, which has been a major disappointment to date.

Despite producing stars like Andrew Wiggins, Murray and Gilgeous-Alexander, the Canadians have had very little international success, including a failure to qualify for the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo even with the American qualifying tournament being held in British Columbia. Canada finished 21st of 32 teams in the 2019 World Cup, and before the current crop of players, things were not good, either: 22nd of 24 teams in 2010 and 13th of 16 teams in 2002.

Injuries and a lack of cohesion had a lot to do with the team failing to live up to its potential in those years. But, even with Murray exhausted and possibly out, there will be no excuses this year.

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