NEW YORK – Jamal Murray had to wait a little longer than he’d hoped to hear his name called at Thursday night’s NBA Draft, but going seventh overall to the Denver Nuggets is hardly a consolation prize.
He became John Calipari’s 26th draft pick, 20th first-rounder and 14th lottery selection since the coach was hired at Kentucky before the 2009-10 season.
“There’s no disappointment in getting drafted,” Murray said. “If I go 60th, I’m drafted. I’m in the NBA. I’m about to start my career. I just want to go to the right team, the team that wants me.”
That turned out to be the Nuggets, despite Calipari trying for weeks to make a case that Murray was the safest bet at No. 1 overall – where LSU’s Ben Simmons was ultimately chosen. No one else jumped on that train, but several mock drafts did have Murray going third overall.
When he started to slide, albeit slightly, his high school coach, Larry Blunt, tweeted that it was merely “adding fuel to the fire” and there would be “fire burning in him” to show the first six teams they made a mistake. Was Blunt’s assessment right?
“Obviously, always. I always believe I’m the best player,” Murray said. “When a team really sees the No. 1 choice, like Denver did, I just want to play for them more. I want to give them all I got.”
While he set UK freshman records for scoring and made 3-pointers, concerns about his defense and athleticism may have contributed to the slide. Fellow guards Kris Dunn of Providence and Buddy Hield of Oklahoma were picked ahead of Murray at No. 5 and 6.
“I don’t think anybody is actually going to debate (Calipari) that if you’re talking offensively, this kid is special,” ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford said. “He can shoot it, he can score off the bounce. He has a scorer’s mentality and instinct, and he’s not afraid to do his job. That’s a huge plus.
“But defensively there are going to be issues in the NBA. There were issues in college. I think he’s OK vertically and explosively, but does he have the lateral quickness to defend his position in the NBA?”
Murray’s father actually looked happy Thursday night that his son slid a little, and that he knows now there are doubters. Roger Murray has trained Jamal since he was knee-high and has a handle on what drives him.
“I kind of think it’s good for him, just motivation to go and be focused,” said Roger, beaming in his new Nuggets hat. “Now he can use something to say, ‘OK, now I need to do this and this, work on certain things.’ I know this will fuell him, so it’s good. I don’t need to fuel him. It’s him now.”
And the elder Murray had a simple objective as he looked at teams that might take his boy.
“Playing time, playing time,” he said. “This is a good spot, because he’ll get playing time.”
Jamal Murray thanked Calipari for his role in developing the versatile guard, teaching him how to play off the ball and be an elite shot-maker coming off screens. Steph Curry is the only freshman in NCAA history to hit more 3-pointers than Murray.
“A great decision, the best school in the NCAA,” he said, “and the best coach.”
And of course, a weird question from the assembled media gave him one more chance to talk about his now-famous meditation skills. Because the air in Denver is thin, you know, and how will you breathe?
“I have very good breathing. I know how to control it. I know what to do when I lack air,” Murray said. “I think I’ll fit perfectly. I’ll just get better, even my meditation, with that.”
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