Why Murray was ‘unanimous' Kings choice over Ivey at No. 4


SACRAMENTO -- The 2022 NBA Draft went as expected for the first three picks, as the highly touted trio of Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith Jr. -- anticipated to land in the top three in some order -- found new homes in Orlando, Oklahoma City and Houston. 

The first big surprise of the night came at No. 4. 

As the Kings have done all too often in drafts during their record 16-year playoff drought, they raised eyebrows with a lottery pick by selecting Iowa forward Keegan Murray over Purdue guard Jaden Ivey, who in the eyes of many was the consensus fourth-best player in the 2022 class.

In the Kings' front office, however, it was an easy choice.

"At the end of the day with the fourth pick, after exploring our options, we felt extremely comfortable the best player available was Keegan Murray," general manager Monte McNair said after the draft. " ... Ultimately, after sitting in the room with my front office staff -- our whole staff, our scouting department, our analytics department -- it became unanimous that Keegan Murray was the best player available. And we jumped at the chance to select him."

Murray was the better fit for the current construction of the roster with guards De'Aaron Fox and Davion Mitchell holding down the backcourt and Domantas Sabonis in the paint. But Ivey and his best-in-class athletic ability were regarded by the majority of draft pundits as a tier above Murray in terms of potential to morph into an All-Star.

Those comparisons will only get louder from here on out, especially considering the Detroit Pistons chose Ivey with the next pick at No. 5. It's safe to assume whenever either Murray or Ivey has a big night as a rookie, the other player will hear about it. 

"There’s a lot of good prospects in this draft," McNair said when asked about what he saw in Ivey. "There’s going to be a lot of good players coming out of this draft. We’re certainly here to talk about Keegan -- somebody who, I’d say confidently we thought was the best player available at No. 4."

Versatility might be the best quality of the 6-foot-8 Murray, who will likely play both forward positions at times for new head coach Mike Brown. He'll be an impact player on offense, fresh off winning the Big Ten scoring title as a sophomore with five 30-point games and an average of 23.5 points per contest.

And Murray will cause problems on defense. He logged 1.9 blocks and 1.3 steals per game last season. Those defensive instincts, as well as his reported 6-foot-11 wingspan, will translate to the next level. 

"Keegan is an extremely well-rounded player, two-way player, one of the most prolific scorers in the country," McNair said. "Blocks, steals, rebounds, [he] impacts the game in so many ways. We talk about versatility -- somebody who can play inside and out on offense, somebody who can guard multiple positions on the defensive end. And somebody who was one of the best players on one of the best teams in the country, all year long."

Ivey might have the higher ceiling of the two players, but he definitely has more question marks than Murray. The Purdue product boasts blinding speed and a unique ability to draw contact and finish at the rim. His offensive skill set declines, though, the further away he drifts from the basket. Meanwhile, after shooting nearly 40 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore, Murray appears to be a catch-and-shoot threat from beyond the arc, a telltale sign of a prospect ready to take on a significant role.

McNair is confident the 21-year-old will be able to contribute right away.

RELATED: Why Murray selection at No. 4 proves Kings' win-now mentality

"We've been very clear what our goal is," he said. "We want to win; we want to make the playoffs. ... My job is to build the best team that will take the court this year and for years to come. So, I think Keegan is exactly that player. I think he's going to be with us for a long time, and somebody who has a very bright future in this league."

While you can question the track record of the Kings in recent NBA drafts, like selecting Thomas Robinson over Damian Lillard in 2012 and Jimmer Fredette over Klay Thompson the year prior, McNair's resume speaks for itself. Although now with the Indiana Pacers, Tyrese Haliburton is one of the best, improving young playmakers in the league. Davion Mitchell, selected ninth last summer by the Kings, came into his own as a rookie and averaged a double-double – 19.5 points and 10.0 assists – over the final 10 games of the season.

Maybe, just maybe, Murray is both the most ready NBA player and the owner of the higher ceiling of the two.

McNair could be right once again.

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