Keegan Murray shined across the 2022 NBA Summer League and quickly got the whole of the Sacramento fanbase behind him early in July. He tackled the Kings’ seven summer contests with his usual consistent, calm approach, while also showing continued, impressive improvements as an on-ball creator and off-the-dribble scorer. He hit buzzer beating and overtime-forcing shots, deservedly won the Summer League MVP award, and earned himself a spot in the early conversation for the 2023 Rookie of the Year award.
Of course, the Kings’ focus is making the playoffs, and Murray doesn’t need to win the award to help make that a reality. Sacramento fans know as well as any that a ROY trophy doesn’t guarantee a young player continued success or define the success of the franchise. But given the squad’s need for competence and consistency from the forward spots, Murray could certainly make a case for Rookie of the Year, especially if the Kings compete for a playoff/play-in spot deep into the season.
That said, one of the greatest aspects of Keegan’s game is his ability to be a consistent, big-time impact player just through the flow of the game; this was true when he was the go-to leading scorer at Iowa and was still the case when he was the Summer League MVP. He almost always makes basketball decisions with purpose and pose. He doesn’t demand the ball or force up heat-check shots—and his excellent deep shooting ability will make him one hell of an secondary offensive fit next to De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis. But this secondary role may be what keeps him from winning the Rookie of the Year award, which very often goes to youngsters who are focal points of their team’s offense. Among the past four winners–Luka Doncic, Ja Morant, LaMelo Ball, and Scottie Barnes–only Barnes did not lead his team in points, usage rate, or both.
My bet (as well as Las Vegas’ bet) for Rookie of the Year is Paolo Banchero; Orlando needs a go-to scoring and playmaking option, and while the Magic probably won’t compete for a playoff spot, Banchero is going to put up big-time numbers for that squad and will almost certainly get more touches than Murray.
Barring injuries, it seems very unlikely that Murray leads the Kings in scoring and/or usage rate, but he could have a similar impact that Scottie Barnes did last year when he won the award in Toronto. While Barnes was 5th amongst Raptors for points per game and 5th amongst high-minute players for usage rate, he put up excellent numbers—15.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 49.2% from the field—and, most importantly, was excellent on both ends of the court for a Toronto squad that finished 5th in the East. Being great for a good basketball team seems a dang straightforward way to earn award consideration.
Of course, no rookie, Keegan very much included, needs to win the ROY award to be a meaningful NBA player moving forward – just check in on the dude who lost the award in 2009. But it would mean much for the Kings to see Murray belong in consideration, as it’ll signal his continued consistency and improvement. Keegan Murray has had one hell of a basketball ascension in the last 10 months, and it’s time to stop betting against his continued rise.