The players who make a name for themselves in the NBA are usually the ones who continue to add wrinkles to their games no matter the stage of their careers. They strive to keep their opponents unable to shut them down with scouting reports while wanting to improve themselves and the team. Some players take more time to develop and make the improvements to help them achieve their true potential. Other times, that growth is more evident in players, especially when it means unlocking new facets of their game.
Enter Keegan Murray of the Sacramento Kings. Murray proved time and again last season that he is a student of the game with the ability to absorb coaching advice, and develop. It culminated in the first round of the playoffs against the Golden State Warriors. He was taken off his game early in the series, only to slowly figure out the pace of playoff intensity and finish the series strong. That is growth, and it didn’t stop when the buzzer sounded on Game 7 in front of 17,000+ very disappointed, but proud Kings fans.
As this new season dawns, the stories of what Murray has been up to this summer are surfacing. He’s been in town working, much of the time with De’Aaron Fox, to add something the Kings need from him more consistently beyond three-point shooting: creating his own shot and play-make. By incorporating more ball handling and drives to the basket, Murray would not only diversify his own offensive toolkit, but also give the Kings an added edge in their offensive schemes.
“Just figuring out different things within the offense where I can be successful,” Murray shared with reporters on Media Day “Because I know a lot of teams are trying to take away the three-point shot now and just trying to figure out what I can do off of that and different ways I can score in mid-range, get to the rim, stuff like that.”
Fox also further elaborated on Media Day with reporters about the work he and Murray have been putting in.
“Just being around him just as a person, just coming out of his shell, it’s definitely been great to watch and great to witness. He’s becoming more comfortable putting the ball on the floor. Obviously, he’s one of the best shooters in the league, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. But for him, it’s really us trying to add another player that can create for themselves at some point,” Fox observed. He further emphasized the importance of Murray’s development, especially in clutch moments when the team might need him to capitalize on mismatches.
Murray, on the other hand, has been full of praise for Fox, noting, “He’s been a really good leader in our pickup games and our off-court workouts or on-court workouts, and in the weight room. He’s a leader that leads by example, but also is vocal. When he opens his mouth, it’s a good thing for our team.”
The bond between the two has been palpable so far since the team returned to action.
And head coach Mike Brown has played a big part of Murray’s development as well. On Wednesday, Fox recounted this from training camp with reporters: “Mike got on his ass today about passing up a shot and I mean, I think it’s great for him.”
Brown has played a huge part in Murray’s evolution, so it is no surprise he got after him about being passive offensively. Recall the post-All Star break coaching display last season Brown put on when he emphasized the need for Murray to take more initiative on the court. “I said, ‘dribble the ball and if you can go coast to coast and dunk on somebody, do it, or go make a play. You can do it, go do it,’” Brown recalled with a chuckle.
And it worked, because after the All-Star break last season, glimpses of this new Murray was evident. His ability to create his offense not only adds a new dimension to the Kings attack, but alleviates some of the pressure from Domantas Sabonis and Fox on offense. Murray may well be a cornerstone of this franchise in the coming years, and for the team to take the next step they want to get to, which is sustained playoff success and a championship, he is a guy who can help them get there.
“I think the offseason work has definitely allowed him to be able to bring up the ball up. Obviously, we have such a free-flowing offense, anybody can bring the ball up. I think last year, he was a lot less comfortable handling the ball and someone pressuring him. I think he’s looked a lot different than he did last year,” Fox said.
Let’s hope this translates to the regular season. It doesn’t hurt that he has never really given us a reason to not believe he won’t keep improving.
Also, what are you waiting for? Go get your Hail Murray swag!