“With the fifth pick in the draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves select… Jamal Murray from the University of Kentucky…”
Part of the rebuilding process is trying to find potential stars in the draft you can develop into maximizing their impact on the court. The biggest example of rebuilding through the draft is the Seattle SuperSonics/Oklahoma City Thunder grabbing Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and James Harden in three straight years of drafting. While the comparisons across the board aren’t perfect with whom the Minnesota Timberwolves have, adding a potential star to the recently acquired core of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach LaVine could make this foolproof.
Jamal Murray out of Kentucky may be that guy with the highest star potential. He’s 6-foot-4, 207 lbs combo guard with a 6-foot-6.5 wingspan. He’s not just a product of the Kentucky One-and-Done program, but he’s also a key cornerstone of the Canadian National Team. He’s projected to go anywhere from 3rd to 8th in this draft. Rivals ranked him as the 9th best player in his high school class. 247Sports had him ranked 10th.
The issue with Murray is he may not have a true position at the NBA level. The solution with Murray is he may be so good at basketball that it doesn’t matter where you put him on the court, as long as he’s out there. Let’s check out some of the troubles with Murray at the next level and then get into what could make him such a great pickup for the Wolves:
“Bad” Stuff: That position-less guard thing can be a bit troubling at the next level
Jamal Murray isn’t really a point guard and he’s kind of a shooting guard. He doesn’t have great size and length to be a shooting guard at the NBA level, but the skill set might make up for it. The important thing to note is despite being the fifth pick in the draft if he goes to the Wolves, they don’t HAVE to get a starter with this pick. They just need a guy who works in the rotation. And I think Murray, whether he’s a starting shooting guard or the first guard backing up Ricky Rubio and Zach LaVine, can be a star in that role.
However, being in-between with positions can be tough and I do think it’s a concern for the NBA level. His numbers creating for others in the pick-and-roll aren’t great, but a lot of that could have been the environment he played in. Personally, I don’t think John Calipari’s offensive system does his guards a ton of favors. It’s pretty basic and to really benefit the creators on the floor, it needs shooters. Coach Cal brings in elite athletes to dominate defensively and that works quite a bit. But Murray and Derek Willis were the only shooters on this team (Tyler Ulis was decent but not a real threat).
Murray manufactured 0.731 points per possession on passes in the pick-and-roll His teammates made just 36% from the field and he turned the ball over 14.9% of the time. None of these are awful numbers, especially because while Murray’s passing could be crisper (find that shooting pocket of his teammate), he also needs his teammates to finish those opportunities. For himself, he created 0.855 PPP as a PnR scorer, which is in the 73rd percentile. That’s not bad. He shot 37.7% in these situations. That’s not great. I’d say some of this is just a product of the college game having poor spacing and getting into tight spots.
It’s not like Murray is Austin Rivers out there but he’s also not a lead guard of James Harden’s quality with this stuff either. There’s nothing wrong with being in the middle either. The comparison people are throwing around is CJ McCollum, but I don’t think he has the handle to be as effective as McCollum is as a combo guard playing the 2. Doesn’t mean he can’t be that good but McCollum’s handle is absurd and Murray’s is fine but not nearly as good.
If he can’t be a good offensive option as a combo guard and his defense is questionable for both positions, that can get tricky. The good news with this “criticism” is Tom Thibodeau is very good with point guards. He could fix a lot of the things that could hold Murray back at the position and make this entire section of subjective criticism look asinine (or more so than it already does).
Bad Stuff: Is he big and athletic enough to defend at the NBA level?
Murray wasn’t a bad defender at the college level. He did well on closing out on spot-up shooters, he’s solid in help-and-recovery, and he did a pretty decent job in isolation. Doing all of these things, especially without a great wingspan, at the NBA level is going to be an enormous challenge. For a guy who is 6-foot-4, you want that wingspan to be at minimum two to three inches longer than what it currently is. While you can do a lot of work with your feet in moving into position, the opposing player has to feel like you have a chance of bothering their shot in order to affect it.
There are also some basic positioning issues Murray has in pick-and-roll coverage that can be exploited big time in the NBA. He loops around screens when he’s not getting caught up in them, and he takes a ton of bad angles in trying to stay in front of or cut off the PnR initiator. Some of these issues are communication problems with the helping big man, but a lot of these are just poor decisions he takes and can’t make up for with his short wingspan.
