It was certainly a tale of two very different games for Keegan Murray in his first pair of Summer League appearances at the California Classic.
On Saturday in the victory over the Warriors, the former Hawkeye put up 26 points on 10 of 14 shooting, including 4 of 5 from deep, as well as 8 rebounds. He followed it up with a ratty shooting performance in a win against the Heat, converting just 4 of 15 looks, including 1 of 7 from three, for 9 points along with 9 rebounds, 2 assists, a block and a steal each, and 6 turnovers.
Nevertheless, and likely to nobody’s surprise, it’s apparent through these vastly different games that there are still plenty of things to look forward to about the fourth overall pick.
The first game against the Warriors could hardly have gone better for Murray as the NBA world—to whatever degree it’s fully awake and cognizant—viewed it as one of the biggest storylines of the day.
The rookie was hitting nearly all of his jump shots, missing just two of those looks, and his stroke appeared smooth and polished. He also highlighted his overall length and his activity in all aspects of the game, namely on the glass. Plus, he looked determined to make an impact without trying too hard to follow through.
Moreover—and this is, for the most part, true for both games—Keegan Murray was often the only player on the floor that looked like a professional basketball player. That’s no disrespect to other NBA hopefuls—Neemias Queta, Keon Ellis, and some others remain intriguing—but part of the Summer League’s appeal comes from the fact it looks like a bunch of random guys playing pickup basketball in the park, but it just happens to be on an NBA hardwood.
For context, Queta has a whole year of professional basketball under his belt, and even he isn’t even close to being wholly convincing in terms of being cut out for the NBA. And—trying to avoid losing the point here—to be clear, Queta has played pretty well, scoring 12 and 14 points respectively through two games, showing nice finishing skills around the basket, and being active on both ends of the floor. However, Queta still retains the air of a pony, inexperienced and in need of plenty of refinement. He could certainly be on the right track to be an effective NBA player, but it’s obvious he’ll still need a better level of comfort if he’ll do anything close to that in a rotational role at the preeminent level of the sport.
Murray, on the other hand, had a horrible shooting game on Sunday versus the Heat, and yet he avoided unraveling. He knows he needs to be aggressive, and it wouldn’t be nuts to assume he knows he’s the best player on the floor, but he also seems well acquainted with the fact that there is the task at hand of trying to win a basketball game. Summer League or not, this guy is a competitor, and not just on behalf of himself, but his teammates as well.
In the first half against the Heat, Murray hit just 3 of his 10 shots, including 1 of 5 from deep range, he grabbed 6 boards, had an assist, and committed 5 turnovers for a plus-minus in the half of -2.
It wasn’t like the second half featured the Keegan Murray spectators saw the previous day, but he came out hitting 1 of 5 shots, grabbing 3 rebounds, posting a steal, block, and assist each while committing just a single turnover for a second half plus-minus of +6.
The point being that Murray came out and effected the game in other ways, albeit not impressively in any single category, though his dedication to the glass can’t be overlooked, nor his feel for the transition game. As a whole, his team took control of the contest amid his shifted approach in the second half.
On the turnovers: Murray tore it up on Saturday, and the Heat played defense on him the next day like they knew that better than anyone. They made sure to subject him to plenty of double teams, which disrupted his offensive game. There were a few shots that looked plain ugly in the first half because of it.
The turnovers that emerged from these double teams should not cloud overhead as a major concern because think about Murray’s presumptive role with Sacramento when the season starts. As the fourth or fifth option on the floor—which he’ll probably often be in most lineups—and without having to create things for himself or his teammates, he won’t fall into that kind of pressure.
Bad shooting nights like Sunday’s game won’t have an outlook of happening very frequently since the majority of Murray’s looks, as he plays beside Fox and Sabonis, will be set up for him in a manner that allows him, and thus the team, to succeed.
As such, despite a really poor shooting performance against the Heat, Murray showed why he is very promising, especially as an instant impact rookie who features great physical length, commendable effort, and adept awareness.
Fans can watch more of Keegan Murray as the California Classic concludes later today after the Kings take on the Lakers this afternoon.
Sacramento won’t play Summer League ball again until things shift to Las Vegas when the team plays Orlando on July 9. The overall goal is to give the 4th overall selection a lot of time to play this summer, and Murray expects that he’ll play all the way up until the first few games in Vegas at the very least.