Before the draft, it was hard to imagine him being there when San Antonio selected, as he was one of the players invited to the green room. The 19-year-old combo guard had shot up in mock drafts and many considered him a lottery talent. Yet there he was late in the first round for the Spurs to take him and possibly turn him into their latest draft night steal and their sixth man of the future.
Murray wasn't supposed to be a one-and-done prospect but the great individual season he had in Washington had scouts sniffing around. He averaged 16 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals as a freshman and decided to declare. That means he's a project but one that seems to have the talent to be worth the wait, as he could have been a higher pick in a couple of years had he stayed in college.
It's hard to see Murray playing right away for the Spurs. He's 6'5" and has good length, sporting a 6'9" wingspan, but he needs to add weight before he's able to defend anyone at the NBA level. He's also turnover prone at this stage and lacks the solid three-point shot required to play off the ball. Just like Cory Joseph did, Murray might spend most of his rookie season in Austin, where he will get to continue to develop his point guard instincts and his shot. Fans will have to be patient with him, as RC. Buford mentioned after the draft.
"He's an athletic guard. I think he's pretty good on transition. He needs help finishing and from a shooting standpoint, he's got to get a lot more consistent and disciplined. But this is a developmental piece."
If he does reach his significant potential, however, the Spurs could have a jewel in their hands. As a protege of Jamal Crawford, it's not surprising to see Murray boasting advanced ball handling skills at just 19. He's not the most explosive guard around but he likes to push the pace and finds a way to get past his man and into the lane. He had the best floater in all college basketball, connecting on 45 percent of those in between shots in the paint, according to Synergy Sports. His touch is phenomenal.
(Video courtesy of Blog a Bull's Easy Eis. Check out his great breakdown of Murray here)
That's a great weapon to have but it can't be the only one in a rotation player's arsenal, as it might be the case for Murray right now. The good news is that his finishing ability inside should improve as he adds strength and the Spurs have some of the best developmental coaches in the league. If he can develop a mid-range jumper first and then a decent pull-up three-pointer, Murray should be able to create his own shot, something not many players in the Spurs' roster can do.
Since Parker will be the starter at point guard for the foreseeable future, Murray could develop into a great bench weapon as soon as next season, provided everything goes according to plan. His mediocre court vision and passing ability won't matter much there, as he will be relied upon to put points on the board, which seems to come natural to him.
His iffy defensive fundamentals won't be as big a problem either, as he'll go against backups. He'll be asked to put pressure on opponents and use his length to rack up steals, which he also can do already.
(Again, make sure you read Easy Eis thorough breakdown of Murray's strengths and weaknesses)
If Murray can make an impact off the bench in the next two or three years, he could allow for a smoother transition into a post-Ginobili era. In time and if his passing instincts develop, he should be able to create both for himself and for others while providing secondary ball handling. His length could make him a defensive playmaker who makes timely steals and his size should allow him to defend some shooting guards.
Murray is not a typical Spurs draft pick. He's very skilled but plays with a flare that Gregg Popovich usually discourages and is not common in the prospects San Antonio usually selects. The fit in the short term is questionable as well, as at this point he's used to pushing the pace and looking for his shot while the Spurs walk the ball up court and go to their stars for buckets. He's more Jamal Crawford than Manu as far as sixth men go, which is obviously not ideal.
Yet the pick makes a lot of sense thinking about the future. Ginobili will be gone soon and Parker's days as a great shot creator are winding down. Kyle Anderson could evolve into a good playmaker at the wing but his potential seems to be limited. Someone will have to be able to provide secondary scoring to complement LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard and Murray has the potential to fill that role if he develops, as Buford pointed out.
"With the age of our team, adding a young kid with some pretty extensive athletic ability and the ability to grow -- I don't think there's expectations that he's going to come in and catch our world on fire but we like the opportunity to grow."
It's obviously too early to say if the Spurs made the right decision. Maybe a true floor general like Tyler Ulis would have been the way to go. The roster is lacking size, so letting Damian Jones and Deyonta Davis slip away could come back to haunt San Antonio. A more NBA-ready prospect like Malcolm Brogdon could have made an impact next season, while Murray will likely not be ready to play rotation minutes for at least another year.
The time to think about the immediate future wasn't Thursday, though. The Spurs will be able to make some additions in free agency and perhaps via trade to improve their depth as they look to continue to contend. In this strange draft in which a high-upside player such as Murray falls to the end of the first round, the right play was to be bold, to think two or three years ahead.
R.C. Buford understood that and landed someone who could be a big part of San Antonio's future.