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2022 NBA Draft Analysis: Keegan Murray

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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 13 Big Ten Tournament - Iowa v Purdue Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After previously diving into all things Jaden Ivey, Mark and Caitlin are back with a fresh episode of “Stock up, Stock Down.” Breaking down a different prospect each week, the idea is for the hosts to watch a player, identifying reasons to be both bearish and bullish, with frame of reference from a few specific games as well as for the Pacers. Then, in zooming out with a broader focus, an invited draft expert reacts to the findings.

This week, they are joined by Ben Pfeiffer of Substack to talk Keegan Murray through the lens of Iowa’s games against Michigan, Ohio State, and Purdue.

Stock up

Caitlin’s pick: Completeness

Filling the void left behind by current Detroit Pistons big man Luka Garza, Keegan Murray was a souped-up jack of all trades for the Hawkeyes during his sophomore season in which he tripled his scoring average and barely turned the ball over despite how much he had it in his hands. As the nation’s leader in post-up efficiency, he logged over 100 possessions with his back to the basket but also recorded upwards of 70 possessions weaving around screens and 60 possessions dribbling from coast-to-coast as the transition ball-handler.

To put those benchmarks into context, Kevin Durant and DeMar DeRozan were the only two players in the NBA this season who dabbled to that degree in each of those play-types, which shouldn’t be taken to draw unfair (and inaccurate) comparisons between any of their games as much as to point out the rarity of possessing the mix of skills necessary to do all of those things all at once, at least on volume. Just look at this possession from Iowa’s win over Purdue in the Big Ten Championship and notice how Murray follows the path of the player for whom the stagger is set, thereby creating a stagger followed by a pindown.

The Pacers ran that same action for Justin Holiday a year ago under Nate Bjorkgren.

Granted, Murray doesn’t pose the same threat to swing out with speed after being sprung free, but he can dart into threes with variability, whether popping out as the first screener or flipping around to rise up off the second. What happens next, though, is where he differentiates himself as an interchangeable forward. In that regard, try to imagine Justin Holiday going from coming off that same screening action to running side-to-side action and diving to immediately seal into a post-up?

Moreover, doesn’t it almost feel banal to refer to what Murray did there as merely a post-up, when he’s more so hunting a jump-shot without sapping clock, already turning to face-up after extending to make the catch? That duality also exists in the reverse, as he can vacate the post to buzz into a three, of which he converted 39 percent on plenty of attempts.

That said, Indiana ranked 24th in post-up frequency under Rick Carlisle this past season, which brings to question how many reps Murray would actually get on the block as a 6-foot-8 combo forward. After all, Domantas Sabonis saw his post-ups slashed to under five per game prior to being traded after averaging 7.6 during his second All-Star season. Still, while the current construction of the offense doesn’t often involve many sets that intentionally require traditional post entry passes, Carlisle has been amenable to those who can dribble into methodical backdowns, as was the case with Luka and also attempted early with Sabonis, which could potentially mesh with Murray’s ability to twist and turn his way to the rack in addition to stopping on a dime and slicing into position off cuts.

Plus, even with some of the roster’s overt limitations in terms of strength and physicality, it wasn’t as if the Pacers never looked to attack the inside mismatch; some of those attempts just had a very loud tendency to turn into step-back twos or failures to establish advantage, whether with pound dribbles leading to nowhere or due to lack of early preparation.

Needless to say, the Pacers don’t currently have a big wing who can flex between shooting off movement and clearing space, let alone on the same possession.

Mark’s pick: Production & Little Things

I cheated and do not have a singular video clip here!

Keegan’s ability to extrapolate the boundaries of an offense really intrigue me; quick seals in transition, awesome timely cuts with great footwork, great work on the glass, ripping and running off misses. He does all the little things that make him an extremely valuable off-ball player who can play alongside and off of more dominant players in an offense.

Being big and knowing how to make the most of his length and size was a significant reason for his jump from bench player to National Player of the Year candidate.

I think of it kind of in that same vein as Oshae Brissett. He moves fairly well without the ball and knows how to flow in an offense, something that the Pacers could really use more of.

