After a rough stretch in November, the month of December has featured tremendous strides for Kings rookie Keegan Murray.
It’s not just that the number-four overall pick in this year’s draft has fought through adversity–both on and off the court–to regain his form and rhythm, but he’s also been proving his worth on the defensive end of the floor.
As the three-point percentage soars back up and the points per game number increases, Keegan Murray has similarly proven to be a plus defender in so many aspects, only growing further into it throughout this month so far.
Coming into the league, it was obvious the Iowa product possessed good size and length on top of a well-regarded competitive spirit on that end of the floor. He was already coming in with the necessary ingredients to excel in MIke Brown’s defense.
Thinking about that length and effort alone, one of the frequent plays the forward makes is the trailing block. In nearly every case, he uses his body to stay with guys, turning his effort level up another gear to get his long arm out for the block from behind if a guy gets by or a screen hits him.
A beautiful example came in Cleveland when Murray was on Caris LeVert in isolation. The rookie stayed in front of LeVert to start and as he began to drive into the paint, Murray shuffled down with him and without fouling before unfurling that spindly arm for a block.
In Philadelphia, each Kings player was rotating around on a string for a rare defensive stance in that game. Murray popped out to the perimeter on Shake Milton, who drove with the defender crashing hard his way. Harrison Barnes played his part as the low man and Murray happened to be right with Milton, getting the block from behind the unsuspecting Sixer.
He uses his length to get steals as well–which he can do well in weak side protection–but steals also come from good positioning and activity, which demonstrates his growing comfort level in this league.
There were two instances in the win up in Toronto where the former Hawkeye forced turnovers doing this. First, as the low man, he was sharp enough to pick up an incoming bounce pass to his right for a steal. And then again when he came from the top of the key to help near the rim, coming downhill decisively to swipe another bounce pass.
Part good positioning and part grown man strength, Murray happened to strip the ball away from a penetrating Giannis Antetokounmpo that the Bucks commentators could only marvel at.
Speaking of strength, Keegan Murray is finally getting consistent calls going his way for drawn charges. It seemed like early in his NBA career very little if any of those calls would go his way, but lately, over the last couple of weeks, he’s drawn a few using that strength–more of mind that body–and positioning.
He took a couple against the Lakers on Wednesday. One of them was just beautiful in terms of his instant ability to get into action and stick the positioning perfect for the call. It was no wonder he earned defensive player of the game honors.
Even as he is great at helping down low and on the glass, Murray also gets down to the other end of the floor to partake in great transition defense. He did it twice against the Lakers and seems to always be at least one of the guys responsible for forcing transition misses.
In general, Murray’s been a pleasant guy to watch as an on-ball defender, able to get off good contests, create tough shots, and force bad passes. He does so on a range of players, too, from Reggie Jackson to DeMar DeRozan.
Overall, he’s been great so far in December, but Keegan Murray’s ability to make significant impacts on the defensive end only raises the ceiling of what he can do in his career.