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Kris Murray Starting to Show First-Round Promise

The leftie has seen an uptick in opportunity lately. And he’s grabbing it with both hands.

Portland Trail Blazers v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Joshua Gateley/Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers surprised a lot of people by actually using the first round pick they received from the New York Knicks in the 2023 NBA Draft. With the 23rd selection, the Blazers took Kris Murray out of Iowa.

In the days leading up to the draft, rumors suggested General Manager Joe Cronin was working to deal one or both of the 3rd and 23rd picks in exchange for a veteran to placate Damian Lillard, an 11th-hour attempt to convince the Blazers legend to stay in Portland for the rest of his career.

When Cronin took Scoot Henderson at three, the ridiculously optimistic still held out hope that pick 23 would be used in a prudent and game-changing trade to help Lillard contend.

The moment came and Adam Silver announced Portland was selecting Murray with no hint of a subsequent trade in the offing. Blazers fans began preparing themselves for life without their then seven-time All Star and a new era with Henderson, with heavy doses of Murray and a youth brigade to be finalized once Lillard was traded.

Blazers fans who hadn’t seen Murray play at least had some point of reference. His twin brother Keegan had just come off an impressive rookie season with the Sacramento Kings — finishing fifth in Rookie of the Year voting — after being selected with the fourth pick in 2022.

Keegan’s drafting also paved the way for Kris to shine at Iowa, where he increased his output exponentially between the 2021-22 and 2022-23 college seasons. His stats rose from 9.7 to 20.2 points, from 4.3 to 7.9 rebounds and 1.1 to 2.0 assists with his minutes rising from 17.9 to 34.9.

By the time he arrived in Portland, Kris’ four years of post high school play (one year at DME Academy and three at Iowa) had helped him refine a skillset tailor-made for the NBA.

Style of Play

Murray is tweener forward who projects as an above-average three-point shooter. Standing almost 6’9 with a 6’11 wingspan, Murray was initially compared to his brother and Brooklyn Nets forward Dorian Finney-Smith.

What has been pleasantly surprising has been his inclination to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim, suggesting he’s more than just a 3 and D proposition. Murray also has natural instincts when it comes to moving without the ball, executing several expertly timed back cuts this season.

He’s more agile than most players his size, which is a clear coup for the Blazers who need versatile size to guard premier forwards, many of whom call the Western Conference home.

If the rookie Blazer can get anywhere near Finney-Smith’s level of defense, i.e. guarding positions one-through-four, he’s going to have a nice long career.

Murray’s extra pre-NBA seasoning at Iowa also established him as higher floor, lower ceiling prospect. We know his strengths and weaknesses, the development is done, which probably explains why he wasn’t a lottery selection. Now it’s time to polish and get him up to speed and make sure he belongs in the world’s premier league.

The Season

Murray hasn’t taken the court much this week and may have had his worst outing of the season last night against the San Antonio Spurs. But the young forward has been called upon to play real minutes with injuries over the past two months and has had impressive stretches. Most notably, he recorded a career-high 13 points on 3 of 6 from three, to go with 1 board, 3 assists and 3 steals in 37 minutes against the Phoenix Suns on January 14.

He’s played 27 games, averaging 3.6 points, 1.8 rebounds, 0.8 steal and 0.6 assists in 12.3 minutes. Among forwards, he sits third in steal rate, pinching 2.5 percent of opposing team plays. He’ shooting 41.2 percent from three, not including heaves, which is good enough for 15th. He’s also shooting 50 percent from midrange, 11th among forwards.

Murray has the time, and probably the leeway, to make the mistakes he needs on a re-building Blazers team lacking any real depth at the two forward positions. If Jerami Grant is traded before the February 8 trade deadline, I’d expect to see Murray move into the regular rotation, perhaps earning a start here and there.

Twinning

Right-handed Keegan is now considered one of the brightest emerging forwards in the NBA. The sophomore performer is being discussed as the Kings’ third potential star next to De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis. Keegan is putting up 16.0 points, shooting 36.7 percent from three on 6.6 attempts a game, 5.6 boards, 1.6 assists and 1.2 steals in 32.9 minutes.

Left-handed Kris isn’t having the same rookie season his twin enjoyed. A lot of it has to do with opportunity. Murray started 78 of his 80 games his rookie season after being taken with the fourth overall pick.

Keegan is clearly the more talented offensive option of the pair, and that’s fine. Kris still has every chance to establish himself as valuable role player if he’s able to perform on both sides of the ball.

Conclusion

Kris Murray is not his twin and may never be able to maintain a starting role, but the mature rookie has already shown he can do a little bit of everything. If he can put more meat on his bones and lock in as multi-positional defender, he has the size and skill to contribute.

Murray was taken with the 23rd pick in June, not because of what he could be one day but what he can already do. It probably doesn’t hurt that his twin brother took the NBA by storm 12 months earlier. But Portland’s Murray has the opportunity to carve out his own career as a do-all-things offensive player with a natural knack for stopping opponents on the other end.