CHICAGO — Most of the top players in the NBA draft opted out of Thursday’s meeting with reporters.
Duke power forward Paul Banchero, Auburn power forward Jabari Smith, Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren, Purdue guard Jaden Ivey and Kentucky guard Shaden Sharp Neither showed up.
But not Iowa State’s 6-foot-8 forward Keegan Murray.
Murray was front and center, answering questions and immersed in the entire experience. As Murray puts it, he’s a late bloomer who still can’t believe he’s in the position after not being heavily recruited and playing a small role as a freshman with the Hawkeyes.
“If you had told me three years ago that I would be in this position, I would have smirked and laughed at you,” he said.
Now, he finds himself locked in as a likely top-10 prospect and someone the Blazers will likely be looking to pick with the No. 7 pick during the June 23 draft.
best draft result Portland Trail Blazers Will leave with a starting power forward.
This is the team’s greatest need.
Unfortunately for the Blazers, they don’t have a real shot at Holmgren, Banchero or Smith. But Murray, the fourth-best potential power forward on most draft lists, is likely to play. Granted, it’s a long shot. Most of the NBA mock drafts had already left Murray when the Blazers selected. The bleach report is not one of them. In the latest mock draft, Murray fell to New Orleans at No. 8, while the Blazers selected Duke small forward AJ Griffin.
But on paper, the 21-year-old Murray makes more sense. He would give Portland a versatile forward who can play both small forward and power forward and has enough to make an immediate contribution. Plus, he’s not as young as 19 or 20 like many high-end rookies in this draft. He has more experience, which could help him adapt quickly to life in the NBA.
Murray said Thursday that he has met with nearly every lottery team and is scheduled to meet with the Blazers on Friday. He said he believed he would be immediately ready to contribute, even for a team like Portland with playoff aspirations.
“I’m ready for anything,” he said. “I can play different roles. I don’t think I’m scared at all. If I play against a very good team in a big stadium on my first day, I’m ready for that moment. Or if I start 15 game, then the next 80 games. It doesn’t matter to me. I’m always ready.”
Murray’s trek to this point is certainly not the norm. He admits that he is a late bloomer and believes that he still has a lot of room for growth.
Murray said he was 5-foot-10 as a sophomore at Prairie High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He grew by leaps and bounds, eventually becoming a 3-star recruit at 247Sports, so even after a year at DME Academy in Daytona Beach, Florida, he wasn’t much sought after by major programs. Murray landed in Iowa, where he averaged just 7.2 points per game as a freshman.
“I’m playing my role on this established team,” he said. Then as a sophomore, he shined, averaging 23.5 points and 8.7 rebounds while shooting 55.4 percent from the field and 39.8 percent from 3-point range.
“My sophomore season, my mentality changed drastically,” he said. “I know I’m going to have more possession of the ball and I have to accept its value.”
A lot of times, age can hurt a rookie at the top of the draft, and people think that if he has NBA star potential, he will show it as a freshman.
Murray disagrees with this theory.
“I feel like if you’re comparing my age and not what I’ve done on the field, then maybe that’s another topic, but for me it’s what I’ve done on the field,” he said . “Age is out of my control.”
Murray said his priority this summer is to expand his offense so he can take advantage of the NBA’s open play styles, including increased space compared to the college game.
Murray said he also wanted to improve his defense, which he said was often overshadowed by his offense. He continues to put on his 225 pounds and considers himself a 21-year-old in the body of an 18-year-old.
“I feel like my ceiling is as high as anyone’s just because I’m a late bloomer,” he said. “I feel like I haven’t really grown into my body yet.”
Still, he said he believes he has played well.
“I may not look that big, but my functional strength is really good for me,” he said. “I feel like I could have a guard and a big man. So, obviously, the athleticism, the size, and in college are a little bit different. But every level you go up is another challenge. So, for me, I would Take the challenge. I really don’t care who is opposite me. I want to take the challenge and do what I can to stop them.”
There are some questions about whether Murray will be a better small forward or a power forward in the NBA. He believes he does both well.
“I had never played a quad until I got to Iowa,” he said. “So, for me, coming to Iowa, I was more comfortable on the wing. But then it happened and I had to play the four. So, for me, I think in the NBA, it’s really There’s only five in the low post. It’s really a fragmented game.”
Murray compared his game to Atlanta forward John Collins, who the Blazers might be interested in acquiring if the Hawks get him through a trade.
“He’s probably more athletic than I am, but he’s a guy who does all the dirty work, rebounding, running the floor, cutting, opening 3s, being able to score in every way,” Murray said.
Murray also compared himself to Milwaukee All-Star forward Khris Middleton.
The Blazers could use players similar to Collins and Middleton. Maybe Murray will be their man. If he is free.
At this point, that’s a big question.