25-under-25: Keegan Murray is just scratching the surface of his potential

Keegan Murray is ranked No. 17 on our list of the best young players in the NBA. He was one of the best rookie shooters in NBA history. This year he may get to show everything else he can do.

Sacramento Kings Media Day
Sacramento Kings Media Day / Lachlan Cunningham/GettyImages

Keegan Murray ranked No. 18 on The Step Back's 2023-24 25-under-25, ranking the best young players in the NBA. Check out the rest of the list here.

I will admit I let my imagination get away from me a bit with Keegan Murray's pre-draft scouting reports.

I was excited about the idea of the Pacers landing him and so I spent a lot of time mentally molding him into the biggest hole on their roster — a 4 with the defensive versatility to help anchor things next to Myles Turner and the offensive flexibility to blossom alongside Tyrese Haliburton, spacing the floor but also creating offense for himself inside the arc and scoring with his back to the basket.

It turns out Murray was every bit as good as I imagined and yet, completely and wholly different. I missed that his 3-point shooting would translate so dramatically and become his most reliable and tangible skill. I looked at Keegan Murray and saw some sort of Brad Miller-Chris Webber-Darius Songaila hybrid. I did not see Peja Stojakovic.

Keegan Murray is a special outside shooter

Murray ended up setting the rookie record for 3-pointers made (206) but he wasn't just a static spot-up threat. Right from his first game, he was comfortably stepping into 3s off dribble hand-offs...

... and sliding corner to corner, relocating along the baseline to find open space.

Murray was exceptionally effective as an outside shooter. He was third in the league in 3-pointers made by a player 6-foot-8 or taller. He made 41.3 percent of his catch-and-shoot attempts, about the same as Klay Thompson, Steph Curry and Buddy Hield. In large part because of that ability to shoot off movement, he ranked above the 75th percentile in points per possession on dribble hand-offs and spot-ups.

But all that versatility that captured my imagination is still in there somewhere and his upside could be a huge part of the Kings' future.

Keegan Murray can be a lot more than a spot-up shooter this season

Murray had precious few opportunities to do anything on offense last season besides hunting for space beyond the 3-point arc. Nearly two-thirds of his shots were 3-pointers and he made just 27 unassisted 2-pointers in non-putback situations. He played a VERY specific and constrained role and, given the talent around him, he may not get a ton of chances to expand beyond that this season.

But that doesn't mean he isn't ready to do more.

Murray doesn't necessarily have the quickness or handle to consistently lose defenders on the perimeter. But the threat of his 3-point shot gives him a chance to attack aggressive closeouts and he made 47 percent of his pull-up 2-pointers last season. He's more than capable of pump-faking, getting himself to a spot in the middle of the floor and shooting over the top of the defense.

The elbow is the near-exclusive domain of Domantas Sabonis in the Kings' offense — only Nikola Jokic had more total elbow touches last season and Sabonis had nearly 100 more than Joel Embiid, who had the third-most.

But Murray worked from the elbow and the high- and mid-post a lot in college and he was impressive when given the opportunity last season. He had just 36 total elbow touches but shot 10-of-15 on shots created for himself off those touches. Murray is not going to get a lot of blow-bys but he's crafty enough to leverage the threat of his shooting to get defenders to overplay him and has great touch around the basket.

As a rookie, it wasn't really worth it for the Kings to experiment with Murray's offensive touches. They were one of the most effective offenses in NBA history and their personnel hasn't changed much (other than the addition of more shooting and playmaking with Sasha Vezenkov and Chris Duarte, so there may not be an impetus to try and grow him into a more central role right now.

But Murray was a primary scorer in college — 23.5 points per game on a 29.7 usage rate as a sophomore. He is comfortable making more difficult shots than the ones he was asked to make as a rookie. And, having established a baseline as a tremendous outside shooter, he's already warping defenses with his tremendous gravity.

With his high skill level and college experience, Murray has the ability to leverage that gravity in more significant ways than other young players who made a lot of 3s earlier in their careers, like Saddiq Bey, Landry Shamet or Corey Kispert.

At 6-foot-8, he can do damage in dribble hand-off sets from the elbow, standing in for Kevin Huerter or Sabonis, filling either role. He can run trailing defenders off screens or crush closeouts, getting all the way to the rim or stepping into smooth mid-range jumpers against sagging bigs. He can beat bigger players off the dribble and punish smaller ones in the post.

The Kings don't need him to do all or even most of those things this year. But he's ready for more and his development this season is going to raise the ceiling for the Kings, particularly in the playoffs as opposing defenses shut down primary options. He's a wild card for Sacramento in a way that absolutely captures the imagination.

25-under-25. 25-under-25 FINAL. See who else made our list of the best young players in the NBA. dark