The Detroit Pistons pulled off another bottom three finish. After holding the second-worst record last season, the 2021-22 Pistons finished the season 23-59, third-worst in the NBA. Detroit holds a three-way tie for the best odds to land the number one pick in the NBA Draft Lottery. The team has a 40.1 percent chance of landing a top-three pick, and a 52 percent chance to stay in the top four.
A top-three pick lands Detroit one of the three big men who headline the draft class: Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith and Paolo Banchero. If Detroit falls out of the top three, they could pursue a guard to pair with Cade Cunningham in the backcourt like Jaden Ivey. If the Pistons look to select the best player available, Iowa forward Keegan Murray could easily be the pick.
The 21-year-old Murray is a high-floor prospect. He was named to the All-Big Ten First Team. Murray led the Hawkeyes to a Big Ten Tournament Championship where he was named the tournament MVP. He has great size with a 6-8, 215-pound frame.
Murray’s ceiling is not as high as the players above him on the draft board, but his high floor and older draft age make him an impactful player early on in his career.
Keegan Murray is a superb scorer
Murray took a major leap offensively in his sophomore season. The departure of Luka Garza left a hole in Iowa’s offense, and Murray stepped up increasing his scoring numbers from 7.2 points per game his freshman season to 23.5 his sophomore season. His 822 points in 2021-22 led the NCAA.
Murray is an efficient three-level scorer in half-court sets. In the post, the 21-year-old is quick to get his shot up. He uses a myriad of post moves, including a one-legged fade away, to create space from his defender. He has great touch around the rim and is comfortable finishing with either hand.
The power forward improved greatly from beyond the arc in his sophomore season. Murray’s three-point percentage shot up from 29.6 percent to 39.8 percent on 4.7 attempts per game. He is an effective three-point shooter within the flow of the offense. He is solid in pick-and-pop and running off screens. Murray attacks closeouts really well. He uses pump-fakes to get the closing defender in the air then finds the open lane to drive to the rim.
In transition, Murray is a threat to take the ball coast to coast. He pushes the ball in transition and takes it right to the basket. Murray can knock down a catch-and-shoot three-pointer as a trailer. He can finish a lob as a rim runner in transition as well.
Advanced stats love Murray. His 29.7 percent usage rate ranked sixth in the Big Ten. He led the NCAA in offensive win shares (6.6), win shares per 40 minutes (.311), offensive box plus/minus (13.0) and Player efficiency rating (37.8). His 134.6 offensive rating ranked third in the NCAA.
Where Keegan Murray struggles offensively
Murray does not have the best handles. He can drive to the rim in transition, but once he is stuck in halfcourt sets, he is hesitant to attack the rim. The 21-year-old is protective dribbling in the halfcourt and is easily cut off on drives to the rim as a result. He does not have the quick-twitch athleticism to turn the corner and blow by defenders on drives either. Against quicker and stronger defenders. He is forced into difficult shots when he attacks the basket.
Murray struggles to create for himself and for others. Outside of the low post, Murray needs to play within the flow of an offense. He does not have a tight enough handle or explosive athleticism to create space for himself on the perimeter. This is something that can improve with the advancement of his ball-handling.
As a passer, Murray does not offer much. He averaged 1.5 assists and 1.1 turnovers per game last season with Iowa. He can make the right read and pass to open teammates, but he lacks the anticipation to be a real playmaker for others.
Keegan Murray is a solid team defender
Mar 17, 2022; Buffalo, NY, USA; Richmond Spiders forward Nathan Cayo (4) drives against Iowa Hawkeyes forward Keegan Murray (15) in the first half during the first round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
Murray is not the guy you want guarding the opposing team’s best player, but he is solid defensively. He can guard most wings but could struggle against quicker or stronger players. He becomes a liability if forced to switch on to centers or extremely quick guards.
On the perimeter, Murray has the tools to be a plus defender. He utilizes his good footwork to cut off driving lanes. His footwork also makes him great on closeouts. He decelerates quickly, which prevents the ball-handler from blowing right by him on the perimeter, and he is rarely reckless closing out to the perimeter.
As an interior defender, Murray is not a rim protector by any means, but he functions well as a help defender. He averaged 1.9 blocks per game last season. He tracks the ball well, which allows him to deny entry passes. Murray rotates well. He identifies the open player and closes out on him. At times, he can be indecisive, especially in two-on-one situations. He is not an instinctual defender and relies a lot on diagnosing opposing sets.
How he fits in Detroit
Of the players picked in the top five of this year’s draft, Murray is least likely to become an All-Star. He does not have the athletic upside like a Holmgren, Smith, Banchero or Ivey. But, he projects to at the very least be a high-end role player. Murray can be a Jerami Grant or Tobias Harris type of player; not an All-Star talent, but a player you can build with.
If Detroit falls out of the top three, Murray will garner a lot of consideration. He immediately helps remedy the Pistons’ three-point shooting, which ranked 29th in three-point shooting percentage. Murray spaces the floor and can run pick-and-pops with Cunningham. He can be a rim runner, but he is not springy enough to be a dominant lob threat. If Detroit needs a bucket, they can dump it off to Murray in the post and let him go to work.
Defensively, pairing Isaiah Stewart and Murray would be an interesting frontcourt pairing. Stewart has the size and strength to defend the opposing team’s centers, and Murray can play help defense and rotate out on the perimeter when needed.
Keegan Murray is a plug-and-play forward who can fit inside Detroit’s offensive and defensive schemes. He is not going to create for himself and he is not going to be a lockdown defender, but he will play within his role and do it extremely well. Not every draft pick is going to be a home run. Outside of the top three, the Pistons would be taking on more risk with any player they draft for upside. There is value in bringing in good players with high floors. Murray may be the safe pick if Detroit falls out of the top three, but that does not make him the wrong pick.
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