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Player Debrief: Keegan Murray

Keegan Murray was an absolute superstar in 2021-2022.

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NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament- Purdue vs Iowa Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Player Debrief will be my look at each player on the Iowa roster, what they did over the season, things to look for next year, and my general observations from a couch in Denver.

Literally no one saw this coming.

After a better-than-expected freshman year, Keegan Murray was getting some low-key NBA buzz heading into the year – good length, good (but not great) athlete but still good enough, plus enough size to play multiple positions, good defensive player. The big question was, can he become the focal point on a team that’s bubble-adjacent going into the year and desperately needs his scoring output to make a leap?

Uh…yes. The answer is yes on all of that.

Simply put, Keegan Murray went from low-key NBA guy to lottery NBA guy in the span of 5 months. And what an incredible 5 months it was. His 2021-2022 season will go down as the gold standard in the history of Iowa basketball, and that’s AFTER we had what we thought was the gold standard in back-to-back years from Luka Garza. That’s how outstanding this season was from Keegan.

Here are Luka’s numbers. Season averages and totals:

Here are Keegan’s numbers. Average and totals:

The numbers are crazy. 822 points in a season (that’s seventh all-time in Big Ten history for a single season). He’s one of two players to go for 800 points, 60+ made 3s, and 60+ steals in a season – the other being Kevin Freaking Durant. In the Big Ten, he was first in points per game, first in points scored (also first in the NCAA), first in field goals (also first in the NCAA), third in rebounds per game, third in total rebounds, ninth in steals, and fourth in blocks. Then his stats go beyond your traditional statistics. He was an advanced analytics supernova, leading the nation in (deep breath) win shares, offensive win shares, win shares per 40 minutes, box plus/minus, offensive box plus/minus, and PER. That PER number is still the best by anyone in college basketball since 2009-2010 not named Zion Williamson. That’s just a monster season in every, single regard (yet it wasn’t good enough to win Big Ten Player of the Year; that’s going to age like milk in the Sun).

I mean, just look at this guy.

I think I’ll always remember two things about this Murray season. One is a specific game, the Big Ten Tournament semi-final against Indiana. Iowa’s in the second weekend again, in a spot to display their All-American forward in a high-profile matchup with Trayce Jackson-Davis, and Keegan did not disappoint. As I noted in my Top 10, Iowa didn’t play particularly well against Indiana. It was probably a B-/C+ game, yet Keegan dragged them into a position to win. He goes 8-10 from 3 in an absolutely scorching performance. Here’s the tweet of that game I included in my Top 10.

The other is broad. Keegan and his brother, Kris, are both left-handed, but Kenyon Murray taught them to shoot right so they could also go back to the left. Keegan stuck with the right, while Kris stuck with his left as his dominant shooting hand. With Keegan, the ability with two hands stood out all year, as did his ability to finish over, through, and around all contact. He loved driving, either hand, and then spinning in the lane to finish on the other hand. And even when teams started sending doubles at him to slow that move down, he was able to finish anyway. Seriously, his finishing was absurd all season. He made 62.1 percent of his 2-point field goal attempts. The number doesn’t make Basketball-Reference’s list of 2-point field goal percentage leaders, but most of the guys on this list are centers or playing at small schools (Lonzo Ball jumped off the page at me for some reason. 73.15 percent for a ball-dominant guard is incredible; I also raise Ball to say good job by REDACTED having 5 NBA players on that 2016-2017 UCLA team, averaging 90 points per game and…finishing 3rd in the Pac-12 and losing in the Sweet 16). He was damn near automatic around the rim and the numbers back it up.

What to look for next year

Nothing, at least as it pertains to Iowa. Now he gets to ply his trade in the National Basketball Association. If Keegan is a top 10 pick, he will be Iowa’s first top 10 pick since Ronnie Lester in 1980. He will undoubtedly be Iowa’s first player selected in the first round since Ricky Davis in 1998. It’s an amazing accomplishment for Keegan and it’s fantastic for the health of the program having a guy go as high as Keegan is likely to go.

I did a brief look at NBA fits when Keegan declared and I’m standing by that. The updated mock drafts I’ve seen have Murray at 6 to Portland (NBA Draft Net; eek), 5 to Orlando (The Ringer, though that mock was drawn up as a panicky, “What happens if the lottery order is insane” kind of mock, then they drew up another mock that was a chaos, “what if San Antonio gets the top pick?” mock draft; in that instance Keegan ended up with Detroit at 7), then a slew of mocks to Indiana at 5 (NBC Sports, Sporting News, and The Athletic).

I love the Indiana fit. Looking at this further, I probably had them in the wrong group. If they can get healthy, they’re in a playoff push and not losing a ton of games right away. Indiana is the closest of these teams to competing. They were ravaged by injuries all season – they got 36 games from Malcolm Brogdon, 55 games from Chris Duarte, they traded mid-season for Ricky Rubio after he tore his ACL with the Cavs so he played 0 games, TJ Warren played in 0 games, and Myles Turner missed the end of the season and played just 42 games. I watched them play at Golden State in January and they had about 8 guys in street clothes for that game. I don’t recall seeing an injury situation where everyone in the top 6 or 7 except Duarte didn’t play and were in street clothes. They have Tyrese Halliburton, the above injury guys all back...there’s a lot to like. The idea of Keegan as the stretch 4 next to Turner is enticing.