Keegan Murray has broken through the ‘Rookie Wall’
It happens to most rookies across professional sports.
A highly-touted prospect makes their debut, plays well, generates buzz, and then pieces together an impressive stretch of games right out of the gate.
But then, when things appear to be swimmingly, BAM–The ‘Rookie Wall’ emerges and brings all positive momentum to a screeching halt.
The ‘Rookie Wall’ is a widely inevitable rough stretch that most first-year players encounter, particularly following hot starts to their respective careers. Countless players go through it every year, and Sacramento Kings rookie forward Keegan Murray’s start to his first NBA season has fallen in line with those before him.
Murray, the fourth-overall pick from June’s NBA Draft, burst onto the NBA scene as the rookie averaged 17.4 points and 4.0 rebounds per game on 49 percent shooting from the field and 39 percent from three-point land (7.6 attempts per contest) over his first five games.
On the heels of an MVP performance during the NBA Summer League showcase in Las Vegas, Murray looked like the player that Kings fans envisioned he would be when the team selected the 22-year-old out of Iowa.
Tragedy struck the Murray family during Sacramento’s game in Charlotte on October 31st, as Murray’s grandmother suffered a stroke while in attendance at the Spectrum Center in North Carolina.
The 22-year-old Murray, who was already dealing with the everyday aspect of being a rookie in the NBA–along with the pressures of being a top-four pick–now had the weight of a very distressful personal situation on his shoulders as well.
Playing with a heavy heart, the rookie struggled throughout the month of November, averaging 8.0 points and 3.9 rebounds per game on 33 percent shooting from the field and 27 percent from beyond the arc over 13 appearances. Murray simply didn’t look like himself, but head coach Mike Brown made it clear that he planned on riding things out with the rookie as he worked through the rough stretch.
“That’s our guy,” Mike Brown said back on December 4th when asked if Murray’s struggles could prompt a change to the starting lineup. “He’s going to stay there.”
During Murray’s rough month of November, it looked as if the forward was playing at half-speed. Murray might have been in a Kings jersey and on the floor, but the player that dominated Summer League and burst on the scene over his first week of play was nowhere to be seen.
Then, the calendar turned to December.
That's SIX threes for Keegan tonight 🙌 pic.twitter.com/xC07QodDFX
— Kings on NBCS (@NBCSKings) December 22, 2022
Murray has returned to his Summer League MVP form over the past 10 games, as he will enter play on Friday holding averages of 15.2 points and 3.6 rebounds per game while shooting 47 percent from the field and a red-hot 48 percent from beyond the three-point line (7.0 attempts per game) during the month of December.
Something that Murray has lacked during the initial months of his NBA tenure is consistent confidence. Murray has seemed confident shooting the basketball, but it’s the other aspects of his game that needed more confidence.
Going to the basket, taking charges, locking in for a tough defensive assignment. Those are the things that Brown and Murray’s teammates have been hoping to see from the rookie during the start to the season.
“If you drive to the basket, dunk on somebody,” Brown said back on November 27th when asked if he had any critiques on Murray’s shot selection. “Do not give cats respect that they don’t deserve in this league.”
Well, if you wanted proof that Murray is taking Brown’s advice to heart and tapping into that avenue of confidence, that proof was showcased during Wednesday’s game when the rookie attempted to collect the first poster jam of his career.
Keegan really tried it 😱 pic.twitter.com/DATL3K8bYC
— Kings on NBCS (@NBCSKings) December 22, 2022
The three-point shot has looked lethal. Murray is proving that he is going be less-shy when it comes to attacking the basket. Even on the defensive end, the rookie secured his first Defensive Player of the Game award after drawing two charges against the Lakers.
As tough as the month of November was for Murray, his strong start and even stronger month of December speak volumes to how strong of a player–both mentally and physically–he truly is.
“There’s going to be ups and downs. Keegan started off the year great. Obviously, he had a down spell, but everyone has a down spell,” Kings guard Kevin Huerter said of Murray’s play following Sacramento’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.
“You go through so many ups and downs, especially as a rookie. He’s learning. Every game he’s learning and getting better. His confidence is back.”
The results are there for Murray, as his hot month of December has thrust him to the top of several NBA Rookie leaderboards, especially when it comes to knocking down looks on the perimeter:
Rookie leaders in made 3PT FG:
K. Murray – 66
B. Mathurin & J. Smith Jr. – 59
Rookie leaders in 3PT% (min. 70 attempts)
K. Murray – .386
A. Nembhard – .383
Rookie leaders in games with 4+ 3PT FG makes:
K. Murray – 6 games
B. Mathurin – 4 games
Keegan Murray. pic.twitter.com/zpeeO1xA3i
— Frankie Cartoscelli (@FCartoscelli3) December 22, 2022
Sacramento is off to its best start in over 15 years, and Murray’s presence has been impactful as his three-point shooting is a solid compliment to All-Star center Domantas Sabonis and hopeful All-Star guard De’Aaron Fox.
With Murray bursting through the rookie wall and playing at a high level, it only adds to his confidence–as well as the team’s already high-spirits and notable chemistry.
Key word: Confidence.
Murray never wavered during his rough stretch, and if there is one thing that you can bank on with this rookie, it’s that he is always going to bet on himself, no matter how tough things get over the course of a season.
“I think I’ve gone through the ups and downs of the NBA season already early on, so I know what I need to do to be successful on the court,” Murray said following Wednesday’s game when asked about his confidence level. “
“It’s just staying patient, find my rhythm each game because each game is different. So, just sticking to what I know best and just being confident myself.”