Orlando Magic general manager John Hammond was on In The Zone on 96.9 The Game the day after Markelle Fultz’s return to the court.
There was a lot of excitement in the Magic fandom for the moment and it seemed like it was something the whole organization was working toward for the entire season. The fact Fultz stepped onto the court so quickly and made such a clear and big impact was only icing on the cake.
But Hammond had some bad news for the host of that radio show. He was watching Fultz’s return from a hotel room in the never-ending journey of a member of an NBA front office. He was on the road doing some scouting.
And it must take a lot to get one of the top guys in the front office on the road in February to watch a prospect. Someone very special.
Hammond that evening said he was in Iowa. So, it did not take long to figure out who he was there to see.
Keegan Murray and Iowa were home to take on Northwestern. It has been no secret the Magic have been in on Murray for a long time — well before the team knew it was selecting first.
The Orlando Magic have done a poor job hiding their interest in Iowa forward Keegan Murray. He is a prospect who checks off every box the Magic like.
What did Murray do in that game Hammond watched? Murray scored 26 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in a blowout win over the Wildcats.
It does not take long looking at Murray to see why they like him. And the Magic have made it really no secret they are interested.
The team reportedly interviewed him at the NBA Draft Combine and Khobi Price of the Orlando Sentinel reports Murray was the first major prospect to make his way through Orlando for a workout and interview.
Why the seeming obsession and interest? That part is clear from looking at his play.
Murray is a 6-foot-8 forward who averaged 23.5 points per game and shot 39.8-percent from beyond the arc on 4.7 3-point attempts per game for Iowa’s high-powered offense. He also averaged 8.7 rebounds per game.
Murray checks all the boxes the Magic like too.
He is a long and lengthy defender who recorded 1.9 blocks per game and 1.3 steals per game. He had 2.0 defensive win shares and a 2.7 defensive box plus-minus according to Sports-Reference.
The combination of his shooting ability and his defensive potential is clearly what has caught the Magic’s eye and has made him perhaps the best prospect behind the big five that have seemingly separated themselves in this draft class.
It is hard not to find something to like in his game and see where he fits in throughout the NBA. And for the Magic, it is hard to find a prospect that fits their “type” better than someone like Murray.
What do we know about the Magic’s draft preferences?
They love players with length. Murray has that and uses it well. He was a strong defender at Iowa and made his name on that end of the floor as a freshman before his big burst this past season with his scoring.
They love players who are versatile and can defend multiple positions. With his size and length, he should easily be able to guard any wing player with the potential to guard bigger forwards too.
Murray was exceptional at keeping players in front of him and challenging and contesting shots. That will translate to the next level and with his shooting, he projects at minimum as a high-level reserve.
They are still searching for players who can hit from the outside with that size and length. Murray does that exceptionally well, able to hit shots on the move as well as in spot-ups.
They love versatility and players who can play multiple positions and play in multiple ways.
The variety of ways a team could use Murray is really exciting.
Murray is the kind of wing who can get a rebound — and he rebounds very well for his position — and take it off the dribble all the way to the basket for a thunderous jam or someone who can run and fill the lanes to do the same or pop out to the 3-point line.
He is also able to score in a variety of ways.
Teams could run him off cuts and help him spot up at the 3-point line or teams could use him off cuts moving to the basket. Or they could throw him the ball in the post where he can feast on smaller players. He is a big enough body to get good post position and teams have to respect his ability to turn and shoot over defenders.
Murray is not a primary scorer or creator at this point. While he has good mobility and good moves to get around the paint, he is not particularly strong at shooting off the dribble.
His best moves are when he catches the ball and fires pretty quickly or when he can back in the post. He is not great at working in space when he is not in transition or when the defense is set.
That is the big reason why he is not considered a top prospect in an already full group of top prospects. But it is easy to see how he could continue to improve in those areas or could settle in as a high-level starter.
It is also fairly easy to see why the Magic took so much of an interest in him during the draft process. And why Orlando still wanted to get him in for an interview even while holding the No. 1 pick. He has a lot of the skills and attributes the Magic look for in draft prospects.
If there is one player in this draft that truly checks off all the boxes for this team, it is Murray.
But Murray is not at the level of the other prospects ahead of him.
Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero are clearly a tier above him because of their self-creation ability and the unique way they do things. Smith, the closest comparison, is simply a better defender and better shooter than Murray.
So Murray will still be a top-10 and likely even a top-five pick in this draft. And there is no shame in that. He will help whatever team he ultimately joins as a solid starter. Murray remains one of the top prospects in this draft.
If the Magic had lost the Lottery, he would have been an easy selection. They, as much as anyone, have made that abundantly clear that they were after him and looking to select him.
Murray will shoot his way into the NBA. Just not at the level the Magic are picking, as much as the franchise seems to be holding onto completing their profile of him.