Meet Kevin Murphy, the NBA D-League's Next Stud Prospect

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistMarch 22, 2014

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Every once in a while, an NBA D-Leaguer rises above his competition and proves that he belongs playing at a higher level.

Kevin Murphy of the Idaho Stampede fits that billing...and then some.

Originally drafted by the Utah Jazz No. 47 overall in 2012 out of Tennessee Tech, the 6'6" swingman bounced around the D-League, NBA and France for a year and a half.

In January, the Stampede picked him up, and he has torched the minor leagues for nearly three months now. He's posting a blistering 26.3 points per game on 49.4 percent shooting, including 10 30-plus point games. 

What makes him the D-League's top dog?

Murphy won't likely be a standout or even a featured weapon if he earns a sustained NBA role, but he can be a useful rotational scorer due to his instincts and shooting ability.

With a knack for moving to the open creases in the defense and a smooth shooting stroke with a high release, he gives himself a good chance to score on every possession. Although he's not an elite athlete or top-level ball-handler, he can score in a variety of ways.

His three-point shot has been solid since college, but in Idaho he's finally getting a chance to showcase its full potential. The Stampede's stable of guards, including since-departed sensation Pierre Jackson (he now plays in Turkey), has done a great job of finding him in the corner and on the wing.

Murphy is shooting 39.5 percent from three-point land, and while it's a strength of his game, he doesn't force many shots. His triples normally fly within the flow of the offense, and he rarely chucks more than seven treys a game, even when he's carrying the squad. It's that rare breed of aggressive efficiency.

On the interior and mid-range areas, he's equally dangerous.

Murphy loves setting up shop on the weak-side corner and then quickly sneaking along the baseline behind the defense for easy layups. He also finds high-percentage scoring opportunities off curl cuts and dribble hand-offs, where he gets moving toward the hoop with one or two dribbles. scribe Brian Kotloff explained that Murphy's "main strengths come inside the arc: his ability to slash into the paint off the dribble and his mid-range game, both off the dribble and coming off screens a la Rip Hamilton."

Check out the evenly spread wealth on this shot chart:


He doesn't depend on isolation plays, but when Murphy attacks his man off the dribble, he's comfortable executing a variety of maneuvers. 

On drives from the wing, he can pump fake on the perimeter and finish at the rim with either hand, including the ability to climb the ladder and dunk. In the event that defenders physically cut off his drive, he can spin into a short floater or pull-up, or he can step back for a mid-range jumper.

When he gets defenders moving laterally, he has a talent for swiftly rising up off one leg for a short jumper. Not many D-League scorers can do that, and it's a difficult play to counter.

When he came out of college, Murphy wasn't the most polished team player, but he has grown in the passing department since his days at Tennessee Tech.

The 2012 pre-draft tournaments, his 2012-13 rookie year and time in France forced him to improve when defenses challenged him. He still has the occasional rash of turnovers, but he can hit the open man in half-court situations.

RENO, NV - JANUARY 6:  Kevin Murphy #33 of the Idaho Stampede dribbles around defender Robert Hite #22 of the Canton Charge during the 2014 NBA D-League Showcase on January 6, 2014 at the Reno Events Center in Reno, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly ac
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Defensively, Murphy isn't a standout, but he's far from a slouch. He talked to SB Nation's Ridiculous Upside about his development at that end of the floor, per Dakota Schmidt:

Just being tuned in on the defensive side of the game. I believe that everyone wants to score the ball, so I just want to become a good defender. Being locked-in, rebounding, and [doing] whatever I can do to help the team win. I just want to be able to guard the other team's best player.

With his 6'7" wingspan and ample mobility, Murphy does a decent job of staying in front of his man and maintaining good spacing as a weak-side helper. While he doesn't display tremendous one-on-one defensive skills, you can tell he knows how to play within the team's system and be an effective part of a unit.

Draft Express likes Murphy's defensive exploits, even if they aren't off the charts:

He is not a lock down defender, but makes an effort to contest shots and does his best work knowing exactly where his help is on the floor in one-on-one situations. Though he could certainly stand to be more physical on this end of the floor, especially when defending the pick and roll...Murphy has some tools to work with and seems to know his role defensively.

Size, quickness and awareness go a long way defensively, and those traits could help keep Murphy on the floor and allow him to exhibit his offensive wares.

NBA clubs may be a little concerned about his slender, 185-pound frame, so when he gets his next cameo, he must prove he can body up NBA wings and not get bullied on either end of the floor.

BOISE, ID - FEBRUARY 1:  Terrence Williams #17 of the Los Angeles D-Fenders defends the ball from Kevin Murphy #33 of the Idaho Stampede  during an NBA D-League game on February 1, 2014 at CenturyLink Arena in Boise, Idaho. The Stampede wore pink jerseys
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Murphy played in a total of 17 games for the Jazz last season, and his appearances were scattered throughout the season. He played almost exclusively in garbage time and never really found a niche with a team that was fighting for a playoff position.

A year later, he's built his minor league resume enough to earn NBA interest again. Kotloff noted that earlier in March, the Philadelphia 76ers worked out Murphy, but he didn't get an immediate call-up.

If Murphy keeps lighting up the D-League like he has been, it's only a matter of time before he finds himself back in the NBA—or on a top-tier club overseas.

And once he returns to the bright lights, he has a better chance to latch on than before. If he can fulfill his duties defensively and take advantage of scoring chances, he'll warrant a reserve role.

In the meantime, enjoy his prolific fireworks in Idaho.


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