Trey Murphy III
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Pelicans 2021 preseason profile: Trey Murphy III

by Jim Eichenhofer

Trey Murphy was a first-round draft choice this summer, but by comparison to some of 2021’s heralded NBA lottery picks, the 21-year-old entered the league with minimal fanfare or hype. That might explain why Murphy was a bit caught off guard in late September, when he was recognized in public as a New Orleans roster addition.

Murphy: “People I see have been like, ‘Oh, you’re that Trey Murphy kid – you’ve been hoopin!’ There are so many people who’ve shown their support here and that they care. It’s really good to have that, it truly is.”

If the University of Virginia product continues to produce at the rate he’s shown so far in summer league and preseason, he won’t be able to walk a block down Poydras Street without being stopped by an enthusiastic Pelicans fan. A week into the preseason, Murphy has followed up being named First-Team All-NBA Summer League with superb shooting numbers over three exhibition games. The Durham, N.C., native leads the NBA in preseason three-pointers made (15), connecting on 58 percent on his attempts. He’s averaged 19.3 points in just 30.0 minutes, sinking six treys apiece vs. Minnesota and Orlando, followed by three more at Chicago on Friday.

“It’s impressive, because the three-point line is way further than the college line,” Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram said of Murphy’s immediate adjustment. “For him to come in and be that efficient already in training camp and the preseason is really good.”

“I’m shooting open shots, and I can shoot the ball pretty well – I can’t lie to you,” Murphy said politely but matter-of-factly after being asked about his smooth transition. “I’m able to keep shooting it and they’re going in. Staying confident, that’s the main thing for me.”

Murphy’s basketball career has had a bit of a “late bloomer” theme to it, with him not realizing until his junior year in high school that the game was a true passion. The same school year, Virginia initially showed recruiting interest, but Murphy was just “6-foot-4, 150 pounds soaking wet” according to Cavaliers assistant coach Jason Williford. Murphy ended up going to Rice University in Houston. Murphy is now 6-8, 206, though he wants to keep building upon what was a frail frame not long ago.

“Continuing to get stronger,” he said of a primary objective after his stellar Las Vegas showing in August. “I feel like that’s going to be very important for me. Not necessarily building a lot of mass or gaining a lot of weight, but putting on muscle. Also developing my ballhandling and tightening up my skills. I feel like I’m a pretty skilled player, but there is still a lot more room for improvement.”

Murphy won’t make his official NBA debut until Oct. 20 vs. Philadelphia, but he’s been about as impressive as a rookie can be in the lead-up to Opening Night. If Murphy doesn’t sound surprised by his performance at this very early stage, that’s likely due to the fact that he’s simply repeating what he’s already done on the court. With shooting ability prized in the modern NBA, the Pelicans may end up being very fortunate that a player with Murphy’s efficiency resume was still available in the middle of the first round. He produced a rare 50-40-90 season as a junior at Virginia (50 percent on field goals, 43 percent on threes, 93 percent on free throws) in 2020-21, a statistic that helped build buzz about his draft stock.

“People look at my efficiency numbers and how big I am and are like, ‘Wow you don’t really find that a lot,’ ” Murphy said when asked about what propelled him into Round 1. “That really benefited me, especially during the pre-draft process.”

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