Kentucky freshman Jamal Murray opts for NBA Draft, could go in top 10

John Calipari will have yet another one-and-done to point to when he goes out recruiting this summer.

Kentucky guard Jamal Murray has decided to declare for the NBA Draft. He has not yet hired an agent, but said Friday that he is “most likely” going to keep in his name in the draft.

Murray is currently the No. 4 overall player on the CBS Sports NBA Draft Big Board after averaging 20 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game this season for the Wildcats. There is a lot to like about his Murray’s game in the NBA.

Strengths

The native of Ontario, Canada can play some occasional point guard, but his best position will be as off-guard in the NBA. Standing at 6-foot-5 with a 6-7 wingspan, he possesses adequate size with which to play away from the ball. Early in the year, Murray struggled a bit as he attempted to do too much in tight spaces with the ball in his hands, but thrived when he moved off-ball and embraced running off of screens to free himself for open shots.

Currently, Murray’s best skill is his ability to score, particularly in regard to how he shoots and moves away from the ball. On catch-and-shoot jumpers this season, Murray had a 68.1 effective field goal percentage, good for the 95th percentile of all college basketball players this season according to Synergy. Particularly, Murray excels at running off of off-ball screens and shooting on the move. Among 368 players in college basketball who took at least 50 shots coming off of screens, Murray was the fourth-most efficient player in the country at converting with a 1.51 point-per-possession clip. He’s most effective here due to his footwork, as Murray is terrific at brushing directly off of the screener and then at getting his feet set before he catches the basketball.

Murray also has some potential in regard to his ability as a ball-handler and scorer that he didn’t get to show off at Kentucky, but did show prior to his arrival. He has solid change of pace and the ability to change direction with his dribble. Due to Kentucky’s spacing problems — the Wildcats not named Murray only shot 33 percent from beyond the arc, allowing opposing teams to collapse down on Murray on drives — he struggled particularly with turnovers early in the year. As the NBA has better space in the midrange and more shooting from teammates, this represents a place of potential growth for Murray due to the skills he’s shown in the past as a slasher. If he can tighten up his handle a bit, this should be a major weapon for him in the NBA in order to attack closeouts.

Beyond his scoring, Murray also does a good job for a guard of attacking the glass. The Canadian guard also has shown relatively good vision throughout his prep career, and should not be considered a ball-stopper despite his relatively low 12.1 percent assist rate. He’ll keep the ball moving, and should be counted on to be a smart passer.

Weaknesses

Murray has very average size that is neither a strength nor a weakness. However, when combined with his only average explosiveness and first step, it could pose problems for him at the next level going against bigger, longer athletes. Murray is a good athlete in transition when he has space to gather and leap though, so there may be some room for growth as he continues to round out his game.

Where his middling athleticism shows up most is on defense at this stage. He doesn’t move particularly well laterally, and struggles to stay in front of his man from time to time. Generally, Murray just simply doesn’t have great fundamentals on that end right now. He doesn’t get down in a stance often, and doesn’t particularly fight through screens well enough now. Finally, he doesn’t really get into passing lanes all that well, and doesn’t seem to anticipate the action coming on that end.

Basically, Murray at this stage is not a good enough defensive basketball player for the NBA level. He needs to show scouts that he can round out his game defensively and become a better all-around player on both ends.

Overall stock report

Murray’s offensive game looks to fit extremely well in the NBA, especially if he can continue to tighten up his handle. With the league being ever-so conscious about shooting, Murray’s ability to take and make shots at a high level both on the move and in spot-up situations will be tailor made for what teams are looking for. As long as his ability to handle the ball translates and isn’t overshadowed by his middling athleticism in the halfcourt.

At this stage, where Murray fits best is on a team in the lottery that is starved for floor-spacing. The Timberwolves stick out as a really nice fit in between Andrew Wiggins and Ricky Rubio. The Pelicans would also really be helped by Murray’s ability to shoot. If the 76ers either fall out of the top-three with their own pick or get the Lakers pick, he could really help. The Nuggets also need shooting, although there would be some overlap with he and Gary Harris as average-sized off-guards

It’s also worth noting that shooting is at a premium in this draft, and Murray and Buddy Hield are likely the two best in the class. The simple laws of supply and demand should take effect on his stock as long as he doesn’t struggle in workouts. Murray is one of the few potentially elite shooters in the draft, and is entering a league that really wants to space the floor.

That’s why it’ll be a surprise to see Murray fall out of the top 10, and he could even hear his name called as high as No. 3 depending on who gets the pick. He may not be a perfect prospect, but he’s a highly skilled player that is entering the league at the perfect time for his game.

Guard Jamal Murray led the Wildcats in scoring with 20.0 points per game. (USATSI)
Guard Jamal Murray led the Wildcats in scoring with 20.0 points per game. (USATSI)

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