Why the Spurs Might Not Pick Keegan Murray Even If He’s Available

Keegan Murray, a 6-foot-8 forward out of Iowa, is widely regarded as one of the top five or six prospects in the 2022 NBA Draft. His status near the top of the draft is currently so sturdy that it appears very unlikely that he’ll be available when the San Antonio Spurs are on the clock with the ninth overall selection. 

That said, considering the fact that Murray is an older prospect who will be 22 at the start of the NBA season, I don’t think it’s unfathomable that he could drop. As the draft nears, it’s common for the younger players to rise and the older players to fall.

If there’s a draft night surprise and Murray is available at nine, is he a no-brainer pick for the Spurs in the lottery? Probably; that’s why I have him seventh on the latest Spurs Big Board. I’d say there’s a 60-40 chance he’d be the pick in that scenario. While there are many reasons why Murray is a very alluring prospect, there are also a few reasons to think San Antonio may decide to pick someone else.

The Case For Drafting Keegan Murray

Statistically, Keegan Murray is coming off of a spectacular campaign. In fact, it’s difficult to find a weakness in any area. In 31.9 minutes per game, he averaged 23.5 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.3 steals. He shot 62.1% on two-pointers, 39.8% on three-pointers and 55.4% from the field overall. He also knocked down 74.7% of his free throws.

The deeper you dig into his numbers, the more impressive they appear. For example, his high total of blocks and steals is especially impressive because he rarely fouled (1.9 fouls per game). And for being such an active offensive weapon that defenses routinely keyed in on, he turned the ball over at an absurdly low rate (1.1 turnovers per game).

Murray’s production was consistent from the beginning of the season until the end of the season and didn’t dip against the top competition. Importantly, his stats weren’t of the empty variety. Despite losing two players to the NBA draft — Luka Garza, the two-time National Player of the Year, and Joe Wieskamp, who was selected by the Spurs — Iowa actually had a better record with Murray leading the way this year than they did last year.

It looks like Murray is a safe pick because at the very least he’s an accurate shooter with a high release who can hit shots off of movement. He attempted 4.7 three-pointers per game and even showed flashes of being able to create his own threes. For a forward who is 6-foot-8 and 225 pounds, those talents alone are attractive.

Defensively, Murray is fine. While he’s not as dominant as his rate of blocks and steals suggests, he should be okay on that end. He’s reasonably athletic and his feet are quick enough for him to defend out on the perimeter. Close to the basket, he has the hops and physicality to defend the rim and rebound at adequate levels. 

Despite his advanced age, Murray is definitely a late bloomer. He had a late growth spurt and was lightly recruited out of high school so he had to go to a prep school to get noticed. This season was only his sophomore campaign in the college ranks. 

Character-wise, no one has anything bad to say about Murray. He’s a team-first player who works hard and seems to be improving on a week by week basis. He’s humble, smart and competitive — all traits the Spurs will be enticed by if he’s available at nine.

The Case Against Keegan Murray

A lot of what Keegan Murray did at Iowa isn’t directly translatable to the NBA. The main example is his back to the basket game. He was near the top of the heap in college basketball in post-up attempts and was literally the most efficient post-up player in all the land. When he got the ball in the post, he was essentially an automatic two points. 

In the NBA, Murray will very rarely be asked to post-up. There just aren’t any 6-foot-8, 225-pound forwards who make their living in the post anymore. Instead, Murray’s offensive success as a professional will depend much more on what he does out on the perimeter.

Defensively, Iowa mostly hid Murray on the weakside for much of sophomore campaign. While that made logical sense for Iowa since he carried such a large portion of the offensive load, there’s no hiding in the NBA — especially in this day and age where weak defenders are relentlessly hunted, particularly in the playoffs.

If you look back at Murray’s tape from his freshman season, he was a much better defender who was extremely active. That footage should calm a lot of fears — but, then again, it’s a little bit worrisome to draft a player in the lottery who spent a lot of time hiding out on defense as a sophomore.

When you look at Murray through silver and black tinted glasses, he doesn’t look like any other recent Spurs draft pick. When was the last time San Antonio drafted such a nearly finished product who dominated at college as an older prospect? You’d have to go all the way back to James Anderson in the 2010 NBA Draft. The Spurs picked Anderson, the Big 12 Player of the Year out of Oklahoma State, with the 20th overall selection.

A lot of teams can (and probably should) ignore Murray’s age. However, the Spurs might not. When they drafted Joshua Primo last season, the front office pointed to the fact that he was the youngest player in the draft as a main reason why they believed in him as a prospect. And it’s just not Primo, the last five Spurs first round draft picks have all been teenagers (Vassell had just turned 20 but the draft that year was delayed due to the pandemic). To put Murray’s age in perspective, he’s six months older than James Anderson was during his draft year — and Anderson won the Big 12 Player of the Year as a junior.  

While Murray was fantastically productive at Iowa, the team was also desperate for production after losing Garza and Wieskamp to the NBA. If you look at the numbers, Murray wasn’t a whole lot more productive than Garza — who was drafted 52nd last year. Sure, Murray is a lot more athletic than the plodding Garza and was a lot better than Wieskamp (drafted 41st) in college — but some scouts I’ve talked to wonder aloud about how much of Murray’s production at Iowa is due to the intact system that also accentuated Garza’s strengths and hid his weaknesses.

Finally, Murray didn’t do anything at the NBA draft combine. He didn’t test, scrimmage or even allow himself to be measured. Considering that the Spurs took extra interest in the combine this year, that decision may have diminished Murray’s candidacy in their eyes.

Keegan Murray: Spurs Outlook

If Keegan Murray is available for the Spurs to draft, I won’t be shocked either way. If the Spurs pick him, that’s understandable. You can slide him next to Keldon Johnson and possibly have your forward combination set in stone for the next decade. His three-point shooting and basketball IQ would allow him to be a Day 1 starter. In such a setting, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Murray be in the running for the Rookie of the Year award.

On the other hand, I could see the Spurs skipping Murray and instead targeting a prospect who they believe has a higher ceiling. Murray’s ceiling is probably as a high-end starter. If the Spurs think they’ve spotted a possible star-in-the-making who has youth and untapped talents, I think they opt for the player with star potential.