Stock Down

Caitlin’s pick: Half-court drives

The following back-to-back offensive possessions from Iowa’s win over Ohio State provide a window into why Murray projects to have a high floor as a technician but also potentially a limited ceiling when it comes to creating advantages off-the-bounce. On the first trip down the floor, watch what happens when the Hawkeyes run screens on each block for the wings to exchange sides with Murray flashing to the top of the key for a middle isolation.

While capable of putting the ball on the deck and manufacturing room to shoot, his drives can lack in burst and aren’t particularly shifty, especially when attempting to generate separation with his left. Consequently, he often either relies on spinning back (almost exclusively) to his right, which can become somewhat predictable; or, is limited to attacking in straight lines, which can lead to wide angle finishes or being leveraged into tough twos.

For that matter, think back to the opening possession against Purdue from the prior section and consider the difference if he had curled into a quick, downhill catch instead of coming out square to his defender. On the one hand, he immediately got to the next action, demonstrating his seamless versatility; however, on the other, with Zach Edey dropped way back playing centerfield and Jaden Ivey following the cutter with his back turned to the ball (a recurrent theme!), this is a clear opportunity for Murray to play-two man game, if he had the juice and comfortability to handle while reading the defense.

Still, look at what adjustment enabled him to shake loose on the next play in Columbus. This time, with the wings rejecting the screens, notice how he fakes the flash and cuts backdoor for the lob, beating his defender on the move as opposed to getting cut off or allowing his defender to get back in position.

It’s that type of connection, made possible by the set-up of his tactical smarts, which makes it seem as though landing with a team like the Pacers, where he could play skill-ball in partnership with Tyrese Haliburton while also perhaps being covered for by Myles Turner in terms of what he can surrender in spatial processing and ball-tracking when defending back-line, could be his ideal scenario. Whether he possesses enough upside as an athlete to conversely be as ideal for the Pacers, though, will likely depend on where they select.

Mark’s pick: Self-Creation

I really enjoy Keegan Murray in a vacuum and through the context of what he does with respect to team play. He’s adept at the little things offensively and impacting the game without needing the ball. Where I struggle a bit with Keegan’s draft stock is his actual shot creation upside. I think there’s room for improvement to be sure, but it’s really worth noting how limited he is with his handle currently, and I question how much that can improve.

Keegan is making the right moves here, doesn’t get the separation, flips the ball to his brother to reset and try again, but then gets stonewalled again.

I know that he finishes through contact here, and objectively it’s a nice basket. My issue is that these kind of looks happen with regularity and WHY they happen. He doesn’t have the handle or ability to dribble into and through tight spaces that would allow him to get to the rim routinely. He’s not particularly bursty or flexible.

As Caitlin notes in the pod, he constantly tries to shift back to that spin to his right, something teams started to scout and really sit down on. He does fantastic things with his shot versatility and secondary creation off of a bent or tilted defense, but expecting him to grow into a player who is capable of bending a defense himself is just not something I think is there barring some outlier improvement.

That bucket is here against Ohio State, but against more mobile defenders in the league it feels like a lot of these looks would turn into well contested 2’s or pickups because of nail help.

Here’s another quick example.

The ball goes in and it’s a clean shot from Keegan, but that lack of burst is jarring.

He has Coleman Hawkins completely turned on a closeout and can’t really garner any penetration even with that hard of a closeout. That’s problematic when gauging creation upside even as a secondary off-ball player. If he can’t find more juice on drives, his game will be very dependent on tough shots, which is a tough diet to thrive upon.

Other topics

  • Parsing some of Murray’s troubles as a rim protector and with off-ball awareness against averaging 3.2 steals plus blocks
  • The statistical excellence of posting a 29 percent usage rate while only committing 1.1 turnovers per game
  • Assessing Murray as a creator

Enjoy the pod and look forward to more of these episodes as the draft approaches. Also, if you haven’t already, please be sure to Rate and Review the Indy Cornrows Podcast on Apple Podcasts and subscribe anywhere else you can listen!

Apple: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/stock-up-stock-down-keegan-murray-with-ben-pfeifer/id1476566116?i=1000559738545

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/episode/05nOdWFkIqc2ltvhqBOKQh?si=pMyJIBONSAyK2mnV-FDYCA

Major thanks to Ben for joining, be sure to check out his Youtube channel: