On Thursday night, Keegan Murray joined a rare class of former Iowa basketball players as a top-10 pick in the NBA Draft when Sacramento picked him No. 4 overall. Since his decision to enter the draft in April, Murray’s been a mainstay as a high lottery projected pick.
This week, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas gave Murray a special distinction: most NBA-ready prospect.
“The player (in the NBA Draft) that is most NBA-ready, who you can plug in right now, is Keegan Murray,” Bilas said on ESPN’s SportsCenter this week. “He is an incredibly smart player. Keegan is mature enough to step into the NBA and perform at high level right away.”
What exactly are the Sacramento Kings getting? Let’s take a look.
Keegan Murray fits the modern NBA
A player who fits the current NBA mold. Murray is a 6-foot-8, 225 pound combo forward with the ability to play small forward, power forward and even center in small-ball situations. Last season at Iowa, he emerged as perhaps the best two-way player in college basketball.
Offensively, Murray was elite. He ended the 2021-22 season as the nation’s leader in points (822) and fourth nationally in points per game (23.6), and that number is the highest among power conference players. Overall, he averaged 23.6 points while shooting 55% from the field and 39.8% from the 3-point line. Murray likely won’t be his new team’s top scoring option but is a capable three-level scorer with a particular strength scoring in the low post.
In the Big Ten in 2021-22, Murray logged the seventh-best defensive rating (96.8), the third-best block percentage (6.4), and the 13th-best steal percentage (2.3). His overall athleticism was a question mark during the pre-draft process but Murray consistently showed that he can stay in front of offensive players and should be at least an above average NBA defender.
He’s one of two players in college basketball history with 800-plus points, 60-plus three-pointers and 60-plus blocks in one season, the other: Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets.
He was also college basketball’s most impactful player in terms of winning last season. He led the nation with 8.7 win shares, a metric that estimates the number of wins a player produces for his team throughout the season. He also led the country with a plus-15.7 plus / minus, meaning Iowa was 15.7 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor than with average production from another player.
Keegan Murray can be No. 3 scoring option as a rookie
His half-court offense needs time to develop at the NBA-level; however, Murray’s rebounding ability (8.7 per game, third-highest in Big Ten) will help him find opportunities in transition offense. Iowa’s a program that’s known for grabbing rebounds and running on offense, Murray consistently initiated offense for himself and his teammates as the team’s top rebounder.
Murray spent the pre-draft process refining two areas of his game: shooting with consistency and ball-handling. He’s likely a No. 3 scoring option at best on his new team (at least early on) and might not have many offensive plays called for him as he did at Iowa. He’ll need to be able to create on his own in isolation and also knock down open shots when they’re made available to him.
“It was really just becoming more creative with the ball in my hands,” Murray said to Hawk Central last week. “That was probably the biggest point of emphasis, just doing different things off the dribble, tightening my handle, and things like that. I feel like that’s really come a long way since the end of the season. And also the consistency with my shot every time. (The) key thing was ‘Don’t miss two shots in a row.’ Throughout the process, I really got (more) consistent with my jump shot. “
At 21 years old, Murray is mature enough for the professional game. Entering into the NBA he can be a front court starter from day one, grow into an above average starter (think Mikal Bridges, Phoenix Suns or Kyle Kuzma, Washington Wizards) with the potential to grow into a prominent two-way player in the years to come.