Chris Biderman, The Sacramento Bee
SACRAMENTO — Kings rookie Keegan Murray’s monotonous voice can be hard to hear. The 22-year-old forward speaks softly, but it belies his confidence.
Case in point: he occasionally offers point guard De’Aaron Fox friendly gossip and talks about “catching bodies” in the form of more posterizing dunks that Fox has become a habit of late, leading Fox to be blunt fires the back.
“I make Keegan talk a lot,” Fox said recently. “I definitely get him to talk a lot.”
Most of the talk for Murray these days is his 3-point shooting. The No. 4 in the June NBA draft shoots 40.4% from distance, easily the highest clip in the league among freshmen who have appeared in at least 30 games. His 2.4 makes and 5.9 tries per game also accelerate his rookie class.
That has helped the Kings become the third most efficient offensive line in the NBA halfway through the season. The team’s 117.3 offensive rating goes into Wednesday’s away game against the Los Angeles Lakers, trailing only the Boston Celtics (117.8) and Denver Nuggets (117.5). Murray is averaging 11.8 points per game, ranking fifth among rookies.
Strangely, Murray is shooting at better speed from behind the bow than he did his last collegiate season. Murray shot 39.8% on 4.7 attempts per game with the Iowa Hawkeyes and attempted 1.2 fewer threes than he does now with the pros.
“I just think it’s the shots I get,” Murray said. “I feel like I did a lot harder recordings in college. And now we have a lot better spacing and I feel like my shots are more in rhythm and things like that.”
In fact, Murray didn’t have a pair of NBA All-Star players in Fox and Domantas Sabonis to put the ball in favorable spots for him. He also didn’t have experienced marksmen around him to consider defenses like Kevin Huerter or Harrison Barnes.
“I like his shot choices, especially our style of play,” said Kings coach Mike Brown. “We preach tempo, tempo, tempo, be it on half the court, but especially on the whole court, even after the shots. And so he does a great job, especially in the corners. And there are times when he sprints into the corners and doesn’t get the ball, but he flattens the defense and opens up the paint (so) the guys can get in there and score. We love the way he plays.”
Murray has been playing with a thumb injury on his left non-shooting hand since early December, forcing him to wear a bandage similar to what Sabonis has been wearing since he sustained a lacerated fracture on his right thumb last month. Murray hasn’t given details of his injury, but did note he couldn’t touch the ball with his left hand.
“It sucks, but it is what it is,” Murray said. “I just have to take care of it.”
Murray said his long-range shooting is a priority in pre-draft practice. He focused primarily on his footwork. And he’s often spotted after practice or shootaround firing extra shots.
“He’s really working on it,” Brown said. “Maybe once or twice a year there was a time when he would take a quote – unquote – ‘bad, unbalanced 3’. Most of his 3s, he gets to the point, he gets his feet up and he gets ready to shoot. All the things you teach little kids. . . he does it to the tee. His preparation on the offensive end of the floor, in my opinion, and the guys who believe in him and trust him, putting that thing on target on time and right on target, has a lot to do with him putting down that 3-ball.
But Murray’s overall game still has a long way to go. He shoots just 47.7% on two-point attempts, which ranks last among the Kings’ rotation players (only Matthew Dellavedova’s 35.7% clip is worse on the list). That’s surprising given he scored 62.1% two-on-one with the Hawkeyes last year.
Perhaps his efficiency on those shots will normalize as the season progresses, and perhaps his hand injury is hampering his ability to land on the rim in traffic. Anyway, the Kings seem more concerned about Murray’s rebounds (he averages just 3.8 rebounds per game as a starting forward) than his two-point efficiency.
“Of course, as he gets more time under his belt in this league, he’s going to find ways to score from the two-point range (range),” Brown said. “The only thing I told him is if he drives, drive to dunk it. “You’re long, you’re athletic, you’re strong for a young man,” and you know, worst case scenario, he’s going to go to the free-throw line because not many people can get up and clearly block his shot when he’s aggressive to go.”