SAN FRANCISCO — The stoic reaction did not just capture Keegan Murray’s apathy toward the various NBA mock drafts that did not project him as the Sacramento Kings’ No. 4 pick, it also captured why the Kings became enamored with what makes him tick.
“My motivation comes from within. I’m not really worried about other guys and things like that,” Keegan told NBA.com. “It’s just me trying to get better and trying to be the best version of myself.”
Through two games of the 2022 California Classic at Chase Center, Murray showed two different versions of himself. In the Kings’ 86-68 win against the Warriors on Saturday, Murray showcased himself as an efficient scorer (26 points) both from the field (10-for-14) and from deep (4-for-5 on 3-pointers). In Sacramento’s 81-64 victory against the Heat on Sunday, Murray struggled with both his shooting stroke overall (4-for-15 overall, 1-for-7 from deep) and ball handling (six turnovers).
It was typical of most NBA rookies adjusting to a new system, new teammates, and swarming defenses in a faster-paced game. But the Kings remain encouraged, as Murray dominated the glass during both his strong Summer League debut (eight rebounds) and the sluggish sequel (nine). Through both his highlight reels and gaffes, Keegan neither appeared hyped nor discouraged.
“I’m the same person I was yesterday,” Murray said. “My confidence is still the same as it was. For me, this is still a learning curve with my first time playing professional basketball. I know I have a long way to go and a lot to grow. But my confidence hasn’t wavered.”
The Kings’ confidence hasn’t wavered for reasons beyond the usual big-picture outlook on their prized rookie, starting with what Kings head coach Mike Brown called Murray’s “unique maturity.” And then there’s his work habits and intentions to make the right basketball play.
“That was part of the attractiveness of Keegan — his ability to pass, dribble and shoot at his size. But where does that take him this year? I don’t know,” Brown told NBA.com. “I don’t have any expectations of him right now. I just want him to absorb everything in front of him, continue to grow and not try to rush the process.”
It might be hard to think that way. The Kings hired Brown as coach after winning three NBA titles in the past six years as the Warriors’ lead assistant, aiming to end a league-record drought and make the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Not to mention the Kings have an infamous history with missing the mark on their Draft picks.
Yet, Keegan sounded more intrigued than concerned about what awaits.
“It’s just another challenge I have to go through,” Murray said. “Obviously as a rookie, it’s difficult to transition into the NBA. But I just think we have a great opportunity this year with the pieces we have to do something really special that hasn’t been done in Sacramento for a while. I’ve known and heard about the drought they’ve been on. So for me, I just want to put my best foot forward and try to make it happen this year.”
After the Kings selected Murray on June 23, he began working out to prepare for his first games since ending his sophomore season at the University of Iowa four months ago. And he spoke with his new teammates — including guard De’Aaron Fox, center Domantas Sabonis and forward Harrison Barnes — focusing on how to foster both on and off-court chemistry.
Murray opened both Summer League games making the first shot on the first possession. The Kings have been mostly pleased with his shot selection, off-ball movement and pick-and-roll defense, especially when accounting for the NBA game’s increased speed.
After the Kings play the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday (5:30 ET, NBA TV), the Kings move on to Las Vegas, where Murray is intending to play for all of those dates (July 7-17). After that, Murray plans to resume training both in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as well as in Sacramento.
“You’re excited about his potential,” Brown said. “You’re excited about his skillset that he has right now. He’s a young guy that is going to keep working.”
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