Dynamic guards are precious commodities in any NBA draft, and the 2016 crop offers a couple of exciting playmakers poised to land in the lottery.
The two backcourt assets who stand out above the crowd are Providence junior Kris Dunn and Jamal Murray, an Ontario native entering his freshman year at Kentucky. Both project to be electrifying creators at the NBA level, and they’re also far from one-dimensional.
Although we haven’t seen Murray compete in the NCAA yet, we’ve seen enough footage to ascertain his strengths and weaknesses. How does he stack up against Dunn? Which guard is the better overall draft prospect?
Both Murray and Dunn have plenty of size to compete against NBA playmakers. Murray stands 6’5″ with a 6’7″ wingspan, while Dunn is 6’4″ but owns an expansive 6’9″ reach.
Dunn’s longer arms may translate to better disruptive defense and easier passing deliveries, but Murray’s measurements are by no means minuscule. Murray has enough size to play the 2 spot.
One of the main differences in their physical tools on the court is explosiveness. Both are quick with the ball, but Dunn has an extra burst in all phases of the game that Murray doesn’t possess.
This higher gear will give Dunn a greater chance to do things like drive past elite defenders, explode to the rim, stay in front of opponents on defense and recover swiftly. However, even though Murray isn’t a top-shelf athlete, he still has enough bounciness and agility to get the job done.
Not saying he'll be as good, but Jamal Murray may be just as "unathletic" as Steph Curry was. Players said he surprised Canada teammates.
— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) September 24, 2015
Physical edge: Dunn
Murray and Dunn wouldn’t be potential top-10 studs if they weren’t exciting, promising facilitators.
Providence’s floor general is arguably the most lethal distributor in the country; he averaged 7.5 assists per game and a seismic 8.8 dimes per 40 minutes last year. Dunn brilliantly sets up teammates via transition, speedy drive-and-dish plays and, most importantly, pick-and-rolls.
Here’s an example of how gifted he is in the open floor. You don’t see many college point guards pulling off precision passes like this:
As for the pick-and-roll prowess, it’s one of Dunn’s most attractive traits to NBA scouts. He’s great at accelerating once he turns the corner, and he uses his length to wrap passes to teammates from all angles. As Mike Schmitz of Draft Express notes, pick-and-roll play comprised 36 percent of his total offense in 2014-15.
Watch Dunn use hesitation moves to freeze the help defender in this sequence. His patience and timing result in a pretty good Chris Paul impression:
Dunn’s point guard skills are far from pristine, however. He piled up an unsightly 4.2 turnovers per game (4.9 per 40 minutes), coughing up the ball due to loose ball-handling or erratic decision-making. Oftentimes he was simply overambitious trying to pass into traffic.
“I was being too aggressive, always trying to make the home-run play,” Dunn told Rob Dauster of NBCSports.com. “What we’ve been working on is situations where basically I can make a hockey assist, making the pass that leads to the assist.”
The turnover-prone play is concerning, but, fortunately, it’s something that could be corrected and minimized with better discipline and discretion moving forward.
Murray is not as accomplished in the passing department, partially because he’s nearly three years younger. But he’s an intriguing playmaker in his own right, with the ability to manipulate defenses with his handle and connect with teammates off pick-and-rolls. Murray created 11.5 points per game off pick-and-rolls during the Pan-American Games in July.
Watch his patience on this play as he waits for Anthony Bennett to fill the lane:
Murray didn’t put up huge assist numbers during high school or international events, but that’s partially because his teams relied heavily on his scoring talent. We also may not see him run a ton of point in Kentucky’s crowded backcourt. In Lexington, Murray might be a 2-guard who’s playmaking auditions are sporadic.
While Murray doesn’t project to be as much of a traditional NBA point guard as Dunn, he’ll still be an exceptionally dangerous initiator once he hits his prime.
Playmaking edge: Slight edge to Dunn
If you want to be an upper-echelon point guard in the NBA, you need to offer scoring skills.
Dunn and Murray can both put the ball in the bucket but in varying ways and degrees.
The former attempts most of his scoring offense via drives toward the rim or mid-range jumpers. Dunn’s electric first step enables him to slash into the lane, but he has struggled to execute efficiently on lay-ups or scoop shots in congested areas. He shot only 46 percent at the rim against NCAA competition, which doesn’t bode well for his NBA career unless he develops his floater and layups significantly.
Dunn has become a solid mid-range shooter, hitting 42 percent on two-point jumpers during 2014-15 (per Hoop-math.com). His three-point mechanics aren’t consistent, but his shot isn’t a disaster. He sank 35 percent from beyond the arc last year, including 36 percent against Big East competition.
Murray is only 18, but he already looks like he might be a better NBA scorer than Dunn. He can’t create separation with athleticism as easily as the Providence star, but he uses his shiftiness to keep defenses guessing. When Murray penetrates past the first line of defense, he unleashes a variety of smooth lay-ins, floaters and short pull-ups. It’s worth noting that he’s noticeably more comfortable starting drives toward the left than the right.
On the perimeter, he’s even more deadly, which helps his chances as a potential 2-guard. Murray comfortably launches clean, swift jumpers off the dribble and via catch-and-shoot opportunities. He connected on 41 percent of his triples from the international line at the Pan American games, some of them coming from NBA-range.
“He is able to generate enough space to load his shot with his step-back and has a quick enough trigger to get his shot off, despite the fact he doesn’t have a particularly high release point,” noted Rafael Uehara of Upside & Motor.
Murray needs to work on his right-handed drives, but overall, he’s a distinctly better scoring prospect than Dunn both inside and out.
Scoring edge: Murray
Neither one of these guards is a master defender yet, as they lack the kind of discipline and execution it takes to contain NBA-caliber playmakers.
That being said, Dunn has a slightly higher ceiling due to his superior athleticism.
He doesn’t consistently demonstrate optimal footwork or positioning, but his quickness, length and disruptive instincts are impossible to ignore. There’s a reason he swiped a whopping 2.7 steals per contest last season.
Dunn’s ability to pressure and ambush opposing guards should translate well to the NBA as long as he balances it with proper discipline.
Murray isn’t a small guy at 6’5”, nor is he a slouch of an athlete, but his wingspan is two inches shorter, and his foot speed is a tick slower than Dunn’s. That’s ultimately what hurts Murray in a long-term comparison, even if he improves his fundamentals and stance.
Both have defensive deficiencies to address during the course of this season, but when we’re assessing their futures, Dunn’s is a notch shinier.
Defensive edge: Slight edge to Dunn
This isn’t a comparison of their mindsets or characters. Murray and Dunn both have room for improvement in their mental approach to the game, but they’re solid characters and strong competitors who will relish late-game scenarios.
What we’ll cover here is a couple of key factors surrounding their draft value.