He is a player with a successful pedigree. Analysts are enthusiastic about him and the coaches who see his behavior and work ethic are no exception. He may be the “safest” choice of the entire draft class.
And somehow that last thing is held against him. The year is 2020 and we are, of course, talking about Tyrese Haliburton, potential guard out of the state of Iowa. Fast forward to 2022 and we’re having the exact same conversation about Keegan Murray, a potential striker outside of Iowa.
There appears to be a threesome for fifth pick in the NBA Draft with the availability of two of the following: Jaden Ivey, Bennedict Mathurin, Keegan Murray.
A lot of people drool for Ivey because of his really next-level athleticism which would already be among the best the NBA has to offer by the time he takes the pitch. There are others who look at Mathurin’s two-way potential, his rather high 3-point shot and his extraordinary ability in transition and say, “this is the perfect complement to Cade Cunningham”.
I was one of them. I caught Mathurin with fifth pick in the SB Nation mock draft with Murray still on the board.
And then there’s Murray. He beat the competition in terms of productivity on the field in college. Of the top 100 players in Bart Torvik’s NCAA database, Murray is number 1 in his catch-all points on substitution (PORPAGATU! – what a funny name). In slightly less … appetizing statistics, he is the No. 1 in total Box Plus-Minus, Offensive Box Plus-Minus, third in the offensive rating and 14th in the overall real shooting percentage.
Murray is the only college basketball player with at least 50 dunks (67) and more than 100 3-point attempts (166). The guy is a walking bucket.
Let’s go back to Haliburton and some of the concerns people have pointed out about him that led to the draft. From Mike Schmitz, then at ESPN and now talent evaluator with the Portland Trail Blazers:
As we saw when he was surrounded by Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green and Reggie Perry in the Team USA Under 19 gold medal team at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, Haliburton comes to life as a facilitator alongside elite talent. However, critics ask questions about Haliburton’s ability to create off the dribble, his pull-up jumper, and his ball defense when he’s not flush with big teammates.
Yes, Haliburton was efficient, a great teammate and a safe bet. But there were questions about his final position and the level of his advantage.
Sometimes we’re so obsessed with hitting home runs that we can’t see the obvious greatness staring us in the face.
In the same Haliburton profile, ESPN’s Kevin Pelton had rated Haliburton second overall behind only Lonzo Ball at the top of the draft.
Fast forward back to 2022 and check Pelton again. He has Murray ranked third overall behind only Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith Jr.
Here’s what Murray’s John Hollinger writes, who finished 7th on his last big board behind both Ivey (3rd) and Mathurin (5th).
Murray is neither a top tier athlete nor a knockdown shooter. He’s fine and all-37.3 percent off the 3 and 74.9 percent off the line in two years in Iowa-but it’s the wiles of him well-rounded as a scorer that provide the real value of him.
It’s questionable how much daylight that part of his NBA-level game will get, because he doesn’t create easy separations and he’s not a big distributor.
Ultimately, however, Hollinger concludes by noting that people may be underestimating Murray’s potential production and efficacy:
What I come back to is we’ve seen this movie before with guys like TJ Warren and Cedric Ceballos – smooth strikers who didn’t have the athleticism of the best drawers but had a crazy feeling to score and find buckets in the flow of the game. The league underestimates guys like this at times because they don’t have an easy box to slip into, but I’m pretty confident Murray can be a rotation forward at worst, and the lead is a 20-point scorer.
A safe choice. “a forward rotation at worst” with the advantage of a “20-point scorer”. So my question is: what’s wrong with the safe? Why does it have to become a dirty word?
It is perfectly reasonable for NBA GMs to ask the following questions because they are important. Which guy could be an All-NBA player? Who could be on the floor at the critical moment of a game 7? Who could be a future All-Star?
But at the same time, that GM must feel comfortable with answering any of these questions which is “none”. Because it is when you talk about the 5% chance that someone will go far beyond not only an expected result, but also a mythical “roof” that doesn’t really exist that you end up wasting the choices of the first round on guys who can’t really play and don’t. never understand it.
Sometimes it’s best not to overthink yourself. This year that could mean the best pick at number 5 overall is Keegan Murray. Safe may not sell, but it often helps you win a lot of basketball games.