Jamal Murray once again has NBA scouts salivating on his potential to become a fluid scorer in the NBA.
Over the past three games, Murray has shot 52.3 percent (23-of-44) from the field and 90.9 percent (10-of-11) from the free throw line. He’s vastly improved his shot selection and is becoming one of UK’s most efficient scorers while carrying a 17.6 ppg average through 16 games.
As of Tuesday, DraftExpress had Murray as the projected No. 9 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Some factors keeping the Kitchener, Ontario native from increasing his stock are explosiveness, decision making and his defense.
In the Cats’ last three outings, Murray has shown improvements in all three aspects. He’s gotten into driving lanes by having a quicker first step than the defender, he’s matured his shot selection and he’s played a role in UK holding its opponents to average 41 percent from the field.
One of the best strides – perhaps one so big that would force scouts to downplay his weaknesses – Murray has made as the season progressed however is his three-point shooting. In UK’s first five games, he shot a horrendous 8-of-26 (30.7 percent). Over the Cats’ past six games, that percentage has skyrocketed to nearly 45 percent.
John Calipari said after Tuesday’s win over Mississippi State he’s altered the way his team practices shooting from behind the arc – a reason for Murray’s late success.
“We’re doing a lot of different kind of shooting. Again, for (Murray), he didn’t know that he was open if a guy was in the lane running at him and he’s at the three-point line,” Calipari said. “He thought, well, I couldn’t get it off. So now we’re doing drills for our guards where there are guys running from you at the lane but you’re open at the three. Get it off.
“If you can’t get that shot off, you can’t play basketball. You’re really not a basketball player,” Calipari said.
Murray has proved he is indeed a basketball player. And as his 21.3 ppg average over the last three games would suggest, he’s a pretty good one. Mississippi State’s Craig Sword, who had the task of guarding Tyler Ulis and Murray throughout the game, would agree.
“I feel like (Murray and Ulis) are some great players on our scouting report,” Sword said. “They just told us to contain them, contain them two. We tried, we did what we could.”
What the Bulldogs tried to do to stop Murray from scoring proved to be not nearly enough. Murray scored 22 points (including five treys) and dished three assists.
According to 247Sports’ Chris Fisher, Murray’s 282 points through the first 16 games are the most by any UK player in the Calipari era.
But breaking school records is not what’s driving Murray to become a better player. Calipari buying the team Powerball lottery tickets is.
Calipari explained he had each player put in $2 and then used their money to buy a lottery ticket for them. He asked each player what they would do if they won the money, but went on to say none of those tickets would be the winning ticket.
“But then I said you already own a ticket – you,” Calipari said, emphasizing to his team each guy will go as far as he decides to go in life. That lottery speech pointed Murray in the right direction.
“I took in what he said. It made a lot of sense and it put things into perspective about what I want to do with my career and what direction I want to go in,” Murray said. “I just have to go out and do it.”
This article was written by Josh Ellis and originally appeared in the Kentucky Kernel on January 14, 2016. It has been republished with the author’s permission.