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Trey Murphy showed out in preseason, could a run at Most Improved Player Award be in store?

The stats are nearly identical to one year ago, but Trigga is a much improved player

NBA: Preseason-Detroit Pistons at New Orleans Pelicans Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Trey Murphy led the New Orleans Pelicans in scoring last preseason at 17.5 points per game, knocking down an impressive 4.3 three-pointers at a hot-shooting 53.1% clip.

Fast forward to this preseason, Murphy was at it again. He finished behind only Brandon Ingram at 15.0 points per game, making an average of 3.5 three-pointers on 56.0% shooting.

While it’s not obvious on its face, there’s a striking difference between the two preseasons and it should have been discernible to onlookers over the last few weeks. Murphy appears much more prepared for the upcoming regular season than he was as a fresh-faced rookie because his game is more well-rounded and echoes good decision-making.

A great deal of Murphy’s scoring came on catch-and-shoots for much of last season. There was absolutely no comfort level with putting the ball on the ground, and when his airspace was crowded by a defender, he often looked to get rid of the ball quickly without discerning if a play leading directly to points could be made first.

Now he’s showing an ability to seize opportunities when they present themselves.

This was Murphy’s first points of the preseason. While he’s not ready to torch defenses repeatedly off the bounce yet, opponents cannot simply stand on top of him when he has the ball. Otherwise, he’s liable to take it to the rack.

Or hit a pull-up from somewhere.

Then there’s the prolific perimeter shooting. As his teammates have boasted several times already, Murphy’s range on his 3-ball has extended significantly.

“In all honestly, I probably shoot better from farther out,” Murphy said after Friday’s win over the Hawks. “I’ve been doing that since Virginia or Rice, but I didn’t do it last year because I don’t think Coach Green was too comfortable with it. Now I’ve hit a few.”

Murphy has never lacked confidence, but now he has the coaching staff’s full blessing. In fact, it’s mandatory that he let it fly whenever he has a sliver of space to get a shot off.

“I just want him shooting,” Willie Green said the preseason win over the Detroit Pistons. “When he’s open and the ball touches his hand and there’s a little bit of daylight, he should be locked and loaded.”

Lastly, Murphy has shown greater understanding of how important it is to stay on the move without the ball. Finding the seams of opposing defenses to get off clean looks for his deadly jumper will be a priority with CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson commanding so many touches.

Doug McDermott did a lot of chasing on just a single possession, and Murphy eventually shook free for a wide open look.

Perhaps this instance was payback stemming from a game last season against the San Antonio Spurs, but it should also be noted that Murphy didn’t show any glaring defensive struggles throughout this preseason. His awareness is much, much improved.

Going back to a particular contest last December, for example, Murphy lost sight of McDermott on nearly back-to-back possessions in San Antonio.

Have a look at Murphy’s level of defensive awareness against the Miami Heat last week.

Murphy’s defensive rotations have appeared textbook on a number of occasions. He wasn’t thinking out there during this preseason — he was reacting.

By being in all the right positions with Herb Jones on this possession against the Atlanta Hawks, he put himself in a premium spot to grab the easy steal.

Not only did Murphy react well and decisively, he was also aggressive when the situation warranted a gamble. The following steal of Aaron Holiday perfectly encapsulates a more determined defensive mentality.

Murphy utilized his length and speed to his advantage, fighting hard over a screen to knock the ball away from behind. A near 6’10 wing poking the ball away from a point guard like that isn’t a common event, folks.

To be honest, it’s shocking that Murphy isn’t listed on the DraftKings line for Most Improved. Zion Williamson is there. So too is Herb Jones, Jose Alvarado, Jaxson Hayes and CJ McCollum.

But no Trey.

If Trey Murphy’s preseason play carries over to the regular season — which I think it will, and he receives a healthy dose of minutes — which I think he will, it’s going to look awfully silly in hindsight to not have even written in the name of a second-year man possessing a lot of ability, confidence and IQ with a sizable role.

Go show ‘em what you’re made of, Trigga.

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