PBT’s 2016 NBA Draft Prospect Preview: Jamal Murray

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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″
Weight: 207
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?

Hawks’ Collins out weeks with sprained ankle, Hunter also at least a week

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks will be without both of their starting forwards for at least the next three games.

John Collins will miss at least the next two weeks with a sprained left ankle and De'Andre Hunter will be sidelined for at least one week with a right hip flexor strain, the Hawks said Thursday.

Both departed with injuries during Wednesday night’s win over Orlando. Hunter played only seven minutes and Collins was hurt after a dunk that didn’t count at the halftime buzzer.

Hunter is third on the Hawks in scoring at 14.9 points per game, and Collins is fourth at 12.3 points.

Hunter, a fourth-year player out of Virginia, has yet to play a full season because of various injuries.

Draymond Green wants to play 4-5 more years, ideally with Warriors, not stressed about contract

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Jordan Poole got a contract extension from the Warriors this summer. So did Andrew Wiggins.

Draymond Green did not — and he punched Poole and was away from the team for a time.

All this has led to speculation about the future of Green in Golden State. He has a $27.6 million player option for next season, but he could become a free agent this summer. With the Warriors’ payroll through the roof — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are on max extensions, Poole and Wiggins just got paid, and contract extensions for Jonathan Kuminga and the rest of the young players are coming — there are questions about how long Green will be in the Bay Area.

In an open and honest interview with Marc Spears of ESPN’s Andscape, Green talked about everything from his relationship with Poole after the punch to his future. Here are a few highlights:

“I want to play another four or five more years. That would be enough for me.”

“You can look around the NBA right now. There are five guys that’s been on a team for 11 years-plus. We have three of them [along with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson]. It’s a very rare thing. There’s 470, 480 players in the NBA? There are five guys that’s been with his team for 11 years plus. That’s amazing. So, you don’t just give that away. So, absolutely I’d be interested in that.”

On rumors he wants to play with LeBron James and the Lakers: “I never said that. People can say what they want. I’m also not really one to react much to what one may say. I react to things when I want to react to it. I don’t react to things just because somebody said it.”

Is he worried about his next contract: “No, not at all. I have a great agent [Rich Paul]. The best agent in the business. That’s why you align yourself with an incredible agent, because they handle the business. I play basketball. That’s what I want.”

I don’t doubt there is mutual interest in Green staying with the Warriors, the question is at what price. It’s not a max. As for the threat of him bolting, Green is still an elite defender and secondary playmaker, but it’s fair to wonder what the free agent market would look like for him. Green is not the scoring threat he once was, and his unique skill set is not a plug-and-play fit with every roster and system (does he really fit on the Lakers, for example).

The conventional wisdom around the league right now is that Green will opt into the final year of his contract with the Warriors — especially if they make another deep playoff run — because that level of money is not out there for him. That said, it only takes one owner to fall in love with the idea and send his GM out to get the deal done. The market may be there for him after all, or he may be open to the security of three or four years with another team but at a lower per-year dollar amount.

Green also talks about his relationship with Poole in the Q&A and makes it sound professional and business-like. Which is all it has to be, but it’s not the “playing with joy” model the Warriors are built upon.

 

Lakers reportedly leaning toward packaging Beverley, Nunn in trade

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While the Lakers have looked better of late winning 6-of-8 with a top-10 offense and defense in the league in that stretch, plus Anthony Davis continues to play at an All-NBA level at center.

That run — which still has Los Angeles sitting 13th in the West — came against a soft part of the schedule (three wins against the Spurs, for example), and is about to get tested with a few weeks of tougher games, starting with the suddenly healthy Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. While the Lakers have been better, nobody is watching them and thinking “contender.” Are they even a playoff team?

Which is why the Lakers are still in the market for trades. But Jovan Buha reports at The Athletic the Lakers realize moving Russell Westbrook and his $47 million may not happen, so they are focused more on a smaller deal moving Patrick Beverley and Kendrick Nunn (with maybe a pick) to bring back quality role players to round out the roster).

The Lakers are leaning toward [a Nunn/Beverley trade] at this point, the team sources said. That would entail making a smaller move to marginally upgrade the roster while retaining the possibility of following up with a larger Westbrook deal later in the season…

Beverley ($13 million) and Nunn ($5.3 million) are both underperforming relative to their contracts. With the Lakers’ needs for additional size on the wing and a better complimentary big next to Anthony Davis, along with the roster’s glut of small guards, Beverley and/or Nunn are expendable. Packaged together, the Lakers could acquire a player or players in the $20 million range.

Trading Nunn and Beverley lines up with a couple of good options from the Lakers’ perspective. For example, the salaries work to get Bojan Bogdanovic out of Detroit, or it matches up with a deal for Jakob Poeltl and Josh Richardson out of San Antonio. However, neither the Pistons nor Spurs care much about adding veteran guards on expiring contracts in Nunn and Beverley, so it’s going to require the Lakers throwing in one of their first-round picks unprotected (2027 or 2029) and maybe a second-rounder to get it done. (With how well the Pacers are playing, it’s not a sure thing that a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade is still available.) The Spurs trade may be more appealing to the Lakers because Richardson and Poeltl are expiring contracts, so it doesn’t change the Lakers’ plans to use cap space to chase bigger names this offseason (Bogdanovic was recently given a two-year, $39.1 million extension).

These may not be the “move us into contender range” blockbuster Rob Pelinka and the front office hoped was out there, but either of those trades would make the Lakers better. It could move them into playoff-team status, and considering LeBron James turns 38 at the end of the month they can’t waste a year and retool next offseason.

The Lakers have made a number of miscalculations over the years, but they are all-in with this group now and have to find a way to maximize it, even if the cost is a little painful.

Khris Middleton reportedly set to return to Bucks Friday vs. Lakers

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The Milwaukee Bucks are about to get better. Likely a lot better.

Which should worry the rest of the league because the Bucks have looked like one of the two best teams in the Association this season: A 15-5 record with the best defense in the NBA and an MVP and Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Now they are about to get Khris Middleton back.

Middleton — the Bucks Olympian and All-Star forward — is set to make his season debut Friday night against the Lakers, reports Adrian Wojnarowski at ESPN. Middleton had been recovering from wrist surgery.

Middleton averaged 20.1 points and 5.4 rebounds and assists per game last season. More importantly in Milwaukee, Middleton is the hub of the Bucks’ halfcourt offense — he is the ball handler in the pick-and-roll at the end of games, asked to create for himself and others in the clutch (with Antetokounmpo working off the ball and sometimes setting picks). Without him so far this season, the Bucks’ halfcourt offense has struggled, ranked 21st in the NBA this season in points per possession (via Cleaning the Glass). Overall the Bucks have a middle-of-the-pack offense because of it.

That is about to change.

While Mike Budenholzer will ease him back into the rotation as he gets his wind back, having Middleton back makes the Bucks much more dangerous. Which is bad news for the rest of the NBA.