Why Has Keegan Murray's Stock Risen? | The Morning Dunk
After seeing Keegan Murray live this past week, his case as a top-half lottery selection is becoming more clear. I'll explain why his statistical dominance is easier to rationalize in person.
Welcome back to another edition of The Morning Dunk!
Usually, I’m not prone to making an “emptying the notebook” section a full front section in my weekly column, but this particular prospect has had his stock rise pretty considerably from preseason up through now.
I had the chance to see Iowa’s Keegan Murray up close in the Hawkeyes’ battle with Rutgers last Wednesday night with co-writer Corey Tulaba.
The details I gathered about Murray are noteworthy, so naturally, I’m excited to dig in on him this week.
Along with that, I have notes on some more sleepers I’ve been monitoring over the last few weeks, and a few sections dedicated to two wings in particular who could have lottery cases in Ochai Agbaji and newcomer Shaedon Sharpe.
Without further ado, let’s dive in!
Why Has Keegan Murray's Stock Risen?
Seeing Murray up close was something I was looking forward to since he started slaying mid-major opponents at the start of the season.
The 6’8” forward is one of the most fundamentally sound prospects in this class, even if his game doesn’t always jump off the page.
But getting eyes on him against the Scarlett Knights boosted his evaluation in my eyes to the point where he should challenge for a spot in the top half of the lottery in 2022.
From setting physical screens to his defensive IQ to his box-out technique on the glass, one can tell that he’s been well-coached for a number of years.
It’s easy to respond to what I said and tell me I should’ve been counting those things already if I’d actually watched him on tape. Truth be told, Murray is one of the projected lottery prospects I had watched the least. Not only that, but until you see a prospect two to three to four times, sometimes those details don’t always stand out to what your eyes WANT to see.
When you flip on tape of a player, you want to see him drilling shots from all over the floor or making highlight offensive plays. You want to see lockdown defense, swatted shots, and interceptions in passing lanes.
As humans, we’re drawn to first looking for excitement rather than appreciating the little things in life.
And that’s exactly why I was relieved to have a close-up look at a prospect who some could say is “boring” for better or worse.
Nothing about Murray’s game is sexy. He’s not slithering to the basket and contorting his body at ungodly angles for a pretty finger roll. He isn’t drilling step-back jumpers like Jayson Tatum on the wing.
But what Murray does do is bring a calming presence to his teammates and his coaching staff because they can trust him to make the right play and do those little things that help a team win games.
Now Iowa didn’t win that night against Rutgers, but they came within a poor foul call at the end (ironically on Murray) from having a chance to win or send the game to overtime.
However, Murray’s presence was still felt because of how much tougher he made it for Rutgers to come away with a win. And per the box score, Murray still had a good outing even if he was not quite as dominant as we’re accustomed to seeing. But I would say 13 points, 13 rebounds, 2 blocks, and a steal is still pretty damn good.
He’s a great interior finisher because of his ambidexterity and touch. His footwork is almost second to none to any other forward or big in this draft class. He’s confident shooting despite the numbers not indicating he’s a plus in that area on a consistent basis.
But just having another guy out there to space the floor who’s as ready as he is to let it fly on the catch does wonders for drawing the defense’s attention and opening up something for someone else.
Murray is a threat in the post, outside the arc, around the elbows, and nearly everywhere else in between. He’s a low mistake player, and you can tell within two minutes of watching him he’s smart as a whip.
So why have some (myself included) been lower on him at times and cautious to slot him too high on a big board?
Generally, when a team is selecting high in the lottery, they’re trying to “star hunt” as much as possible. There’s a certain threshold in terms of a “floor” that should be met, but upside is key.
Can a player blossom into one of the league’s stars if they’re developed in the right environment? And what does that high-end outcome look like? Future MVP? Multi-time All-Star? Third or fourth-best guy on a championship team?
The short answer is Murray doesn’t look like the prototypical highlight machine that All-Stars are usually billed as being. That much was evident in person the other night. To Rutgers’ credit, the team played excellent defense as a whole in terms of denying Murray easy opportunities to create from his spots on the floor.
And when Murray did have one-on-one opportunities to take Ron Harper Jr. or another player off the bounce, he had to do so from the corner or on the wing behind the arc. Murray isn’t someone who’s going to dribble the air out of the ball and operate at his best east-to-west. He’s much better at establishing position and operating in quick actions off the catch.
Teams in the NBA won’t be able to key in on Murray like college squads have this year. Murray will also benefit greatly from the spacing he’ll have in the league to work out of certain sets when he gets the ball. The Hawkeyes don’t have the most reliable shooters from the corners to stretch the defense, nor the guards to properly execute an entry pass or penetrate and catch the other team off guard when they’re denying Murray on the block.
