Anthony Davis needs help. Finding a star with the New Orleans Pelicans first round pick would do wonders for the direction of this franchise. Will the Pelicans be willing to wait for that star to blossom? Jamal Murrray is just such a prospect with the potential to bloom or fail miserably depending on which team drafts him.
Jamal Murray was expected to be a combo guard coming into Kentucky after a superb showing in the Pan-Am Games last summer. Murray played point for the Canadian team and poured in 22 points and 6 assists against Team USA in a 111-108 Canadian victory. Thanks to the emergence of SEC Player of the Year Tyler Ulis instead Murray slowly evolved into a deadly off-ball threat for the Wildcats.
On January 2nd, before SEC league play began, Murray was averaging 16.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.8 assists through 12 games. Murray was shooting an impressive 39% behind the arc and a less than spectacular 41.3% closer to the rim. Once league play started, however, is when Murray really took off.
In the next 24 games Murray averaged 21.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.9 assists functioning almost solely as a shooting guard. Even more impressive, his shooting behind the arc improved to 41.5% and he made significant strides closer to the basket as well converting 54.6% of 2-point attempts. Among collegiate guards projected within the top 20 picks Murray's 65.5% at the rim leads the class despite concerns of limited athleticism and length.
South Carolina's Justin McKie learned first hand just how limited Murray's athleticism is the hard way.
Murray was projected to be a combo guard coming into the season for Kentucky. Thanks to the emergence of Tyler Ulis at point and Murray's own versatility that role changed dramatically. To some, this lack of demonstration of ball skills in Kentucky's offense is viewed as the absence of such skills. However,
Jamal Murray: 5th freshman in last 10 years to score at least 20 PPG and shoot better than 40% from the 3-pt line: pic.twitter.com/9lXqflcYkC— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 1, 2016
Murray is not a typical collegiate freshman. Just this time last year he elected to reclassify into the 2015 recruiting class, he should still be in high school. He dominated the 2015 Nike Hoop Summit posting an impressive 30 points and 5 assists while earning MVP honors. Just days later he scored 29 points with 10 assists and 8 rebounds in the BioSteel All-Canadian Game.
While Jamal Murray is three full years younger than Buddy Hield and Kris Dunn he has experience, thanks to his time with the Canadian team, far beyond his age. That big win against Team USA in overtime mentioned earlier? Murray scored all 22 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. Willingness to take big shots carried over into his collegiate career. Here, he ices the SEC Tournament Championship in overtime. Sorry Aggies.
Potential oozes from Jamal Murray. On defense? Well, he just kind of oozes. First, there is an issue of shrinkage. Oftentimes defensive potential is discussed with a heavy emphasis on physical tools, especially with prospects as young as Murray. Checking out his measurement history on Draft Express raises serious questions. Let's compare his first measurement (2014 Hoop Summit) to Kentucky's own combine.
|2014 Hoop Summit||6'4.5"||195||6'8"||8'4.5"||N/A|
|2015 Kentucky Combine||6'4.25"||207||6'6.5"||8'1"||39.5"|
In April 2014, having turned 17 just a couple months previously, Murray measured out with just slightly below average length and height for a typical NBA shooting guard. Excellent (90th percentile) for a point guard. There's defensive potential in those measurements for scouts to project. Just 18 months later Murray put on some more weight but his arms shrunk?
However, beyond these measurements there is the eye test, and scouts agree it was quite unkind to Murray on the defensive end. Kevin O'Conner had a very specific niche where he believed Murray could be a successful starting shooting guard.
Despite his shooting prowess, Murray doesn't necessarily project as a starter because of his lack of athleticism and lateral quickness. He's better off as a sixth man that feasts on bench units. If he starts, he will be best suited for a team with a lockdown defensive point guard, someone like Patrick Beverley, Ricky Rubio or Kyle Lowry. That way, he can space the floor, play off the point guard's playmaking and have his defensive shortcomings alleviated.
Jrue Holiday, would you please stand up.
New Orleans could prove the perfect environment for Murray to develop into an able third banana. Whirring around screens off the ball to create his own scoring opportunities or simply as a diversion to give Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis room to operate on an uncluttered floor. Will the Pelicans demonstrate patience by picking a player with development needed? You're not alone in your skepticism.
If the Pelicans fail to get lucky in the lottery they may be faced with a choice. Immediacy with Buddy Hield? A higher ceiling with Jamal Murray? Given the tenor of this franchise we all know how we should bet. Maybe this time New Orleans will zag instead of zigging.