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Hawks in the NBA - End of the First Quarter

The Iowa Hawkeyes have had a relatively quiet start to the 2023-2024 season in the NBA.

Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

It’s mid-December and OH MY GOD - we’re already one-quarter of the way through the NBA season. Admittedly I’ve been hyper-focused on football, both college and NFL, but the games come and go really fast in this league. The in-season tournament, for instance - it’s already done! (thank GOD we don’t have to see those putrid courts anymore) Let’s check in with the Brothers Murray as well as Mr. Garza.

Keegan Murray

Keegan’s second-season “issues” have rested almost exclusively on his shooting. His shot just isn’t falling this year. After a rookie season in which he shot an ok-but-not-great 45.3 percent from the floor but an excellent 41.1 percent from 3, Keegan’s numbers have fallen off a cliff this year. The real drop is the 3-point percent. After the scorching hot shooting from distance a year ago, Keegan’s 3-point percentage has fallen all the way to 30.9 percent. His field goal percentage has dipped into the low 40s as well, at 41.3 percent.

It was a poor start to the year overall for Keegan, and that’s largely kept a cap on his numbers. Sacramento started the year 2-4, with the low point being two blowout losses in Houston in a span of 72 hours. In that initial stretch of games, Keegan shot just 35.8 percent from the floor and 26 percent from 3.

Since those opening struggles, his shooting has recovered a bit, though he has struggled with consistency. Keegan’s last 5 games from 3 - vs. Denver, New Orleans, at Phoenix, Brooklyn, and at Los Angeles Clippers - have gone 2-5, 4-8, 1-7, 4-4, and 0-5 in their loss Wednesday night to the (maybe resurgent?) Clippers.

The good thing? Keegan’s defense has been excellent this year, to the point Kings Nation is proclaiming he’s at an All-Defense level. He showed his all-around game in Sacramento’s 13-point win over Brooklyn on Monday night.

For the year, Murray is averaging 13.8 points per game, a rise from 12.2 as a rookie, 5.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.2 steals, and 0.4 blocks. Despite the inconsistencies with his shot, that’s a good line for Keegan. As a team, the Kings are 13-9 and in fifth in the Western Conference.

Kris Murray

Even with some inconsistency from Keegan, he’s still having an ok year overall. Kris? I’m worried. I’m mostly worried because the Blazers situation stinks. The only situation that would’ve been worse is if he’d ended up in Detroit (losers of 20-straight games; you can say San Antonio who is on a 17-game skid, but they also have Victor Wembanyama so I am excluding them. Wemby has lived up to the hype so far).

Since Portland drafted Kris, they traded one of the top 3 players in franchise history (Bill Walton, Clyde Drexler, and Damian Lillard, in that order; I still can’t believe people say Lillard is the best player in Portland history when Walton won a title, Finals MVP, and was a league MVP in the span of a year before injuries ruined his career, while Drexler was one of the two or three best pure scorers of his era that was unlucky to inhabit the same space as Michael Jordan), saw Anfernee Simons get hurt immediately, lost one of the players in the Lillard deal - Robert Williams III - for the year, saw their prize pick Scoot Henderson immediately struggle out of the gate, and oh yeah, they don’t have a great coach. And when the season started they immediately sunk to the bottom of their division. Denver maintained their championship pedigree through some tough injury luck, Oklahoma City made a jump (currently the 2-seed in the West), and Minnesota made the biggest jump of all, leading the Western Conference and tied with Boston for the best record in the NBA. Otherwise things are great in Rip City!

The situation is then made worse for Kris when the wing/power forward positions are occupied by Simons, Shaedon Sharpe, Jerami Grant, Matisse Thybulle, Toumani Camara, and Jabari Walker. Where will Kris get minutes?

Answer? In the G-League, which is where Kris was assigned on Saturday, a day after he logged 18 minutes and picked up 5 points and 5 rebounds in a 125-112 loss to Dallas. It’s his second stint in the G-League this year.

Some of the teams that drafted around Portland at 23 were Sacramento (the next pick!!), Brooklyn, Memphis though they traded that to Detroit, Indiana, the Nuggets and Pacers traded with each other later in the round at 29 so that pick ended up with Denver and turned into Julian Strawther (having a great rookie season here)...literally any of those places would be preferable to Portland right now. There’s just no room for Kris. Ugh. I hate it.

Luka Garza

Luka’s also not featuring much for the Timberwolves, but with how their season is going, you don’t mess with a good thing. For the year, Luka has made just 5 appearances, averaging 2.6 points and 1.2 rebounds. Luka has the same problem Kris has - where is he going to get minutes? The Minnesota front court is Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, and Naz Reid. It’s a logjam of big men on this roster, all of whom are centers (they start KAT at the 4, but still - big group of players directly in front of Garza).

The story here, though, is Minnesota’s season overall. They’ve been stunningly good. They stand at 17-5, tied with the Celtics for the best record in the league, and they are the proud owners of wins over Denver, Boston, Philadelphia, Oklahoma City, and they won twice over Golden State in a two-game mini set (I love these, especially when it’s good teams pitted with one another and one is the in-season tournament which was really fun to watch with how intense it was; Golden State tried to intimidate Minnesota in the second game and the T-Wolves were having none of it, to the point Draymond Green cracked and earned his first suspension of the year). All of those bigs? Well, they can throw player after player after player at Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid if they meet in the playoffs. They also have wings they can throw at opponents like Jamal Murray and Jayson Tatum in an effort to frustrate them. The Gobert trade still looks bad because it was so much draft capital to give up, but it does give them the ability to throw countless big men out there, plus Anthony Edwards is a witch and can rain fire on teams. This is a good team. Unfortunately, we just won’t see much of Luka.