CHICAGO — Most of the top-rated players at the NBA draft combine elected not to participate in Thursday’s sessions with reporters.
Duke power forward Paolo Banchero, Auburn power forward Jabari Smith, Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren, Purdue guard Jaden Ivey and Kentucky guard Shaedon Sharpe were all no shows.
But not Iowa 6-foot-8 forward Keegan Murray.
Murray was front and center, answering questions and soaking in the entire experience. As Murray put it, he is a late bloomer who still can’t believe he is in this position after not being heavily recruited and having a minor role for the Hawkeyes as a freshman.
“If you told me three years ago I’d be in this position, I’d kind of smirk at you and laugh,” he said.
Now he finds himself likely locked in as a top-10 prospect and someone whom the Blazers likely would love to select at No. 7 during the June 23 draft.
The most ideal draft outcome for the Portland Trail Blazers would be to come away with a starting power forward.
That’s the team’s greatest need.
Unfortunately for the Blazers, they have no real shot at Holmgren, Banchero or Smith. But the fourth-best potential power forward on most draft lists, Murray, could be in play. Granted, it’s a long shot. Most NBA mock drafts have Murray gone by the time the Blazers select. Bleacher Report is not one of them. In its latest mock draft, Murray falls to New Orleans at No. 8, while the Blazers select Duke small forward AJ Griffin.
But on paper, Murray, 21, makes more sense. He would give Portland a versatile forward capable of playing both small forward and power forward, and loaded with enough ability to contribute right away. Plus, he isn’t 19 or 20 like many high-end prospects in this draft. He has more experience and that could help him adjust quickly to the NBA life.
Murray on Thursday said he had met with just about every lottery team and had a meeting scheduled with the Blazers on Friday. He said he believes that he would be ready to contribute right away, even for a team with playoff aspirations such as Portland.
“I’m ready for anything,” he said. “I’m able to play different roles. I feel like I’m not scared of any moment. If I’m starting the first day against a really good team in a big stadium, I’m ready for that moment. Or if I’m starting 15 games, 80 games down the road. It doesn’t matter to me. I’m just ready for any moment.”
Murray’s trek to this point certainly wasn’t the norm. He acknowledged that he is a late bloomer and believes he still has a lot of room to grow.
Murray said he was 5-foot-10 as a sophomore at Prairie High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He hit a growth spurt and ended up being a three-star recruit on 247Sports and thus not heavily pursued by major programs, even after spending a year at DME Academy in Daytona Beach, Florida. Murray landed at Iowa, where he averaged just 7.2 points per game as a freshman.
“I was playing my role on that veteran team,” he said. Then as a sophomore, he blossomed, averaging 23.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game while shooting 55.4% from the field and 39.8% on threes.
“My sophomore season, my mentality flipped,” he said. “I knew I was going to have the ball in my hands more and I had to take that for what it was worth.”
All too often, age can hurt a prospect high in the draft, with the thought being that if he had NBA star potential, he would have flashed it as a freshman.
Murray doesn’t subscribe to that theory.
“I feel like if you’re comparing me on age, and not what I do on the court, then maybe that’s another conversation, but for me, it’s whatever I do on the court,” he said. “Age is something I can’t control.”
Murry said his main priority this summer is to expand his offensive repertoire so he can take advantage of the NBA’s wide-open style of play that includes increased spacing compared to the college game.
Murray said he also wants to improve his defense, which he says is often overshadowed by his offense. He’s also continuing to add weight to his 225-pound frame and considers himself to be a 21-year-old in an 18-year-old’s body.
“I feel like my ceiling is as high as anyone just because I’m a late bloomer,” he said. “I feel like I haven’t really grown into my body just yet.”
Still, he said he believes that he already plays with good strength.
“I might not look as big but my functional strength is really good for me,” he said. “I feel like I can switch on the guards, switch on to bigs. So, obviously, the athleticism, the size is a little bit different than in college. But every level you go up is another challenge. So, for me, I’m willing to take the challenge. I don’t really care who’s matched up across from me. I want to take that challenge and do what I can to stop them.”
There is some question as to whether Murray will be a better small forward or power forward in the NBA. He believes he excels at both.
“I never played the four until I got to Iowa,” he said. “So, for me, coming to Iowa, I was more comfortable on the wing. But then circumstances happened, I had to play the four spot. So, for me, I feel like in the NBA, there’s really just the 5-man in the post. It’s really a spread-out game.”
Murray compared his game to Atlanta forward John Collins, a player the Blazers could be interested in acquiring should the Hawks make him available via trade.
“He probably has more athleticism than me, but he is a guy that does all the dirty work, rebounds, runs the floor, cuts, hits open threes, is able to score the ball in a variety of ways,” Murray said.
Murray also compared himself to Milwaukee All-Star forward Khris Middleton.
The Blazers could use a player similar to both Collins and Middleton. Maybe Murray will be their guy. If it’s available.
And that’s a big if at this point.