Keegan Murray might be the most NBA-ready player in this draft and would be effortlessly integrated into Mike Brown’s game plan next year, but it’s hard to shake off the question as to whether or not he is worthy of being the fourth pick.
Coming out of Iowa as a sophomore, Murray averaged 23.5 points on 39.8% shooting from three, 8.7 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks. The best player for the Hawkeyes, he was a dynamic scorer, able to find points in a variety of ways, as well as a terrifically active defender.
He comes with a good ability to score off the dribble, either in penetration or for jump shots from beyond the perimeter. While he won’t be a primary ball handler at the next level, his ability to drive to the rim is an effective tool, especially when utilizing his spin move. While the spin isn’t exactly lighting fast, he’s competent with his use of it, not only finding efficient looks, but also drawing fouls in the process.
Perhaps better suited for the NBA is his ability to go into isolation in the post. There he is both patient and savvy, using his efficiency near the rim to his and his team’s advantage. His athletic ability—which isn’t by any means elite, but which is certainly laudable—and his physicality contribute to his abilities down there.
Plus, he’s just a good finisher in general, whether having to find a way into the paint, working in the post, or as a transition rim runner with his fluid and long strides.
What really makes him a perfect power forward in the league today is his jump shooting ability, which, as his percentages indicate, comes with a fair amount of range. The most important characteristic associated with his three-point shooting is the fact he has a smooth and repeatable stroke that he uses with notable consistency.
As a three-point shooter, Murray can also score off the dribble, able to find space with a decent use of the step-back, which will only improve.
Of course, catch and shoot ability matters if he were to join the Kings offense that looks to move the ball around from all over with Domantas Sabonis there because Murray is effective enough to stretch the floor and be a concern. Also, his potential as a pick and pop three-point threat is exceptional, so he’ll be another problem when screens are set for the explosive De’Aaron Fox.
Murray is a competitive, high effort player, so he already has the groundwork established to be a solid defender. What makes him a good one, though, is a nice mix of his athleticism—which provides nice agility and lateral quickness—his use of active hands, respectable instincts, and tenacity.
He is a multi-positional defender because of his agile yet physical skillset. Kinetic activity on defense creates offense in transition, where he is exceptionally skillful. There is a decent, albeit imperfect, feel for the game that allows him to put himself into good positions, and with it, he uses his adequate forcefulness to be a solid shot blocker.
Adding to all of this, it should be noted that Keegan Murray is more than a talented basketball player, he is a high character guy who works extremely hard.
Along with his twin brother Kris, Murray spent one year between high school and college at the DME Sports Academy, a post-graduate basketball program that allowed the two of them to develop their bodies and games, as well as gain more exposure among Division I schools before both eventually committed to Iowa. Speaking of Keegan Murray’s character, a DME coach had nothing but good things to say.
“Keegan is a very coachable athlete with a strong work ethic, which helps me become a better coach,” head of the post-grad team Wesam Al-Sous gushed. “But not only is he just coachable, he’s a selfless team player, and does anything he can in order for the team to be successful, which means putting in the work at practice — he definitely shows up in practice just as much as he shows up in the game.”
And Iowa coach Fran McCaffery referred to him as a “confident” player that “stays within himself” and works hard.
So it seems pretty clear the Kings should take Murray number-four overall, right?
Plenty, like ABC10’s Matt George, think so, and it’s not hard to see why. But is that mindset neglecting the full value of the 4th overall pick?
While Murray is a great fit for Sacramento that would make a difference in his rookie year, GM Monte McNair has a draft philosophy of taking the best available prospect, a strategy that has seemingly worked out over the last two drafts.
The fact about Murray is that among the five or six top prospects in the draft, his maximum potential is not what adds significant value to his stock. He may—along with Duke’s Paolo Banchero—have the most well-rounded repertoire of skills to be an impactful NBA player right away, but his ceiling is the lowest among the top echelon of talent.
Last week, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony did a mock draft that listed the best fit and best available for each team, and, predictably, Murray was Sac’s best fit while Purdue’s Jaden Ivey was the best available.
As many see it, Ivey is considered the fourth best prospect, and for some he’s the third best. And for good reason, too.
The Purdue guard’s elite explosiveness and efficient downhill style should make him a 20-plus point scorer in this league for many years. While Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith have perhaps the first and second highest ceilings respectively, Ivey may have the third, and it wouldn’t be far off to say that he has the best chance of the three to fulfill his max potential.
The primary thing hindering a Kings selection of the Boilermaker, though, is that Ivey’s potential fit alongside the similar style and skillset of De’Aaron Fox paints a picture of redundancy and thus a lack of comprehensive talent on the roster. Nevertheless, he’s the best player available.
Even a guy like Shaedon Sharpe is regularly considered to have a higher ceiling than Murray. Though, it should be noted, that Sharpe would be a blind gamble, and as such would be a pretty poor use of the 4th pick due to the mystery surrounding a guy who didn’t play a single minute for Kentucky.
The primary reason why a mystery like Sharpe would be a bad use of that pick is also the same reason why the number-four pick is such a source of indecision at this point in time for many onlookers, and why Murray might be a reach at that threshold of a draft positioning.
With all things considered, Monte McNair’s chief responsibility is getting this team into the playoffs, and because of that and the difficulty of achieving that, the draft question gets more complicated than asking whether to take the best fit or the best available. At the end of the day, the lucrative pick needs to be used—regardless of how—to produce the largest possible upgrade to the roster.
That could mean taking Murray, but having Ivey, and perhaps others, available really adds to the urgency some teams may feel when thinking about pursuing a swap to number-four, especially with Detroit at number-five, who would be more than happy for Ivey to fall in their lap.
Therefore, the max value that can be generated from this pick may only be yielded by trading it to get a veteran difference-maker in addition to a slightly lower position in the lottery.
But Keegan Murray’s nearly undeniable fit with the Kings—and not to mention his day-one impact and character—still makes even that debatable.
So the question stands and probably won’t be answered until draft night: Is Murray worth the 4th selection, or is that a reach that neglects the possible rewards of utilizing a trade?