Keegan Murray is officially the Kings’ go-to defender

Cleveland Cavaliers v Sacramento Kings
Cleveland Cavaliers v Sacramento Kings / Ezra Shaw/GettyImages

The Sacramento Kings became relevant again because of their offense. Much to Coach Brown’s dismay, their defense has not been good. With a lot of teams it’s an effort issue. Players want to score and then take a breather on defense. 

That’s not necessarily the problem with the Kings. It’s more due to their personnel. Davion Mitchell and Kessler Edwards both have the talent to be lock-down defenders, but both struggle to contribute offensively and stay on the court. 

Harrison Barnes’ age is starting to show defensively, and Kevin Huerter will never be a great on-ball defender. That leaves De’Aaron Fox and Keegan Murray as the top perimeter defenders in the starting lineup. 

Fox has already improved a lot compared to early on in his career, but Murray has the size advantage.

Keegan Murray has come a long way as a defender

Last season, the youngster mostly matched up with other wings and rarely ever with a team’s best player. Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, and Trey Murphy III were his top three matchups. 

He also met some big-time stars like Paul George, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson, but it wasn’t the norm. In fact, teams targeted him on defense. Now, just a season later, he has become Mike Brown’s go-to defender.

It all started earlier this season when the Kings were desperately looking for someone to slow down Stephen Curry. Since none of the guards were able to do it, Murray got the assignment, hoping that his size would give him an advantage. 

It was the first time since last season’s playoffs that Curry didn’t absolutely torch the Kings. After that game, Brown acknowledged that Murray has grown a lot on both ends of the floor. Now, he now has his Coach’s full trust.

Last night, Murray showed his full potential as a defender

Brown likes to have Murray guarding a team’s best player from one to four, depending on the matchup now, and we saw that in full effect last night.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are a long team filled with offensive weapons but no greater than Donovan Mitchell. Coming into the game, he was averaging close to 30 points a game. He can get to the rim and punish you from behind the arc as well.

He is not the kind of player you just stop, but Murray, with Chris Duarte and Keon Ellis backing him up, held him to his second-worst shooting night of the season. Mitchell still finished with 22 points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block, but that is far below his scoring average, and he had to work for every single point. 

He started the game 0-5 in the first quarter and eventually finished 7-21 from the field. For a team that is working hard to improve defensively and is relying on a second-year player to lead them there, that is a huge win. 

All season long, Coach Brown has been preaching physicality and effort, and Murray delivered last night. He competed against Mitchell, and when the Cavs’ All-Star was not on the court, he picked up Caris LeVert, who has been on a tear to start the season.

Between the two, Murray had to do a lot of running and chasing around. Nevertheless, he finished the game with 25 points, shooting 9-13 from the field, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal. 

The Kings love what Murray is doing defensively 

When asked about his youngster’s performance last night, Brown mentioned that Murray is moving better than when he came to the league, is stronger, and navigates screens much better. 

He credited the former to Fox taking Murray under his wing over the summer and playing plenty of one-on-one against him. Now, Murray is not only able to guard bigger wings but can also stay with quicker, shifty guards. 

“All of it is starting to come together for him because we expect him to be, if not the most versatile defender on the team, at least one of them,” Brown told reporters in his postgame interview. 

He added that Murray should have won the Kings’ defensive player of the game crown, which the team awarded to their coach in honor of his 400th career regular season win. 

Fox voiced the same sentiment. “I think he was great,” he said when asked about Murray’s defense on Mitchell, “I think he can be an outstanding defender .”

Guarding a team’s best player night after night while also having an extended role offensively is not an easy thing to do. It is a tall challenge, especially for someone who just started his second season as a pro. 

Keegan Murray, however, feels ready. “I love it,” he responded when asked about his new responsibility. Generally a man of few words, that’s all we need to hear from Murray, who is in the midst of a sophomore jump. 

He is evolving from a catch-and-shoot threat into a true two-way player.

Mike Brown is finally happy with the Kings’ defensive effort

Defense has been an emphasis for the Kings this season. Last year, they took teams by surprise. Now, they won’t be able to always rely on outscoring opponents. They need to get stops as well. 

That doesn’t mean that they have to be a top-10 defense. Ranking somewhere in the middle of the field would be good enough. Thus, Brown has been imploring his players to be locked in and physical. 

Last night, it finally looked like they were getting there, and it had an impact on their offense. Stops lead to fast break opportunities, and that’s where the Kings can get easy points. A fast pace suits them well, and if they can outrun opponents, the game will likely end well for the Kings. 

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Brown had lots of good things to say about the defense. “I couldn’t ask for anything more than what they did,” he told reporters after the game.