‘Unanimous’: Kings explored NBA draft options; Keegan Murray was best player available

·5 min read
John Minchillo/AP

There were high hopes as the sun rose over Sacramento on Thursday with reason to believe the Kings might make a series of moves to transform their team into a playoff contender after 16 consecutive losing seasons.

General manager Monte McNair was armed with the No. 4 pick in the NBA draft. He had two second-round picks, all of his future first-round picks and a number of players who could have been traded amid reports the Kings were pursuing Atlanta Hawks power forward John Collins.

When the day was done, the Kings had drafted Keegan Murray at No. 4 and traded both second-round picks, leaving fans to wonder why they didn’t do more to improve their roster. McNair emerged from the war room to address the assembled media as the clock passed 10 p.m. at Golden 1 Center. He said the Kings considered many possibilities before deciding Murray was not only the best fit, but the best player available, even with Jaden Ivey, Bennedict Mathurin, Shaedon Sharpe and Dyson Daniels still on the board.

“We vetted every opportunity, explored all options, and I think we ended up in a positive place tonight,” McNair said. “I think at the end of the day, with the fourth pick, after exploring all of our options, we felt extremely comfortable that the best player available was Keegan Murray, and we’re excited to welcome him to the Kings family.”

Murray, who turns 22 in August, arrived in Sacramento on Friday and will be presented at an introductory news conference Saturday. He is a 6-foot-8, 225-pound power forward who can run, shoot, rebound and defend at a high level. He was a finalist for the Naismith Men’s College Player of the Year award after averaging 23.5 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.3 steals as a sophomore at Iowa.

McNair said Murray was a “unanimous” choice in the organization’s front office. There were also strong indications that Kings owner Vivek Ranadive preferred Murray with legitimate questions about Ivey’s fit next to De’Aaron Fox.

“Obviously, Keegan is an extremely well-rounded player, a two-way player, one of the most prolific scorers in the country,” McNair said. “Blocks, steals, rebounds, 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. 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 draft him.”

Ivey was perhaps the most explosive player in the draft, but most of his strengths and weaknesses mirror Fox’s. Murray checks every box for the Kings, who have identified their biggest needs as shooting, length and defense as they try to build around Fox and Domantas Sabonis.

McNair said: “Keegan (had) one of the highest dunk rates for his position in college. A fantastic transition player. We talk about wanting to play fast here, and certainly that’s something we can emphasize, but we’ve got to get players who can do it, and we know we’ve got a few of those on our roster already, and Keegan’s another one.

“He is very smooth with his game, and maybe that lulls people to sleep, but he’s a guy who dunks the ball, runs in transition, rebounds the ball, blocks, steals. All these things indicate a dynamic player with athleticism, with skill, with all those things, so … we feel confident in not just his production, but his dynamism.”

Many fans and most NBA analysts coalesced around the belief that Ivey would be the best player available for Sacramento after the Kings jumped three spots in the NBA draft lottery to secure the No. 4 pick. The pick generated considerable trade interest with a number of teams trying to move up to draft Ivey. The Kings looked into the possibility of moving up or down in the draft. Ultimately, after looking at all offers, they decided to take Murray.

“It was certainly an exciting night when you make that jump (in the lottery), just the possibilities that it opens up, and my job is to do the due diligence and figure out what I can do,” McNair said. “Move up, move back, move out, sit and pick it, and we certainly explored all those, but I think as we went along, and certainly as we got into the final days, it was just apparent to us that if Keegan Murray was there, that was going to be the best course of action for us.”

The Kings once passed on Klay Thompson to draft Jimmer Fredette. They picked Thomas Robinson over Damian Lillard and Marvin Bagley III over Luka Doncic.

Only time can tell if the Kings passed on another generational talent, but there’s no question that Murray offered the best combination of talent, fit and NBA readiness. Ivey might be the player with the most upside, but McNair scoffed at the notion that Murray might have a low ceiling.

“It’s funny,” McNair said. “I won’t name names because the NBA probably wouldn’t like that, but I would say go back and look at some guys people thought had low ceilings, and I don’t know how you would say that about somebody who led the country in points scored, who had the steal-block-rebound numbers that he does. I think Keegan, in the Big 10, the best conference in the country, being one of the most productive players all season long against the toughest competition, we don’t see it that way. We think Keegan has an extremely high ceiling. We think he’s going to come in here and prove that to everyone. I’m sure he’s excited and I’m excited to see it.”

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