With March Madness marching on and the Portland Trail Blazers scouting the best college players in the country to potentially join the squad next season, we spoke to Black Heart Gold Pants writer managing editor Harrison Starr about Iowa Hawkeyes standout Keegan Murray.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter @HD_starr
Thank you Harrison for participating in our Q&A.
1. The Blazers hold at least one mid-lottery pick and might have a second one if New Orleans’ conveys this season. Is that where you believe Keegan Murray should go in this upcoming draft?
It really caught my eye when a lot of initial draft boards had him as a top 3-5 returning player and a potential first rounder. Those types of players don’t come through Iowa CIty that often. The questions then - which he’s passed in flying colors - was whether he could be a #1 option on a college basketball team.
Now he’s basically a consensus lottery pick and in Sam Vecenie’s recent Big Board, he mentioned “Murray vs. Banchero” conversations going on in NBA circles. But he doesn’t have the same height, age, or handles of Banchero so being below him, specifically, does make sense.
He also doesn’t necessarily blow people away with his athleticism with how easy he makes everything look. How he tests at the combine could push him into that upper tier but 6-14 makes sense considering just how high a floor he plays with irrespective of how well the rest of his game may translate.
2. Murray went from a role player in his freshman year to averaging over 23 PPG in his sophomore year? How has he been able to make such a stark progression in his second season at Iowa?
I think Murray’s ascension is mainly attributable to his work ethic and belief in himself. A recent profile really hammered that home. On a broadcast earlier this year, his father Kenyon mentioned a doctor’s visit where the Murrays were told they still had plenty of growing to do. That information combined with the lack of D-1 offers (only Western Illinois) sent the twins to prep school where they could focus exclusively on basketball due to already graduating from high school.
He came to Iowa with a veteran group ahead of him and identified the gaps the 2020-21 team needed to make an impact. With Luka Garza & Joe Wieskamp headlining a returning core about 8 deep, it wasn’t scoring that team needed but defense & rebounding. He filled those gaps really well and his efficiency numbers were off the charts. When backup center Jack Nunge went down with a knee injury, he slid to the 5 when Garza wasn’t on the court.
In other words, he probably could have done more last year but didn’t need to by virtue of his role.
This year, though, he’s shown so much more than I think any Hawkeye fan could have dreamed. But Fran saw what he was capable of, and really built the offense around Keegan’s skills as a nightly mismatch. Throw a true power forward/center on him and he can break them down or shoot over the top. Smaller guy? Post up. He’ll snag a rebound and take it the distance. For the first 8-10 games, it seemed like he did something completely new every night.
Perhaps what makes him so dangerous (and enticing to NBA teams) is Fran does not really need to run plays for him to be effective. He had a 23 point game where he shot 9 times and 30 point game where he shot 14. He does that while not having any dropoff defensively and is capable guarding 1-5.
3. What will Murray’s biggest weakness be on the NBA level?
For Keegan Murray to be a star, he’ll probably have two things he needs to improve upon. The first is probably his handle as a creator for himself and others. He can get a little loose with it which allows defenders to recover pretty well, even though he does not turn it over. He’ll also have to match the physicality of the game. Recently, Rapheal Davis said the best way to guard him was with a tough guard/wing type and the numbers bear that out. His least efficient games have come against Illinois and Rutgers-types.
I also do wonder a bit if he’s a tweener, at 6’8”, if his 3-point percentage (currently 39%) does not translate. Is he a forward or center? He makes up for it with effort and wingspan, especially as a help defender, but where you play him is something I could see crop up.
4. If everything goes right, what is Murray’s ceiling in the NBA?
The one announcers have made during games is Grant Hill, considering they have similar size and effortless athleticism. Where Keegan is a little better scorer in college, Hill was a better creator for others. It makes sense.
I’m stealing this comp from fellow Hawkeye blogger, Thad Nelson, but Jayson Tatum. They both had that three-level scoring out of college, though Tatum’s pedigree supersedes Murray’s. I think Murray will give a little more as a defender immediately.
5. What do you think is Murray’s likeliest career trajectory in the NBA? Is there an NBA player he reminds you of?
Montrezl Harrell is someone who immediately sticks out as a contributor to past playoff teams without being a night in, night out starter. He’ll bring consistent energy and rebounding without needing the ball.
I’m not sure that’s what you want to hear when drafting in the lottery but Murray is a guy who’s going to bring it every night, be low maintenance on and off the court, and do the little things which helps teams win.