When he’s not taking bad angles trying to get around screens, he’s getting caught up on picks and not being able to fight through them. You just can’t have so little resistance in deterring the ideal path of the ball handler. Some of this is one the helping big man, but getting caught up on screens puts him in a terrible position to help. This is Ricky Rubio’s biggest flaw defensively. He can do everything out there, but getting caught on screens is still an issue for him (although not as much as it used to be).
If you have two guards on the floor that can’t navigate these screens properly, how much does that kill your defense?
Thibs may be able to fix this or his system may make this less of a problem, but it’s certainly a concern. Opposing teams are going to throw him into a thousand PnR situations and it’s going to force him to sink or swim as a defender. The physical attributes may not be there to make up for it, so his mental approach has to be pristine.
Bad Stuff: He’s kind of mediocre in transition
Jamal Murray is good around the rim. He has some explosiveness in his jump. He can be fast and he’s very good at changing speeds. So why is he so mediocre in transition? Transition possessions account for about 19% of his possessions this season. He scores 1.106 PPP in transition (62nd percentile), makes 49.5% of his shots, and is just 31.9% on 3-pointers in transition. Part of the problem is nearly half of his shot attempts were 3-pointers in transition, and he shot them really poorly.
When he’s just attacking the basket, he’s generally pretty good. He made 64.2% of his 2-point attempts in transition. But he was awful as a trailer on the play (1-of-12), which isn’t a big sample size but shows his struggles in shooting the ball in transition. It’s an odd flaw for him to have because he looks pretty good stepping into 3-point shots. Footwork is really good on that type of stuff. He just couldn’t shoot on the break.
I would think a shooter of his caliber will find a way to eventually knock those down, but until he shows it at the NBA level, it’s a concern. These are supposed to be the easiest opportunities for him and he’s failing to make it an elite part of his game, unlike what someone like Buddy Hield (granted much older) is able to offer.
Bad Stuff: Can’t shoot off the dribble all that well
Murray really struggled shooting off the dribble in his one year at Kentucky. He made 31.7% of his shots and was just 25% on pull-up 3-pointers. It’s surprising that a guy with his shooting stroke would struggle so much in this department because it seems like he has a solid feel for the game. Some of his footwork and decisions to free himself up from the defense just became counterproductive to what he was trying to accomplish.
The biggest issue for Murray shooting off the dribble, as is with most shooters, was his balance. There were a lot of possessions in which he either didn’t understand the space he had created and felt he needed to contort his body to get the shot off or he just stumbled into the shot and didn’t feel there was another option other than shoot the ball.
You can see that on a few of these shots, he doesn’t seem to have much lift once he’s planted and looking to elevate for the shot. That’s pretty much all footwork when that happens. He’s either pulling up at the wrong time when his legs are far apart or he’s simply not planting hard enough as the bottom of his shoes skid a bit. And when he’s fading — whether it’s to the side or back or just kicking his legs out — he doesn’t have the balance in his shot. He’s also squaring away from the basket when he’s normally squaring up so well.
You can see here a couple examples of what it looks like when he has the proper form on the pull-up jumper and the noise working against his shot release is eliminated.
As with most prospects, a lot of this stuff is correctable. It could simply be a manner of building a stronger core or a better base on the shot. He just has to drastically improve that 0.731 PPP (46th percentile) on pull-up jumpers if it’s going to be an option for him being run off the 3-point line or creating a jumper for himself in the pick-and-roll.
Let’s get to the good, fun stuff with Murray:
Good Stuff: This guy can flat-out shoot
Oooooooooooooooooooh man, can this kid shoot the ball. I’m not quite as excited about his shooting ability right off the bat like I am with Buddy Hield, but he’s got the chance to grow into that level of shooter, considering he’s younger and not that far away from it in the first place. Where Murray excels the most is shooting coming off of screens. His numbers are insane when he’s coming off a screen.
Murray put up 1.506 points per possessions on off-screen possessions. That’s in the 98th percentile. The only other player with as many possessions as Murray coming off of screens is Alec Kobre of Pacific (1.511 PPP). Nobody else comes close to putting up this production. Murray shoots 56% from the field coming off screens and 56.6% from deep. That’s an effective field goal percentage of 78.7% coming off screens. What the what?
His footwork coming around screens is stupid good and he squares up as he goes into his shot beautifully. Almost no wasted motion, quick release, and tons of balance despite being on the move.
