Sleeper Deep Dives: Kris Murray
Keegan Murray is already in the NBA for the Sacramento Kings, but his twin brother Kris is primed for a breakout season of his own at Iowa that could see him jump into the late first round--or higher.
A year ago today, in October of 2021, the Murray twins were all but unknowns in the NBA Draft prospect universe. Keegan Murray had been a role player the year before, averaging 18.0 minutes per game and starting four games after joining Iowa as someone who had not been in the Top 100 for his recruiting class. Now, one year later, he is set to start in his first NBA game for the Sacramento Kings tonight, after being drafted fourth overall in the 2022 NBA Draft and earning Summer League MVP honors back in July.
Kris Murray is slightly less of an unknown in October of 2022 than he and his twin brother were at the start of the 2021-22 college basketball season, but his trajectory is only slightly behind his brother’s pace. After barely playing for Iowa in the 2020-21 season, Kris had a nearly identical role to his brother’s freshman campaign during his own sophomore season at Iowa. Kris played 17.9 minutes per game and started once for Iowa, and in some ways had an even more encouraging statistical profile than his brother had put together the year before. Kris Murray averaged 9.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per game while also knocking down far more of his three-point attempts than Keegan had; Kris outscored and outshot Keegan’s previous season in a similar role. While Kris was a year older when he fulfilled that role than Keegan had been, Kris also took a sizable step forward both developmentally and in terms of his role after barely playing in his first season in college.
Now, with the start of the 2022-23 college basketball season looming, Kris Murray is the clear leader for the Iowa Hawkeyes—just as his brother was last season. While there is some buzz for Kris as a potential late first round draft pick, he is still flying a bit under the radar. However, his excellent touch from long range, versatile scoring game, and defensive potential make Murray a potential breakout star this season given his expanded role. The odds are against him climbing into the Top 5 of this draft, but Kris Murray has every chance to make those who doubt him as a first round talent look foolish sooner rather than later. So…let’s dive deep!
Offense: Three-Point Shooting and At-Rim Scoring
The place to start with evaluating Kris Murray is his three-point shooting. Almost half of Murray’s shots last season were from deep, and he knocked down his 3.2 3PA per game at a 38.7% clip. Murray has a smooth lefty stroke, and he doesn’t hesitate to punish teams who leave him open from long range:
Most of Murray’s long-range looks last season were spot-ups, but he is far from just a player who sits in the corners and only shoots when left wide open. Murray has a knack for getting himself open off the ball, and he can fire away off screens or when tightly guarded:
Overall, Murray was incredibly efficient on the offensive end. He ranked in the 92nd percentile offensively overall last season, per Synergy Sports, and in the 93rd percentile in halfcourt settings. He also ranked in the 75th percentile as a spot-up shooter and in the 81st percentile in scoring off screens, showcasing his ability to score from deep in a variety of ways.
While the sample size for Murray’s scoring off the dribble was small, there are reasons to believe that he might incorporate some of those looks into his game with a larger offensive role this season. Murray didn’t pull up off the dribble very often from deep, but he did occasionally create his own shot from behind the arc:
Murray’s handle is solid overall, and he looks especially adept with the ball in his hands when he drives to the basket. However, his handle can be a bit stiff and upright when he shoots off the dribble, which leads to his shots looking less clean than his spot-up looks. If Kris can improve his shooting off the dribble with his increased role this season, that would do wonders for unlocking the rest of his offensive game.
Another reason to be optimistic about Murray’s ability to succeed as a leading scorer this season is his efficiency in the post. While he didn’t get many opportunities on the block last season, he has a deep bag of tricks down low that he can use to take advantage of smaller or slower players when he gets a chance:
Murray ranked in the 92nd percentile in the post last season; while that mark did happen in a limited sample size, the film does back up those numbers when it comes to his post-up scoring. He uses his sturdy frame to push opponents around when he gets the ball on the block, and he usually makes the right passing read when he gets stymied down low. He also can turn to his solid mid-range fadeaway when he can’t find an opening to get to the rim:
Murray will have far more scoring opportunities this season than he did last year, and his fluidity in the post is a huge reason for optimism about him taking a scoring leap. Given that he is already proficient at scoring from the outside, his ability to quickly post up an opponent from 15 feet and in and score will be vital to his continued development when teams force him off the three-point line. While an improved pull-up jumper would unlock Murray’s in-between game even further, his scoring touch in the post will allow him to score effectively even if his pull-up takes slightly longer to develop.
Defense: Positioning and Playmaking
Kris Murray’s versatile offensive game might be the reason why he is primed for a breakout year with an expanded role this season, but his defense might be the reason that he sticks around long-term in the NBA. His combination of an NBA-ready body at 6’8” and 215 pounds, great defensive awareness, solid mobility, and excellent defensive playmaking makes it easy to project him as a two-way player at the next level.
Murray moves his feet well laterally and puts in the effort when guarding the opposing ball-handler. He’s a good, but not great, vertical athlete; however, his sense of timing and positioning on the defensive end is stellar. His anticipation really stands out when reviewing his defensive film, and feeds into his top-tier defensive playmaking:
Murray ranked in the 82nd percentile defensively overall last year, per Synergy Sports. The box score numbers for him are even more impressive; he finished ninth in the Big Ten in blocks despite averaging fewer minutes per game than anyone else in the Top 10 in the conference.
In addition to his rim protection abilities, Murray also proved adept at generating steals. His exceptional anticipation also shows up in his ability to force turnovers, as he averaged nearly a steal per game despite his limited minutes. He strikes an excellent balance between sticking to his man and jumping into passing lanes, something that should definitely translate to the NBA level:
Kris Murray has the frame and the effort level to stick to his opponent and be solid on that end of the floor. His defensive playmaking, however, gives him a chance to be more than just a plug-and-play 3-and-D type at the next level. Murray has the decision-making acumen to know how to pick his spots on the defensive end. When the time is right, you can count on Murray to pounce on any opportunities the opposing offense might be foolish enough to give him.
The Iowa Hawkeyes will kick off their season against Bethune-Cookman on November 7th, and they will face their first real test against Seton Hall on November 16th. By the time they reach their highly-anticipated showdown against Indiana on January 5th, 2023, the college basketball world will have a pretty good idea about how their squad stacks up against the competition. A poor run of form for Kris Murray and the Hawkeyes could see them stuck on the outside looking in on their Big Ten competition. A strong start, however, could see Iowa eyeing a tournament run and could see Murray eyeing a spot in the lottery of the 2023 NBA Draft.
Murray has the opportunity to take a leap this season, and he has the skill set to take advantage of it. Even if he doesn’t turn into a primary option this season, though, there is still plenty to like about his game. He is a knockdown three-point shooter who provides defensive versatility as a forward with size and solid mobility. He makes good decisions with the ball in his hands, he has shown growth as a passer, and he has just enough off-the-bounce game to make defenses think twice about forcing him off the three-point line. Simply put, there is a role for Kris Murray on virtually every team in the NBA already.
Kris Murray might not be one of the top-ranked players in the 2023 NBA Draft class at this point, but he has already shown the tools to be a valuable rotation player. If he can make the leap as a scoring hub this year, he could vault his name into the top of the draft conversation just as his brother did the year before. Given that Kris was essentially one year behind Keegan’s developmental curve during their two years together at Iowa, there are certainly plenty of reasons to believe that Kris Murray could make a similar leap this season and establish himself as one of the breakout stars of the 2022-23 college basketball season.