The Curious Case Of Keegan Murray
Iowa forward Keegan Murray has become one of the most intriguing prospects of the 2022 NBA Draft.
Iowa forward Keegan Murray has become one of the most intriguing and puzzling evaluations for me when it pertains to the 2022 NBA Draft class. He’s become a mystery man of sorts, entrenched in the 10-20 range of most big boards currently. His scorching hot start for the Hawkeyes and the video game numbers Murray has put up have only made the deciphering of what he could look like as a pro that much more difficult.
Murray is currently leading the country in scoring (23.5 PPG), PER (43.2), and offensive box plus/minus (14.0), only adding to the intrigue of the potential he could have as an NBA player. It’s hard not to get tantalized by the production he’s currently putting out and think to yourself how is this guy not a guaranteed lock to be a top ten selection come next summer. However, I think the gaudy stats Murray has produced might be more of a mirage than an indicator of his assured success at the next level.
That’s not to say I don’t like Murray as a prospect though, I do, and it appears the rest of the No Ceilings crew feels similarly at least for the time being. In our first composite Big Board, the team ended up placing Murray #12 and I personally had him #14, so I believe it’s more than fair to have him as a lottery or fringe lottery guy. What piques my interest most with the Iowa sophomore sensation so much though, is he’s really the embodiment of do you trust the numbers or eye test more? That’s really why I wanted to dive in on Murray’s game early on because I’m still not sure I’ve got the answer to that question.
I’m hoping with this piece to display the conundrum I’ve been in, in terms of figuring out what Murray ultimately is as a pro, and what’s his best role for success. The first piece to this problem is where do you slot him positionally at the next level. I think it’s easy for people to look at the numbers and see a guy averaging nearly 25 points per game, sporting the insane advanced metrics that Murray has on both ends combined with his athletic profile, and again just assume he’s going to be a top offensive option as a pro.
But when you go back to the game tape, it sort of tells a different story. I really believe that expecting Murray to be a primary shot creator for your offense at the NBA level could be very problematic, and I also think he’s more of a power forward than a traditional small forward or even a dual forward. At this current point in his development, Murray looks really uncomfortable to me creating off the dribble.
I think his handle is lacking dramatically in any sort of liveliness or creativity and he just looks like a guy who is still figuring it out in that regard, which is OK, but it should maybe temper the expectations on Murray replicating this sort of offensive efficiency in the pros. As you can see by some of the video clips below, it’s just a missing link of his game currently, and if an NBA team is going to expect him to succeed in isolation situations out of the gate, I feel they will only be putting Murray in a position to fail.
I also think when highlighting some areas of concern or areas where Murray still needs to take some major leaps, you have to talk about the inconsistency he’s shown as a shooter so far this season. Murray’s true shooting percentage (65.6%) and effective field goal percentage (61.8%) numbers are really good, but his three-point percentage (31.8%) is a bit underwhelming. My guys Corey and Albert touched on this as well on the latest episode of the Draftdaq NBA Draft Podcast, echoing many of the same feelings I personally have on Murray’s outlook as a shooter.
The shooting flaws are much more of a red flag in my opinion than Murray’s lack of ability as a creator, as again I would never put him in that role offensively, to begin with. But the lack of being a knockdown shooter could limit what he can do as a potential stretch big, and allow NBA defenses to easily key in on taking away the other skills he has in his scoring repertoire. Mechanically speaking, Murray’s shot doesn’t look broken to me and just on an initial glance probably appears pretty sound to you as well. If you look a little closer though, I think the problems with his shot start at the bottom with his feet and overall body positioning before he eventually releases the ball.
I’m not some shot doctor, nor have the attention to nuanced detail like some of my comrades here do, but when watching Murray miss over and over again from beyond the arc, I tried my best to focus on what could be plaguing him. His actual shooting release is decent enough in my opinion, although it’s a bit sling-shotty, the real issue for Murray is that his feet are rarely ever aligned to the rim when he shoots the ball. This contorts his body to face another direction completely, which leads to a lot of the misses you’ll see below. It’s hard to hit your target, especially in basketball, when you’re not squared up to the basket. A ton of his misses are also long and I’m not so sure he has that natural touch most really good or great shooters have. Rebuilding the base of his shot will be pivotal to maximizing his potential at the next level.
There are other limitations to Murray’s current skill set, but for the sake of making this as digestible of a read as I can and because I genuinely don’t like focusing solely on the negatives around a player, let’s shift gears to some of the things that make Murray an awesome prospect in my eyes starting with his ability in transition.
The open floor is Murray’s sanctuary and canvas for him to paint his personal highlight-reel on. Whether it’s on offense or defense, he shines in transition, and the faster the tempo, the better for Murray as he moves like an NFL tight end on the hardwood. His versatility radiates in the in-between game as he can get out and fill the correct lanes to finish off a fast break, hustle back to make plays defensively, pressure a defense himself by taking a rebound and attacking immediately up the floor, or even create a play for someone else with his passing ability.
Murray also really excels as an offensive rebounder and scoring presence in the post. He’s second in the Big Ten currently in offensive rebounds (31) and third in offensive rebound percentage (12.2). When the Hawkeyes miss, Murray is there to clean up the glass, and either eat himself for an easy bucket or create a second chance point opportunity for his team. He attacks the ball off of the rim as a rebounder, has great hands, and engulfs boards on a consistent basis.
The dominance he’s shown as a post scorer really gets me excited as well and plays back into what I was saying with viewing him more as a power forward than a wing at the NBA level. He possesses the quickness to get by bigger, slower forwards and then has the size plus the strength to overwhelm smaller ones. He can score at every level of the post and even though he doesn’t show much touch as a shooter, I think Murray’s got really nice touch around the rim. According to Hoop-Math.com, Murray is shooting 74.2% at the rim this season, sort of emphasizing his ability to finish around the cup and I love that he can finish with either hand too. Lastly, I’d really like to see Iowa feature him more as a playmaker out of the post as it’s another layer of his game that would be beneficial for him to explore or showcase more.
I could continue on about the flashes he’s shown with his passing, shot-blocking, and ability to move without the ball as a rim runner, but I again would like to condense this as much as possible. Ultimately, I believe Murray’s best path to success in the NBA will be as a power forward who can be a fantastic complementary piece on the offensive end of the floor.
Expecting Murray to carry a pro offense at this point might be somewhat of a tall order to ask of him, as I think he fairs much better as a number two or three option rather than being the main initiator. I wouldn’t have a problem taking Murray in the late lottery if I were an NBA GM though, but I’d be selecting him to be more of a supporting piece to my foundation, not necessarily to be the foundation itself.
If Murray gets placed in that role, I really buy him pushing to be an All-Star-caliber starter for the next decade or so for a franchise. Plus if the shooting progresses and he shows more comfortability as a shot creator, that once again only adds to the intrigue and curiosity NBA teams will have with his pro upside. His flaws are apparent and I’m not quite sure Murray belongs with the cream of the crop of the 2022 draft class, but he definitely might be a prospect worth gambling on, and one you shouldn’t be shocked to see have his name called early next July.