Jamal Murray’s ascension from Class of 2016 prospect to potential top five pick was impressive to watch.
After announcing that he would enroll in college a year early and, in something of an upset, picking Kentucky over Oregon for his one season of college ball, Murray went on to dominate the Pan-American Games for Team Canada, ensuring that he would enter the college season with an untold amount of hype in the Bluegrass State.
And after sputtering through the first few weeks of the season, Murray turned in a year that was impressive enough to get him mentioned as a second or third-team all-american by just about every outlet that puts those teams together. There was one stretch, starting in early February, where Murray scored at least 20 points in 12 consecutive games.
He finished the season having averaged 20.0 points while shooting 40.8 percent from beyond the arc, and when you do that for Kentucky under John Calipari, you become a high draft pick.
But Murray is also one of the more controversial prospects in this draft. Is he being overrated?
Height: 6′ 4.25″
Wingspan: 6′ 6.5″
2015-16 Stats: 20.0 points,, 2.2 assists, 2.3 turnovers, 40.8% 3PT
STRENGTHS: That jumper, man.
It’s something else.
When he gets in a rhythm, it’s over. He can make five or six threes in a row. He made at least four threes in 13 games this season — including four games where he made at least six threes — and he became just the second freshman in college basketball history to make 113 threes in a season. The other guy to do that? Curry, Stephen.
Murray is perhaps the most versatile shooter in the draft, meaning that he can hit just about any three in the game. He was the most efficient shooter in the country coming off of screens that didn’t play for Pacific, where he scored 1.506 PPP. Murray can curl to his right or his left as well as fade the screen if his defender tries to jump the passing lane. He’s got a feel for how to move without the ball and spot up. He’s lethal stepping into a three in transition. He’s got range well beyond the NBA three-point line. He’s a capable shooter off of a hang-dribble or a step-back, and he can use his handle to create space. He’s everything you want out of a jump-shooter.
But he’s not just a shooter, either.
Murray can handle the ball. He’s capable of attacking close outs, he can operate in the pick-and-roll, he can lead the break and he’s a willing and capable passer. There’s a difference between being a score-first player and a selfish player, and Murray is most definitely the former. That said, there’s no doubt he’s looking to score-first, but that’s not a bad thing. He has really good instincts and feel in the lane, and he understands how to use hesitations and change-of-speed to offset what he lacks in initial burst. He’s not a great mid-range shooter and somewhat inconsistent with his floater, he showed off some crafty finishes in the paint with both his right and left hand.
Overall, Murray has pretty impressive basketball IQ.
Defensively, he has some physical limitations, but he plays hard on that end of the floor. He doesn’t quit on plays when he gets beat and he has pretty good anticipation in passing lanes. He’ll go to the offensive glass as well.
WEAKNESSES: The biggest concern with Murray is that his physical tools leave something to be desired. At just over 6-foot-4, he doesn’t have the ideal size for a shooting guard or the wingspan to make up for it, but he doesn’t have the quicks or the explosiveness to be a point guard. He struggled at times to turn the corner and get all the way rim when he put the ball on the floor, and that’s partially evident in the fact that he only shot 50 percent from two-point range. The reason he has to be crafty in the paint is because he has to rely on using footwork and his body to create space to get a shot off.
This is part of the reason that some scouts are concerned about his desire to play on the ball. He was more or less a point guard for his entire high school career, and even early on in the season with Kentucky, Coach Cal used him in a role that put him in the role of being a decision maker. That’s part of the reason that he struggled with consistency early in the season; being able to make plays off the dribble and function in ball-screens does not mean that he’s Russell Westbrook the same way that being able to make a three does not mean Westbrook is a good shooter.
The other issue with Murray’s desire to be a point guard is that he’s turnover prone. He finished his freshman season with more turnovers than assists, and to be fair, some of that was the fact that he was asked to shoot far more than he was asked to pass. But even before Cal made the change to play him almost entirely off the ball, Murray wasn’t exactly putting up Rondo-ian assist numbers.
Like we mentioned earlier, Murray doesn’t project to be much of a defender at the next level. He’s not all that quick laterally, he gets hung up on screens and he’ll bite on fakes. He low steal numbers are a red flag as well. He’s not a guy that can guard multiple positions, and he likely will never be a 3-and-D player in the NBA.
NBA COMPARISON: This is tough because I think so much of it depends on who Murray decides he wants to be at the next level. If he accepts his role as a shooter and embraces the idea that he can potentially be one of the best shooters in the NBA down the road, I think the obvious comparison is J.J. Redick, although I think it’s fair to mention him in the same breath as Richard Hamilton, although Rip was never really the kind of three-point threat that Murray is. Like Redick and Hamilton, Murray is already excellent operating off of screens, and may actually be a better playmaker when it comes to attacking closeouts.
I’ve seen Murray get compared to Klay Thompson and Kevin Martin as well, but the issue there is that Thompson and Martin are both 6-foot-7. Murray is just over 6-foot-4 in shoes with a relatively short wingspan. Ben Gordon is another name that pops up in conversation about Murray, although Gordon was a bit more explosive and not quite as dangerous moving without the ball.
OUTLOOK: Murray is probably going to end up falling somewhere in the No. 3-No. 8 range of the draft, regardless of how hard his former head coach pushes for him to get picked No. 1.
For me, Murray’s future depends on whether or not he can accept what his role will be at the next level. Murray wants to play on the ball. Point guard, lead guard, combo guard — however you want to phrase it, that’s what he wants to be. That’s fine, but with his physical limitations, the idea of Murray actually succeeding in that role is a bit of a question mark.
On the other hand, Murray is one of the three-best shooters in this draft, and he may actually be the most dangerous at running off screens off the ball. Anyone that has watched J.J. Redick and the Clippers play this season understands the value that an elite shooter has when he can run off of screens; they have ‘gravity’, in the sense that they pull multiple defenders out of position, and Murray, more than anyone in this draft (including Buddy Hield), has the ability to thrive in that role.
But will he be willing to accept a future where he’s Redick instead of Chris Paul, the Klay Thompson to his team’s Steph Curry?