For a whole month it seemed like everything was building up to what could be a blockbuster draft night for the Sacramento Kings. However, by the time the mid-lottery teams were beginning to pick, one could tell that no drama nor any breaking news alerts were going to fall out of the sky like a grand piano.
In the final day or two before draft night, it had become evident that there was not going to be a deal offered that could actually pull Sacramento off of their 4th position, and after Jerami Grant was moved to the Trailblazers, it was obvious. There simply wasn’t enough value, and so Kings fans were left to consider between two guys: Jaden Ivey or Keegan Murray.
Before Adam Silver came to the podium to announce the pick, Adrian Wojnarowski confirmed the Kings were going to use it to select Murray right there on the ESPN broadcast.
And that they did.
As one of the most NBA-ready players, Murray will be a starter for Sacramento. He’s a versatile player on both ends of the floor, able to score in a variety of ways, including from deep, and able to handle the task of defending multiple positions. He’ll thrive as a role-playing starter who won’t have to have the ball in his hands. The Iowa product is also a high character guy who’s known for a solid work ethic and who said himself that the Kings “are getting a winner” by taking him.
Plenty of fans have applauded this move, and for good reason, but because Jaden Ivey is regarded as a top-three prospect by some and is even frequently mentioned as having the most star potential, the selection of Murray has raised some concern with others.
The debate between the fans makes sense. Each side is a worthy point of view. But as it lingers through the offseason and likely the regular season as well, it’s important to know that the answer will take a while to become clear.
It’ll be interesting.
Before anyone sticks to their guns on this pick, there are a few questions to ask regarding the fact Murray went 4th to the Kings.
1. Did the “underwhelming” packages Sacramento was offering Atlanta for John Collins lead to this outcome?
On Monday, in addition to noting that the Kings were “becoming increasingly comfortable” with using the 4th pick, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that GM Monte McNair was exploring trade packages with the Hawks that don’t involve the coveted selection as a way to get John Collins. This presented new possibilities at the start of draft week.
One of the primary thoughts that came to mind was that a major roster shakeup was on the way. If the Kings were going to get the skilled stretch-4 they’ve always wanted and not by means of the draft, then the indication, to many, was that Ivey would be picked 4th. Perhaps a deal for Collins would potentially include Davion Mitchell, or future first-round picks, or a mix of both.
Taking Murray, knowing you’d have Collins, would seem like it’d be doubling down on the same position, which was the same reason many pointed to as the problem with drafting Ivey on a team with De’Aaron Fox and Mitchell. It appeared they’d be creating another issue surrounding redundancy of roles. Having an established veteran already would raise a lot of questions as to why the prospect at the same position and with the consensus highest floor in his class would be chosen in the top-five.
As such, the feeling Ivey would be drafted gained traction.
Midway through this week, Marc Stein reported that Atlanta is “weighing a variety of scenarios as they pursue a John Collins trade in connection with Thursday’s draft, with a deal headlined by Collins and Sacramento’s Harrison Barnes among Atlanta’s prime options.”
The chance for a major makeover by the end of the draft was growing. After all, Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report tweeted that the Hawks were planning on dealing Collins by the end of Thursday night.
If, in the same night, the Kings were going to get John Collins and trade Barnes away in the process, it seemed like the exact road that would lead to Jaden Ivey being selected 4th by Sacramento.
Would Murray really play the 3 in place of Barnes and beside Collins?
It wouldn’t be out of the question, but it’d feel wrong. Maybe 15 years ago Keegan Murray could be considered a pure small forward, however, the NBA is at a point where it’s hard to dissuade from the idea that he’s a versatile 4 and small ball 5.
These reports slowly pushed the idea that Ivey and Collins would end up on the roster, but as is now known, none of it happened.
In fact, hours before the draft, The Athletic’s Sam Amick had reported that Atlanta was viewing the trade as “underwhelming.”
