Keegan Murray and Kings fans had to wait a few extra days for his NBA debut, and once he got on the court Saturday night at Golden 1 Center, the 22-year-old rookie quickly showed why Sacramento used the No. 4 overall pick in the 2022 draft on him.
After recovering from a bout of COVID-19, Murray came off the bench in his first regular-season game and three minutes into the contest against the Los Angeles Clippers, he picked up a loose ball and calmly knocked down a 3-pointer for his first NBA field goal.
There was no hesitation in Murray’s shot. He wasn’t scared. And that was only the beginning of his impressive debut.
Murray finished with 19 points, five rebounds, two assists and two blocks in 33 minutes. He went 7-of-10 from the field and 3-of-6 from behind the 3-point line. Over the last 25 years, Jason Williams is the only Kings rookie to score more points in his NBA debut.
For as good as Murray was, it wasn’t enough as the Kings lost 111-109 to the Clippers, dropping Sacramento to 0-2 with a matchup against the defending champion Warriors on Sunday night in San Francisco.
Despite the loss, Murray’s teammates couldn’t help but rave about what he brings to the table, knowing full well that if they want to snap the franchise’s 16-year playoff drought, they are going to need the Iowa product to develop quickly.
“Oh, he’s great. He’s great,” Domantas Sabonis told Morgan Ragan and Matt Barnes on “Kings Postgame Live” after the loss. “We’ve been waiting for him to play. He came out, was poised, made all the right reads, guarded really well. I’m really happy for him. Only big things to come.”
While Murray produced off the bench, it was fifth-year pro De’Aaron Fox who led the way for the Kings, finishing with a team-high 36 points.
Soon enough, Fox might have a new running mate in the starting lineup, as Murray proved he’s not long for a bench role.
“I think that’s going to be a classic Keegan Murray game,” Fox told reporters after the game. “He does things quietly but I think the fans feel it. In the stadium, they are doing what they used to do with Yogi [Ferrell]. After his first basket, I was like ‘Wow, this is what we’re doing.’ He did a hell of a job. He’s out there guarding one of the best players in the NBA. That’s a tough matchup for anybody. I think he had a great debut but I wish we capitalized on that and got the win but we have a game tomorrow.”
Though Murray didn’t start the game, he was part of the closing lineup for the Kings, which meant he had to guard seven-time NBA All-Star Paul George. That’s tough enough for a seasoned veteran. But first-year Kings coach Mike Brown gave Murray the assignment and the 6-foot-8 forward took it on.
“I’m a guy that’s not going to back down from anyone,” Murray told reporters. “He’s a guy that’s one of the best scorers in the league. Coach Brown wanted me to guard him, put me on him and I accepted that challenge for myself.
“I think my defense is leaps and bounds better from when I was in college and that’s something I try to take pride in because in the NBA, if you want to succeed in this league, you got to be able to defend, so that’s something that’s been key for me.”
On this night, Murray was arguably the Kings’ second best player on the floor behind Fox. That’s good and bad news. Sacramento has high expectations for Murray and if he’s already this good, there’s no telling what his ceiling is. On the other hand, the team needs its veteran to step up in order to win games.
“Keegan was great,” Brown told reporters after the game. “He’s a young that only going to get better and there’s not many things that phase him. He’s going to keep playing hard, try to play the right way and that’s what you love about him. You have a guy like that, especially at his age that can impact the game on both ends. He’s going to be fantastic for us. I’m excited about it.”
Kings fans already appear to be head of heels for Murray, as they serenaded him with a standing ovation when he checked into the game for the first time. It’s clear this will be a two-way street between Murray and the fanbase.
“It meant everything to me,” Murray told reporters. “Their support, since I’ve been drafted, since the start, all I’ve felt is love from Sacramento and I’m forever grateful for what they’ve given me so far and I’m excited for the rest of our games this year.”
Murray will get his first regular-season taste of a hostile road environment when the Kings travel down to the Bay Area on Sunday to take on the Warriors.
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Based on how things went Saturday night, with Murray not backing down from George, it’s unlikely that he will be bothered by opposing fans.