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Player Debrief: Kris Murray

Not just the other Murray

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament- Iowa vs Northwestern 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.

Prior Debriefs:

Player Debrief: Keegan Murray
Player Debrief: Jordan Bohannon

Going into the season, Keegan Murray was the Murray we all knew – a better than expected freshman year, leading to bigger expectations going into the season that Keegan destroyed from basically the opening game of the season. Kris was a mystery, a guy that would play and would be counted on to step into Keegan’s role from the previous year as the all-energy guy off the bench. But we didn’t really know what he was.

Like his brother, he did not disappoint.

Kris ended his first year of action with 16 games in double-digit scoring and with Keegan about to be in the NBA, Kris is now the immediate future of Iowa basketball. He already gave Iowa fans ample notice that he has the goods. As I noted in my Top 10 series, Kris saved Iowa’s bacon a couple of times this year, most notably the regular season Indiana game, going for 29 points and 11 rebounds with 2 assists, 3 steals, and 3 blocks chipped in for good measure.

He also added 11 points and 8 rebounds in the crucial win at Ohio State, teaming with his brother to get Iowa over the hump in the second half. In the second Michigan game, he scored 19 points and snared 6 rebounds. He was 9-11 from the floor in a brilliant 27 minutes. This doesn’t capture all of it, but this captures most of it.

It’s fun looking at his first real season of action and comparing it to Keegan’s. Kris averaged 9.7 points and 4.3 rebounds a game with shooting splits of 48/39/65 (more on that in a moment). His offensive rating was a 104.7, with a defensive rating of 97.8, which are both solid numbers (anything above 100 on offense or below 100 on defense is good). Keegan’s first year had him at 7.2 points per game and 5.1 rebounds, with 51/30/76 splits. His offensive and defensive ratings were hilarious – 122.1 and 95.5, genuinely incredible numbers (his offensive rating this year went up to 134.6). Other than those bonkers offensive and defensive rating numbers, Kris more than held up in comparison to his brother. Which leads to ideas that Kris is the next Keegan. So…

What to look for next year

Does he become the next Keegan?: This (wholly unfair) suggestion seems to pop up on Iowa social media/message boards a lot and let’s just pump the brakes on this right now, shall we? As I noted in my Keegan debrief, Keegan just put up the gold standard as far as individual Iowa seasons are concerned. Better than Luka’s two incredible seasons, better than anything Roy Marble did, better than anything John Johnson did, better than Freddie Brown, Ronnie Lester – it is THE gold standard. So let’s not assume Kris is going to be averaging 23-9 and leading the country in nearly every single advanced metric. I mean if he does, awesome - Iowa will legitimately contend for the league if that happens. Let’s just not count on that sort of production.

BUT – if he can get to about 16-18 points a game and in the same territory as Keegan on the glass, Iowa will have another first-team all-Big Ten guy and someone flirting with All-American honors again, which is high praise and another positive for the program. I think 17-7 is a good number to aim for. It’s maybe bound to happen given he’ll see an increase in minutes (18 minutes a game this year, and that’s likely getting into the high 20s/low 30s next year. Unless…)

Fouling: Kris had a penchant for ending up in foul trouble this year. He fouled out twice, against Purdue and Michigan in Iowa City. That’s not a ton of disqualifications, but he averaged 2.5 fouls per game and 5.5 on a per 40 minutes basis. He’ll play more minutes next year so if he wants to reach the high teens in scoring, he’ll have to cut the fouls down. Now, I firmly believe a lot of the issue here was Kris sacrificing himself for the team – the other centers on the team weren’t ready outside of Filip Rebraca so he played a lot of minutes as a stretch 5, which is out of position. He used his hands a lot to fend off bigger players and that got him in trouble. I could make a comment here about Big Ten officiating and how they let other centers in the league play with a battering ram-like style that’s largely uncalled for some reason while Kris gets the ticky-tacky hand check call, but I won’t expand beyond that. I think the foul number comes down next year, even with an uptick in minutes, based solely on his position. He’ll be playing in Keegan’s spot as the 4 so more minutes in his natural position and fewer minutes against the league’s ogres.

Free throws: Kris’s other issue this year was free throw shooting. He’ll have to shore this up. It’s the one split in his shooting line that’s off from the rest of it – the overall field goal and 3-point numbers kick ass. Free throws though…65 percent. None looms larger than the 1-7 at Illinois in the season finale. That’s certainly something to work on.

Draft?: This is quickly becoming the most important question of Iowa’s offseason. In case anyone missed it, Kris declared his intentions to get feedback from the NBA on his draft potential while maintaining his eligibility. That’s always smart if you’re a legit draft prospect, which Kris is, and it hurts no one to get that feedback.

When this was announced, it was widely believed that the intention was to get NBA feedback but come back to Iowa for another year. To be sure, that’s still believed to be the likely scenario here, that he’ll be back. However, few people seemed to contemplate the other side of the coin - if Kris gets overwhelmingly positive feedback, does he stay in the draft? If you check Iowa social media/message boards, Kris is excelling in his workouts and while I haven’t seen this confirmed on an official list, he reportedly has a spot at the NBA draft combine in Chicago May 16-22. What seemed like a, “get feedback, go back to Iowa for a year and be the man, then go pro” scenario with sights on the 2023 draft is possibly a difficult decision for this draft.

I’m not going to hit the panic button on this yet, but if Kris gets a promise that he’ll be a first round pick which is a guaranteed contract...I hate to break it to everyone but sorry, he has to take that and go pro, especially at his age (he’ll be 22 later this August, so he’d be 23 at the beginning of the 2023-24 NBA season. Not old by any stretch, but old by NBA standards, so he needs to get that earning clock started). That’s great for the long-term health of the program, getting another guy into the NBA in the first round. Short-term, of course, it would hurt Iowa’s on-court product. All bets are off for next year if Kris leaves. One way-too-early bracket projection from Joe Lunardi has Iowa in the field right now as an 8-seed. It’s a tournament team if everyone is back next year, and if they get the elusive portal big man they have upward mobility at both the league and national level. But if Kris goes, Iowa has to hit the portal for a second major transfer and things are in serious flux.

Back to Kris’s draft prospects - he’s already projecting as a first-rounder in 2023. The mock draft from NBA Draft Net that had Keegan as the #6 overall pick? That same site has future mocks and popping up at #15 to New Orleans in their 2023 mock is none other than Kris Murray. Hell yeah. He’s going to be a first round guy. It’s just a matter of 2022 vs. 2023.