Even when Murray’s life was made difficult offensively, he still rebounded very well on both ends, made open shots when he had the look, and defended the hell out of multiple players for the Scarlet Knights. Murray’s technique defending on the ball is very cerebral and measured. He doesn’t take gambles, positions himself between his man and the basket, and keeps his head on a swivel to make sure he isn’t solely focused on his man and unaware of what’s going on around him.
Off the ball, it’s a lot of the same. Murray doesn’t die on switches and is active denying certain passing lanes and contesting shots in his vicinity. His rotations are well-timed, again because his head is in constant motion, and his nose for the ball (especially on the boards) is exquisite.
There are few players more technically sound in this upcoming draft than Murray. He has the type of body that can fill out over the next few years to the point where he’s a “Brick Shit House” on the block. Couple that with his feel, touch, AND his versatility defensively, and it’s a lot easier to see why people are starting to come around on taking him higher than initially anticipated.
I’ve waited long enough in this piece to list off some of the numbers, as I wanted to focus more on my in-person notes rather than just recklessly dropping some eye-opening numbers without explanations as to why.
Nonetheless, Murray is averaging 22.8 PPG, 8.4 REB while shooting 57% from the floor and sporting a 38.8 PER and a 64.9% true shooting mark. Yes, even these numbers (let alone what he did at the start of the year) will make you fall out of your chair. That shock value was why I was hesitant to even include his stats in my writing at all.
Numbers aside, I was very skeptical about how an average athlete who lived on the interior and didn’t provide the type of creativity off the bounce I generally value would hold up as a top eight-ish pick in the NBA.
But after smacking myself in the face to pay better attention to detail, I see it. And I think NBA teams will too if they haven’t already.
Is Ochai Agbaji Being Undervalued?
It’s very fitting that I follow up a conversation around Murray in regards to “upside” with another player who may not have the highest of ceilings but who will also have a valuable floor in the league.
Agbaji has had a remarkable senior campaign (yes I’m talking about a senior in this column, we embrace age and experience at No Ceilings). Currently averaging 20.4 PPG while shooting 52.3% from the field and 45.8% from three on 6.7 attempts per game, Agbaji has been a flamethrower for Kansas, to put it mildly.
Over the last few years, Agbaji has been evaluated through the “3-and-D” lens for good reason. Struggling to capitalize on tough mid-range pull-ups, Agbaji hasn’t looked the part of a multi-faceted scorer in college. And to add to that point, in past seasons he hasn’t always been aggressive getting downhill and putting pressure on the rim either.
Now, that last point isn’t to say he’s not athletic. Agbaji is a potential fireworks display every time he sprints out in transition or cuts on the baseline. He’s a vertical lob threat on the wing and can make some energizing plays to turn the tide in a game. But in terms of halfcourt creation, he hasn’t shown the type of handle and craft to excel in situations off the bounce.
This year, however, has been a slightly different story. In Kansas’ first game in Madison Square Garden against Michigan State, Agbaji came roaring out of the gates firing on all cylinders from the perimeter. The jumper looked as sweet as ever from deep, but then he started to go a little deeper into his bag.
I specifically remember a move he made off a drive from the top of the key where he hit a behind-the-back crossover to keep his handle alive and get to the basket on a beautiful finish. Matter of fact, I wrote about that very move in an earlier column this year and how it opened my eyes a little to his case as a mid first-round pick.
Despite his known struggles on shots classified as “Medium” per Synergy Sports (5-for-21 on such looks), he still rates in the 96th (!!) percentile offensively. Agbaji currently ranks in the 90th percentile on spot-up shooting, 85th scoring out of pick-and-rolls as the ball handler, 82nd in transition, 98th on hand-offs, and 94th on cuts. He rates in the 75th percentile on all halfcourt jumpers and 96th finishing around the basket.
While there are some warts to his game that he hasn’t been able to get rid of in his time at Kansas, Agbaji is one of the more complete offensive players in this draft class purely in terms of shot-making. Combine that with his 6’5” size and length on the wing, plus athleticism, and safe defensive floor both on and off the ball, and that sounds like the type of prospect a team should target in the lottery.
That being said, that notion isn’t true for every evaluator out there. I’ve seen many boards across social media that have him in the 20s or even out into the 30s as a second-round talent.
I had The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie on the Draft Deeper Podcast this past week and when he conducted a lottery mock draft, he took Agbaji with the 12th pick—knowing I likely wasn’t targeting him that high given some of the other names still on the board.
His reasoning for doing so is that we’re overthinking it with a player as efficient and mature as Agbaji. While Agbaji and Chris Duarte aren’t the same player, and Duarte is still the better prospect in Vecenie’s eyes, the case was that you shouldn’t pass on this type of shot-maker at such a valuable position in today’s NBA.
