Pelicans defy recent draft trend, add pair of players with vast college experience
We’ve somehow reached the point in NBA draft conversation where any prospect who spends more than a couple years in college draws confused looks and skepticism. A point where – as New Orleans first-round pick Trey Murphy put it Friday – even a player who’s only 21 years of age is deemed “old.”
“People label me as an ‘old guy’ to an extent, but I just turned 21,” said Murphy, who was born June 18, 2000. “I feel like I have a lot of career ahead of me.”
New Orleans bucked one of the biggest NBA draft trends Thursday night by adding two college players with a combined seven seasons of NCAA experience. Murphy played a total of three years at Rice and Virginia, while second-round pick and No. 35 overall selection Herbert Jones completed a four-year career at Alabama. The 22-year-old Jones was one of only seven college seniors chosen among the league’s 60 draft picks Thursday, including just two first-rounders (Chris Duarte, Corey Kispert).
While some around basketball may view a lengthy college career as a negative during draft evaluations, Murphy noted that playing so many NCAA games (84) and minutes (over 2,200) greatly helped him improve as a player.
“It benefited me a ton,” the 6-foot-9 forward said. “Just so many game experiences you learn and little things about the game you learn. That just takes time. It is super invaluable and something that I feel like I have an edge over a lot of the younger guys.”
Meanwhile, Jones developed from a part-time starter as an Alabama freshman who averaged 4.2 points per game into the SEC Player of the Year as a senior (he also earned the league’s honor for Defensive Player of the Year). His college coach, Nate Oats, noted during a Friday press conference that it was frustrating to see many far less accomplished players at the college level get picked before Jones, who spearheaded Alabama to a 26-7 record last season. The Crimson Tide were the only high-major team to win their conference regular season and tournament championships, partly due to Jones’ all-around excellence.
“I saw a quote from Trajan Langdon that (the Pelicans) were ecstatic he was available at 35,” Oats said of Jones being selected early in Round 2. “I would’ve been too, because a bunch of guys drafted 10 or 15 picks ahead of (Jones), he’s a better player than them and will contribute more to winning.”
That will be a primary goal for both Murphy and Jones as they join New Orleans, finding ways to complement a young core that features recent All-Star forwards Brandon Ingram, 23, and Zion Williamson, 21.
“Speaking basketball-wise, you’ve got guys like Zion and Brandon Ingram; they’re going to attract one and a half (defenders),” said Murphy, a career 40 percent three-point shooter in college. “So when I’m able to space the floor and give those guys even more room to operate, if my man goes to help, it’s going to be a knockdown three.”
“It’s going to be super fun,” Jones said, when asked specifically about Williamson. “I’ve never seen him play in person so I’m super excited, to see how he plays, how he moves, communicates with guys.”
Murphy and Jones also have in common a defense-first mentality, something Langdon stressed would be a priority throughout the offseason for New Orleans.
“Going to Virginia, you have to play defense,” Murphy said, alluding to his decision to transfer to the ACC school. “I took a lot of pride being there. I became a much better defender and now I enjoy playing defense a lot. I know that’s something that will keep me on the floor.”
“I started playing under my dad (as a coach),” Jones said. “He told me, ‘Go play defense and get the ball to whoever needed to score.’ I knew that was going to be my way onto the court to find minutes. I tried to hone in on those skills and be the best defender I can be.”
Neither player put up big scoring numbers in college, with Murphy third on Virginia in points per game last season, while Jones was fourth for Alabama. Yet both made other major contributions, including a few intangible ones, for two of the NCAA’s most successful programs in recent years.
“(We want) highly competitive guys who are team-first,” Langdon said of a trait the Pelicans are pursuing. “I think we got that with these two guys.”