The beauty of Murray’s off-ball game is not just what he’s able to do with the ball when he comes off the screen, but how he navigates the screens in the first place. He’s so good at moving without the ball, setting up the defender with fakes and tight angles, and making sure they’re lost and the defense is compromised by the time he’s getting the ball.
Even if they do a decent job of staying with him, fly-bys from the defender don’t affect his shot. Either you can block it or he can release the attempt without worry. He shoots a bit better going off his left than his right, but he’s deadly at both.
Murray is stellar at just straight spot-up opportunities too. He scored 1.099 PPP on spot-ups (84th percentile) by shooting 43.5% from the field and 43.8% from deep. His eFG on spot-up shots was 59.2%. When his feet get set, it’s automatic. The release is quick, the balance is there, and he’s stepping into the shot with confidence.
It’s why I love the idea of him playing off the ball rather than his work with Canada on the ball because having guys like Karl-Anthony Towns and Ricky Rubio setting him up for jumpers feels perfect.
Murray is pretty smart at knowing when to break off the move to the outside and instead find his way inside the arc. If you overplay him, it won’t stop him from getting a quality look coming off the screen. Sure, you’re finding a way to prevent him from hitting a 3-pointer on you, but you’re also still giving up a great look on a jumper for him. The mid-range game is sacrilegious at this point, but he finds good ways to still use it.
While I think Hield is the best shooter in this draft right now, I think Murray’s comfort with shooting at just 19 years old (turns 20 in February) is kind of Devin Booker-esque.
Good Stuff: His in-between game is really nice
Murray is one of the rare guys in this draft class who can literally score from anywhere on the floor. He’s great at shooting from distance. He’s great at shooting mid-range jumpers, and he’s really good at attacking the basket and finishing. He also has that in-between game where he can snap off a drive before he gets into trouble and hit a runner or a floater against the defense.
He has great touch on these shots. He made 40.9% of his runners at Kentucky and scored 0.841 PPP (69th percentile). Most of his success with these runners comes when he’s operating in the pick-and-roll. He has a great knack for getting in-between the defender and the help defense to have plenty of space to release a good look.
So great job if you’ve run him off the 3-point line, tracked him to not allow the mid-range pull-up, and walled off the rim from his dribble penetration. He’s still hitting a floater on you.
Good Stuff: He’s fearless going to the rack, which should only get better
While length and at times athleticism can be questioned with Murray, his craftiness around the basket and finishing ability can’t. He’s phenomenal around the basket, converting 59.5% of his shots. He scored 1.284 PPP on shots around the basket, which puts him in the 83rd percentile.
The reason he’s so good is he’s savvy at finding the right angles to get around the defender while avoiding the help defense. He can finish really well with either hand, so you can’t force him to one side of the basket and wait for a lack of versatility to take over. He’s already too skilled for that. As you’ll see in a couple plays in the video, he’s got great hang time as he waits for the defender to land or fade off to the side. His body control isn’t Kyrie Irving but it’s really good.
And if you’ve made it this far with me on this, I invited you to enjoy this baptism that Murray unleashed on South Carolina. Good on you for not giving up when you’re down 32 but live to defend another day.
I’m still a bit worried about the quickness and handle getting him into these quality shots at the NBA level, but he’s also really smart and affects the game with his change of pace. As long as you have to respect his shot, he should be able to counter by going to the rim.
Good Stuff: His personality is the right fit for this team
We started with some very subjective skepticism about his position, so I want to end with some subjective praise. From a personality and work ethic standpoint, there aren’t many better players than Jamal Murray in this draft. We know he has a connection with Andrew Wiggins from the Canadian basketball world. He also has the Kentucky connection with Towns.
He seems to have the work ethic and drive to match these guys as well. That’s an important part of the culture the Wolves need to keep building. Their young guys love to work. KAT lives in the gym. LaVine lives in the gym. Wiggins works his ass off. Rubio loves to work. Shabazz Muhammad is workout obsessed. Adding a guy like Murray just strengthens that team mentality these young guys have. Not to mention, he wants to be in Minnesota, according to Calipari.
Cal on Murray's mind going into NBA Draft: "Jamal loves Minnesota. As a matter of fact, that's where he'd like to go."
— Jerry Tipton (@JerryTipton) June 21, 2016
He’s going to be a good player in this league. He has the chance to be a great player if a good program with good teaching and development personnel take him. That could definitely be Thibs and the Wolves, and I think if he’s on the board, you have to take him fifth.