A couple weeks ago we entertained the idea of adding Kris Dunn to the Timberwolves roster through the NBA draft on June 23. This post will explore Jamal Murray, freshmen guard out of Kentucky. Nothing clever I can think of for the title on this one, so just going to jump into it.
The thing that makes Jamal Murray considered a lottery pick in the draft is his scoring and shooting ability. He had the highest scoring average of all freshmen with 20 points per game. He is also a tremendous three-point shot. He shot nearly 41% from three this last season. His shot is fluid and can release in a multitude of ways. The fact that he is a Freshmen and contributed this much to a team like Kentucky goes a long way. Kentucky has a reputation for producing great NBA players.
If you didn’t know, floor spacing and the catch & shoot are things the Wolves truly struggle with. Matter of fact, they are among the worst in the league. See this post by Nylon Calculus. While the Wolves can choose between Buddy Hield and Jamal Murray to space the floor, Murray is the catch and shoot talent. Murray has the potential to come off of screens and spot up for a 3-point shot like a J.J. Redick. Murray shot 56% when coming off of screens. He will also have the chance to hang in the corner and spot up threes when Wiggins or Towns are double-teamed and when Rubio is looking to penetrate & dish. Thibodeau loves the corner three and it will likely be Murray’s first task to master that shot, if drafted.
For anyone being drafted in the 5th spot, the hope is that they can come in immediately and contribute. That doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be a starter. The only starting spot without much competition would be the power forward position, but there aren’t talented enough power forwards in this draft to take that spot. A guard like Jamal Murray though would need to come off the bench and score. They would need to add to the depth of the team and have someone other than Shabazz Muhammad as the only scoring threat. Murray can absolutely be that. Murray has a high BBIQ and is very aggressive. He is mature beyond his years on the court. It will be interesting to see how that translates in the NBA.
There are some significant issues that Murray has though. The first is his ability on defense. There is a good chance that Murray will never be an adequate defender in the league. He lacks the athleticism to stay with guards in the NBA. This can be an issue if Tyus Jones is on the team. Having scrappy guards who can defend seems to be important to Thibs.
While Murray has the size to play either guard position, he does struggle playing the point guard position with efficiency. He averaged more turnovers than assists and seems to play naturally off the ball. He also has some problems with finishing around the rim, something that doesn’t get easier at the next level. He could get time to develop behind LaVine in his first few seasons in this aspect.
It seems that typically many people will mention Jamal Murray and Buddy Hield in the same sentence. It is important to note that Murray is three years younger than Hield. That is the span of a rookie contract. By the time Murray is the age of Hield, his rookie option will be decided on and he will be a fairly known commodity. The three-year gap could amount for something. Hield did should 5% better in FG% and 3P% on one more three-point attempt per game. Buddy Hield is a better fit for a team looking to win now. It almost seems like the Boston Celtics would be a great fit if they decide to keep their pick.
While the Wolves will be shooting for the playoffs this season, they did earn the 5th-worst record in the NBA with a fairly healthy roster. So the Wolves are hoping to make a significant jump that will be reliant on the improvement & development of their current personnel and on Coach Thibs implementing his schemes flawlessly in his first season. Realistically, the Wolves are somewhere between the 7th-worst in the league and the 7th-seed in the West. The long-term goal for the young core is to win a championship. If that is the case, it may make the most sense to draft a guy that can be molded into that group when making a decision between two guys (Murray and Hield) who have a similar skill set. By taking Jamal Murray, the Wolves get a three-year grace period for a guy who can carve out a role on the team in that time.
In the short term, Murray isn’t doing much. He will need to learn to defend, how to play the point guard, and finish around the rim. He may see time when the Wolves desperately need to spread the floor or need someone to come off of screens to catch-and-shoot. Thibs is not crazy about the ‘baptism by fire’ rule of getting rookies a ton of minutes to develop. He will get them developed in the ways he can. Murray will probably find himself in the corners on the offensive end and move his way up. It may be a couple of years before Murray actually sees significant minutes. It could be a good thing nonetheless. The Wolves may look to bring in a couple free agents who can help boost the Wolves into a winning franchise in the time Jamal Murray develops.
With Thibodeau around, it is clear that Murray will not see a lot of minutes until he can at least hold his own on defense. That may not come until year two or three. But when he does learn to defend, he will serve as a great change-of-pace scorer off the bench or alongside LaVine or Wiggins. It could also could at a time where Andrew Wiggins is seeing some stretch-four in a couple of years. Murray will be able to run his defender off the court like a young Reggie Miller or Ray Allen. He may never be great in that sense but he could definitely bring attention away from Wiggins and Towns.
All in all, if the draft goes Simmons, Ingram, Dunn, Bender, I would first look to trade the pick. My ideal would be to move down to get Wade Baldwin or Timothe Luwawu. If there are no takers for the 5th pick, which seems more and more likely by the day, the decision to pick between Jamal Murray or Buddy Hield will be a reality. I am siding with Jamal Murray because he is better in the catch-and-shoot, is more versatile in what positions he will be able to play, and is three years younger.