Shaw’s Sleepers: Is Iowa’s Keegan Murray a sure bet to surge up NBA Draft boards?

With the national player of the year gone from Iowa City, Keegan Murray is poised to be the Hawkeyes’ next star.

When you look at Iowa sophomore Keegan Murray’s numbers, you see a 6-8, 215-pound freshman who averaged a modest 7.2 points and 5.1 rebounds in four starts last season. Going back a bit further, Murray also was not among the Rivals.com 2020 rankings as recruit. So why would Keegan Murray be worth noting as a breakout draft prospect?

Well, as is often the case, the evidence lies in the analytics and the deep dive. Let’s take a look at why Keegan Murray has a clear path to the first round of the 2022 NBA Draft.

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First off, let’s get the particulars out of the way. Murray is a 20-year-old who will turn 21 in August and is currently a sophomore at the University of Iowa. Murray graduated from Prairie (Iowa) High School and did a post-grad year at Daytona Beach (Fla.) DME Academy prior to enrolling at Iowa. Murray’s dad, Kenyon, was a 1992 Parade High School All-American and put together a solid career at Iowa from 1993 to 1996, ranking third on the Hawkeyes’ all-time steals list.

Now, the younger Murray is starting to make his own legacy.

Evaluating Murray on defense

The defensive numbers and physical profile are what stick out most for Murray. Standing at 6-8, Murray wields a 6-11 wingspan, and when you take a look at his natural timing and the way he moves, you can see why the NBA talk is a safe bet to start materializing soon. Murray finished ranked eighth in blocked shots among Div.-I freshmen last season, a number which moves to second-best when looking at players who played less than 20 minutes per game. With the way NBA teams draft now, players who have similar physical profiles as Murray with a defensive-minded archetype — think Franz Wagner, Precious Achuiwa and Usman Garuba — are typically picked in the first round.

Evaluating Murray on offense

This season will go a long way in helping evaluators understand what type of offensive player Murray will be in the future. He will be looked upon to tote the load that was vacated when three of Iowa’s starters — Luka Garza (draft), Joe Wieskamp (draft) and CJ Frederick (transfer) — left the program. The main goal for Murray will be raising his 29.7 percent shooting from three; however, on the eye test, his shooting form does not look bad. Murray shot 75.5 percent from the free-throw line, so improvements in his 3-point shooting are not far-fetched.

The eye test on Murray

Murray has some wiggle in his ball skills; he is able to attack the rim off the bounce from multiple areas on the floor. He is also an efficient and purposeful cutter off the ball. More touches and opportunities this season will provide some valuable information to scouts in regard to Murray’s eventual position in the NBA. Right now, he is looking like a switchable defensive wing who will play the 4 on offense. Ideally, you would like to see if Murray can transition to be more of a 3-and-D type wing as the baseline. He moves well enough and the shooting touch is there, so if he can continue to progress toward that prototype, it would do wonders for his draft stock.

Murray by the numbers

Combining offensive and defensive indicators from last season, he was one of only five players to score over 200 points, block over 35 shots, make over 15 threes and snag over 25 steals. A pair of 2021 draft picks, Aaron Henry and Herb Jones, joined Murray on that list, but Murray was the only freshman. He has a unique game, and there are certain things that pop with his play that indicate more is coming from him as he continues to develop.

Perhaps most impressively, Keegan Murray was also one of two freshmen last season to have an offensive rating above 122, a defensive rating below 96 and a usage percentage above 18. The other player on that list was Evan Mobley, the No. 3 overall pick this year from USC. Other freshmen who had similar seasons over the past 15 years are a Who’s Who of draft picks, including Zion Williamson, Anthony Davis, Bam Adebayo, Zach Collins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Zhaire Smith, Jonathan Isaac, Onyeka Okongwu and Pascal Siakam.

Perhaps at first glance, Murray does not pop off the page as an NBA prospect. However, as you fire up the Synergy clips and dig a little deeper into his statistical profile, you see the makings of what could be a quick surge up NBA Draft boards, especially if things break the right way this season.

Header image courtesy of Keegan Murray on Instagram (_keeganmurray).



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