To be honest, I’m slowly but surely coming around to that line of thinking. If you try and evaluate the majority of these prospects through a playoff lens, which players stand out as guys who could assuredly offer minutes in a postseason rotation sooner rather than later?
Anyone on the floor in the playoffs needs to be able to hit shots in multiple areas to some degree, and also defend their position while not offering a significant downgrade in that area if they’re switched onto someone else entirely.
Agbaji offers both of these in spades, so why isn’t he being thought of in that late lottery range?
Vecenie said he’s heard 10-20 more often than not for Agbaji’s range when talking to scouts and executives. Given the uncertainty some likely one-and-done candidates offer, I’m more inclined to accept the fact that Agbaji is a better prospect than I initially thought.
So yes, at this point he’s undervalued in my mind if he’s drafted outside of the top 20, and he is trending in the direction of a late lottery pick.
Shaedon Sharpe - New Top 10 Threat Emerges?
Kentucky’s Sharpe broke Twitter toward the end of the week when ESPN’s Jonathan Givony broke the news that he would be eligible for the 2022 NBA Draft after enrolling this Spring semester in Lexington.
From someone who knew the possibility of Sharpe being eligible and declaring for 2022, I still didn’t take the time to watch him and study up before the Givony bombshell.
That being said, I corrected that error over the weekend and did a dive on what makes Sharpe a potential lottery pick in this year’s draft should he declare (which is by no means a guarantee; we don’t even know at the time of writing this if he will play a game at Kentucky this semester).
Listed at 6’6”, the bouncy two-guard has made quite the wave on social media with his highlight finishes in transition and signs of pull-up shot-making that give the appeal of a guard you would be comfortable projecting as a future star.
After all, those are generally the traits that appeal to the “box office fans” and culture of what makes the NBA such a shareable product on the Internet today. Sharpe fits right in as someone who can make that one play that has you questioning just how high he could climb on draft night.
I see the one-foot leaping ability and speed in the open court and buy that he’s a great athlete. I’m not sure he has the burst and quick-twitch nature to his game to label him with the phrase “elite athlete” but he’s still a plus in that regard.
The shot creation looks good on film, as he has the comfort level to be inventive and try certain looks off the dribble. When he pulls up, he gets good elevation on his jumper and the mechanics check out. Sharpe definitely strikes me as more of a rhythm shooter, but guards who can work one-on-one matchups to their advantage and knock in tough shots are exactly what NBA teams want late in games.
Where I would LOVE to get a better feel from him, as far as any potential college tape, is his defensive intensity and passing ability.
I have questions about both from some of the high school film I was able to watch courtesy of our friends at InStat. Defensively, he has the tools to win defending on the ball, but he’ll make mistakes off the ball as the majority of young players often do. When he does make the read and play the passing lane, however, he’s electric in the open court and can finish vertically pushing himself or off a lob from a teammate.
Sharpe creating those advantages more often than not would go a long way to boosting his scoring numbers overall. Getting stops and running the floor is one of the best ways to generate easy offense, and this Kentucky team is excellent at doing so. Seeing Sharpe engaged defensively and helping to do his part in that regard would be great to see for his evaluation.
In regards to his passing, I haven’t seen many examples at the HS level to properly gauge his overall feel for the game in that aspect. I’ve seen some errant passes and poor decisions made on the break. I’m buying his ability to score out of PnR but playmaking in those situations seems to be a different story. I will say here that I don’t feel like I have enough information to properly judge that area of his game one way or the other.
There’s plenty he can prove by playing games at Kentucky, but if Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman is right in his feeling, then Sharpe could end up being a Top 10 pick even if he doesn’t suit up for one Wildcats contest. Should he risk playing poorly, showing some of those flaws that could be real issues, and seeing his stock drop? Has he already gained the trust of scouts to believe in what he’s already done and trust he’ll develop into a star to maintain his current stock?
Only time will tell as far as where he ends up being drafted should he declare. However, there’s definitely plenty of natural talent and ability there with Sharpe. I’m as intrigued as anyone else to keep a close eye on him.
More Draft Sleepers
Hyunjung Lee has been a popular name around No Ceilings for quite a while now, even ranking on both of our composite boards. I had yet to do a dive on the Davidson wing, but after doing so I’m very intrigued by what he could be in the NBA. Listed at 6’7”, the sharpshooter is currently averaging 16.2 PPG while maintaining 41.4% shooting from three on over 6 attempts per game. Lee doesn’t stand out with crazy athleticism or circus finishes around the basket, but his shooting profile makes him a potentially valuable player to teams across the league. Lee can work out of multiple play types off the ball, including cuts where he’s in the 100th percentile and arguably the best in the class at doing so. He also rates out in the 98th percentile on spot-ups and is one of the most consistent shooters off the catch in the country. Where I really get fascinated about his game is his passing. Lee makes some slick dimes from absurd angles in the halfcourt. Even though he’s not the type of dynamic on-ball playmaker that teams love to have running secondary offense on the wing, he’ll redirect passes as well as anyone else and has shown the ability to score and pass out of PnR at times too. My cohorts here have been smart to get on the train early. I’m on board and expect him to rise up more rankings as the process rolls along.
I’ve been on the Josh Minott express for quite a while now as the lead conductor, but his play of late has made the breakout quite enjoyable to watch. Is he the type of player who is nailing jumper after jumper to help Memphis pick up wins? No. In fact, that’s arguably the weakest part of his game. But that’s no reason to be down on Minott’s long-term future as a prospect. The jumper isn’t broken, and will likely improve over time as a few kinks are worked out of it. It’s what he offers elsewhere, though, that adds value to what his team does. As I talked about with Wasserman, Minott just makes winning plays. If his team needs him to make a play on the ball defensively, he does it. When the play breaks down, Minott is a heads-up cutter who can finish vertically on a lob or hammer it home off a put-back dunk. He can make easy reads off quick actions, moves without the ball, gets up and down in transition, and LOVES playing defense. He gets fired up every time he makes a play, and at 6’8” he has the size, length, and lateral mobility to switch and guard 1-4 on the floor. I’m not quite sure he fully knows what he’s capable of doing, and that’s what makes his ceiling so intriguing. Minott currently boasts a 21.2 PER and 6.2 BPM. He’s made an impact on the Tigers with the energy he brings on every single possession. I made the call preseason that I thought that he would be one to rise and eventually get drafted in the first round based on measurables and upside. I continue to believe in that sentiment wholeheartedly, and his play of late only adds to the buy-in.
Orlando Robinson has been a face-up nightmare for anyone who plays Fresno State this year. The 7’0” big man has been one of the hottest names in draft circles for good reason. While not viewed as a traditional big because of his perimeter nature, he still rates in the 83rd percentile on post-ups and the 86th percentile finishing around the basket. What’s even more impressive is his ability to catch in the post and turn and hit those easy, smooth jumpers along the baseline. He can catch at the elbows or on the wing, and either shoot or connect on a one or two dribble pull-up. His outside touch at his size gives him versatility few others have. Even when the defense puts him in a bind and tries to blitz him, he’s able to pass out and find the open man. When he’s on an island, he’s still more than happy to find someone who has a better shot, as he ranks in the 92nd percentile in isolations including passes. There are few players in the country with as efficient of an offensive profile as him, and when you factor in his defensive playmaking ability (2.6 combined steals and blocks per game) it’s easy to see why his name has emerged in the conversation for the 2022 draft. Robinson’s 33.5 PER and 13.6 BPM only add to his impressive statistical profile. I would keep an eye on the sophomore as he continues to gain steam.
5 Games To Watch This Week
1/25, 11pm EST: Arizona @ UCLA: One of the biggest games of the week will feature multiple draft prospects on both sides. Ben Mathurin has been at his best in the brightest moments, and he’ll look to capitalize along with Christian Koloko. Meanwhile, the Bruins still have Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez on their side with a wild card off the bench in Peyton Watson.
1/26, 9pm EST: NC State @ Notre Dame: This showdown features two guards who have seen their stocks soar this year in Dereon Seabron and Blake Wesley. We’re fans of both here at No Ceilings, with Wesley finding himself ranked as high as the late lottery on some major outlet boards. Seabron also has some fans pegging him as a first-round prospect.
1/27, 9pm EST: Purdue @ Iowa: The first of two huge games for Purdue this week features a matchup against Iowa and Murray. Jaden Ivey will need to be ready to capitalize on a weaker defensive backcourt, and Trevion Williams could be another key to the Boilermakers slowing down an Iowa squad that loves to gun and plays at one of the faster paces in the country.
1/29, 6pm EST: Kentucky @ Kansas: Arguably the game of the week in both the college and draft landscapes, both Kansas and Kentucky will want to get a win here. While it doesn’t have “massive” implications for prospects, meaningful performances for anyone involved could go a long way as there will likely be quite a number of NBA scouts on hand. TyTy Washington has shot up boards as one of the better lead guards in the class, while Agbaji and Christian Braun will look to hold steady at home.
1/30, 12pm EST: Ohio State @ Purdue: EJ Liddell and the Buckeyes could make quite the statement in a road win over Purdue. Liddell is absolutely the key to snagging a win due to his versatility in some lineups as a small-ball 5. Keep an eye on Malaki Branham, who has proven to be a sneaky good perimeter shot maker for Ohio State.