Nuggets’ Jamal Murray on missing NBA All-Star Game again: “I think you guys have seen me play at a pretty high level”

In recent years and especially since his prolific NBA Finals output last summer, Jamal Murray has steadily taken up a mantle that sounds like a backhanded compliment.

He’s considered the NBA’s best, or at least most accomplished, player to never be named an All-Star.

The Nuggets point guard, after missing the cut again in his seventh healthy season as a pro, was asked Sunday whether it’s motivational at this point.

“Yeah, of course, but there’s multiple players in the league that should be All-Stars (who aren’t), you know what I’m saying?” Murray said. “(De’Aaron) Fox wasn’t an All-Star. There’s somebody else. Trae (Young) wasn’t an All-Star. So … what do you want me to do now? I think you guys have seen me play at a pretty high level against those same guys who are All-Stars.”

Murray is averaging 21 points (a hair off his career high), 6.6 assists (a career high) and 1.9 turnovers (fewest since his rookie year) per game this season. His 26.7% usage rate is higher than ever, and his shooting splits are on pace to rival his outstanding 2020-21 season for the best of his career: 47.1% from the field, 40.6% from 3-point range and 85.4% from the foul line.

“I mean, it’s every year,” said Nikola Jokic, who was named to his sixth consecutive All-Star Game. “… I feel, or we feel, that he’s supposed to be (an All-Star). But maybe that’s just us.”

As Murray pointed out himself, however, it was a crowded group of players fighting for spots. He is currently 11th in scoring among Western Conference guards, and the current parameters call for only 12 total players per conference. Sacramento’s Fox missed an invite to Indianapolis despite averaging 27.5 points and shooting a career-high 38% from three. His true shooting percentage beats Murray’s by a hair as of Sunday night (57.8% to 57.7%).

“Last year, I felt Aaron Gordon had a great case to be on the All-Star team, and this year I felt that Jamal Murray had a great case to be an All-Star. But that wasn’t the case. And I feel for Jamal,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “But in a weird way, he may not be an All-Star, but to me he’s a superstar. He’s a world champion. And he’s done things in the playoffs that a lot of All-Stars have never and will never do. And that’s one thing no one can ever take from Jamal Murray.  … What I love about Jamal is he’s a team player, and he’d much rather help this team win a back-to-back championship over being named an All-Star.”

If any one factor inhibited Murray this season from beating out his statistically similar contemporaries for a reserve spot (Paul George, 22.9 points on 46.4/41.2/90.9% shooting), it was likely games played. Murray has appeared in only 37 of Denver’s first 51, having missed November with an ankle injury. It was an early setback in the pursuit of individual accolades that Murray evidently hasn’t been able to overcome despite his impressive numbers.

Malone took exception to lack of availability being a valid reason for exclusion.

“The thing you read is, ‘Oh, he didn’t play enough games to be an All-Star,’ and all these different kind of diatribes about why guys don’t make it,” Malone said. “‘Well, he’s on a losing team. Well, he didn’t play enough games.’ I think it’s all B.S. Plenty of guys make it on losing teams. Plenty of guys make it that have missed games. And whether Jamal uses that as motivation or not, we’ll see. But I think he’s motivated in just helping this team win.”

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The paradox with Murray is his playoff pedigree. On the biggest stages of his career, the 26-year-old has convinced the NBA community of his ability. Between the Nuggets’ 2020 bubble run to the Western Conference Finals and their championship run last season, Murray averaged 26.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 6.9 assists, shooting 48.8/42.3/91.2%. He had a 30-point triple-double in an NBA Finals game to match Jokic in Miami.

But autumn injuries and slow starts to the regular season have remained a trend, just enough to prevent Murray from joining his MVP teammate at All-Star weekend.

“It is what it is,” he said.

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