As expected, Jamal Murray will leave Kentucky after one season and head to the NBA, the freshman announced Friday, according to Steve Hensley of WYMT-TV in Hazard, Kentucky.
Murray said that while he isn't hiring an agent, it is "most likely" he'll remain in the draft, per John Clay of the Lexington Herald-Leader.
The freshman guard from Canada projects to be one of the top picks in the 2016 draft. He may not be able to unseat Ben Simmons, the presumptive No. 1 overall selection, but the top five is a realistic landing zone.
Murray made the most of his time with the Wildcats. He averaged 20 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game and helped lead his team to the second round of the 2016 NCAA tournament. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Kitchener, Ontario, native also set a school record for most points in a season by a freshman with 720.
Opposing teams became very familiar with Murray's trademark celebration, via the SEC Network:
Murray certainly fits the mold for what is becoming the norm at point guard in the NBA, with Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving among those who have most symbolized that shift. His willingness to take his man off the dribble and his propensity to shoot first rather than look to pass are similar to the skill sets of Westbrook, Lillard and Irving, although Murray has yet to show the passing chops the others have to this point.
Murray's 2.3 turnovers a game are somewhat concerning, especially given his relatively low assists number. He's a good passer, though, so he should cut out some of the mistakes as he gains experience and grows comfortable in the NBA.
Similarly, the fact he's a 45.4 percent shooter is compensated by his willingness to get inside. Speaking to Bleacher Report's C.J. Moore, an Eastern Conference scout praised Murray's ability to drive into the paint:
He shows some creative ability to finish around the basket, especially since he's not a great athlete. I think it's important that he's willing to drive and have some physicality with it, which you also saw when he played in international competition, but also able to finish with some creativity using both of his hands and off the glass.
Over time, Murray can grow into a very good shooter. He made nice strides in that regard the longer the 2015-16 season went on. Here's a look at his monthly splits this year, per Sports-Reference.com:
|Jamal Murray 2015-16 Monthly Per-Game Splits|
Well, he's getting the ball by the man and he's not messing around with it as much, which means he's not turning it over as much. His shot selection has gotten better week by week by week. He's getting to the rim instead of settling for all jump shots and step-backs and fades. When he has shots, he takes them. He's just - his decision making as a basketball player has gotten better and better and better.
For most schools, Murray's departure would be a massive blow. He was one of the most dynamic players in the country, and he would only continue to get better next year. However, the Wildcats are well-acquainted with losing top talent.
Since Calipari's arrival in 2009, Kentucky has sent more than 20 players to the NBA, often after they only spent one or two years at the school. Most notably, big names such as Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall and likely 2015-16 Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns all stayed for a brief period before declaring.
As has become the custom in Lexington, Calipari already has a new wave of blue-chip recruits heading to the school for next season. Below is the Wildcats' 2016 recruiting class, per 247Sports' composite ranking:
|Kentucky 2016 Recruiting Class|
|Player||Position||National Ranking||Positional Ranking|
|De'Aaron Fox||Point Guard||No. 3||No. 1|
|Malik Monk||Combo Guard||No. 5||No. 1|
|Edrice Adebayo||Power Forward||No. 11||No. 3|
|Wenyen Gabriel||Power Forward||No. 14||No. 4|
|Sacha Killeya-Jones||Power Forward||No. 26||No. 9|
|Source: 247Sports' Composite Ranking|
Both Malik Monk and De'Aaron Fox should help fill the void left by Murray in the backcourt. Kentucky will almost certainly be one of the top teams in the country when next year's preseason polls are unveiled.
Murray, meanwhile, will focus all of his efforts on strengthening his draft stock. At this stage, he doesn't have a lot to prove to NBA scouts, so the next few months will be about staying healthy and fine-tuning his jump shot. If he can allay teams' fears about his shooting even somewhat, he should be a lock for the first five picks.