Did the 4th selection come down to whether or not the Kings could get Collins?
It’s very possible.
But was Barnes considered untouchable in that deal?
Was Mitchell considered untouchable in that deal?
Now that’s a question.
2. Did Jaden Ivey dictate this decision?
A little over a week before the big night, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony made note in a mock draft that the Kings “aren’t Ivey’s preferred destination.”
In response, Ivey told the media that Sacramento, in fact, “wouldn’t be the worst” place to land in the draft. Lacking cogency, Ivey described his lack of a workout for the Kings as an “unconscious” decision, though he did work out for Orlando and Detroit, the team that ultimately took him. Needless to say, not everyone was convinced.
On the same day as the draft, Ivey said that not working out for the Kings and not providing a medical report was both his agents’ idea.
While Ivey did the best he could to push back on the idea that he didn’t want to be in Sacramento, it wasn’t exactly clear whether this was going to have an effect on the decision to draft him or not. The Kings never got a work out from Tyrese Haliburton or Davion Mitchell, and at the end of the day, it’s a business, and any prospect who is being paid a rookie scale contract as the 4th pick is going to play for the team that drafted them.
Then again, maybe it did.
Coming fresh off of being an assistant in Golden State, Mike Brown knows a lot about the importance of unselfish basketball. In his introductory press conference, Sacramento’s new coach noted that some of the most vital things needed for his team to build a winning culture is to instill an “alignment of trust” throughout the entire organization and to make sure everybody knows and embraces their role.
Did Ivey not fit that philosophy? Did the Kings not feel confident the Purdue guard was all-in?
It’s worth noting that Givony had likewise noted that “Keegan Murray might be gaining steam with head coach-to-be Mike Brown.”
Not that Ivey has low character, but given Murray’s well regarded attitude and personality, was this the deal breaker? If so, was it intentional on the part of Ivey and his camp?
3. Did Monte McNair take the best player available, and does it matter?
“I think at the end of the day, with the 4th pick, after exploring all our options, we felt extremely comfortable that the best player available was Keegan Murray,” Monte McNair said in his post-draft press conference, calling it a “unanimous” decision from the whole front office.
Again, it’s up for debate, and a clear answer won’t begin to emerge for a considerable time while a final answer is several years away, but pretty much every mock drafter, talking head, and fan is insisting otherwise. Some who view Murray going 4th to Sac as a perfect scenario even go so far as to say Ivey was probably the best available.
Maybe McNair’s wrong. Ivey could come into this league and be a great scorer who could be posting 20-plus points a game by year two and establish himself as a surefire all star. Plenty of people have said that.
Then again, whose idea was it to start taking the best player available in the first place, and who’s been in charge of doing it for the last three years?
One should second guess saying out right that he—the guy who, in fact, took the best player available in the previous two drafts without any argument—doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Maybe McNair and company thinks they got the best player available—not saying they didn’t, not saying they did—and perhaps this is the third installment of this draft philosophy. If he thinks so, it’s fair to say that history shows he’s usually right in that regard.
At this point, who knows for sure?
And, really, does it even matter?
It probably does, because it’s a strategy that’s proven to work, but this draft is completely different than the last two.
Does the absolute best player available strategy become slightly obsolete when you’re picking 4th and your consensus best fit is a top-5 prospect?
Remember, Haliburton went 12th in 2020, and Mitchell went 9th overall the following year. Best player available is an entirely different thing at that range because there’s less prospects at your disposal.
At pick No. 4, with two great options, maybe fit was the deciding factor between them.
And yeah, that’d be sure to be met with a ‘What about Bagley and Luka?’ And sure, you’re not wrong, but take solace knowing that in terms of character and work ethic, Murray is not Marvin Bagley.
While nobody knows if McNair got the best player that’ll have the best overall career, the odds are—at least for now—that taking Murray 4th overall won’t be an agonizingly regrettable moment for Kings fans to look back on.