SACRAMENTO -- It's evident when Kings rookie Keegan Murray is fighting for rebounds, moving without the ball, shooting contested 3-pointers, or, the most recent addition to his game, attacking the basket: The rookie is bursting with confidence.
Sacramento coach Mike Brown has witnessed Murray growing up right in front of his eyes during their seven months together.
“When he attacked early in the season, he was shooting a layup, fading away and getting it smacked,” Brown said Monday night after the Kings’ dominant 133-100 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies at Golden 1 Center. “And now, he’s starting to understand that, ‘I am pretty strong. I am pretty athletic. I do have some quickness. I can score over people.’
“That evolution is the beginning of what he can be.”
In a team-high 34 minutes Monday night, Murray logged 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds. He nearly recorded his third career double-double in a matter of six days. The Kings improved to a perfect 7-0 when Murray scores at least 20 points.
Five of Murray’s seven field goals were from beyond the arc, as he contributed to the Kings’ onslaught of 22 3-pointers against Memphis. Murray's efficiency from 3-point range has been known since his first moments donning the Sacramento uniform when he nailed multiple treys in the first five games of his career.
But now, Murray isn't just looking for the open triple. He is attacking the basket more consistently, which is leading to more options for the rest of the Kings’ offense.
“We already know he can shoot the 3,” Brown said. “Most people, they haven’t seen a ton of it, his pull-up game is going to be outrageous. He’s got such a great touch. But now, his ability to get to the rim and finish in traffic is his next step offensively. When he does do that, he’s just going to have the defense [crash], and now plays are going to be simple he makes for teammates.
“It’s going to make the game easier for not only him but for the rest of us, which is what we’re waiting on. The evolution is starting to happen right in front of us.”
Murray appeared to fit the No. 4 overall pick billing over the first few weeks of the season but struggled through most of November. He opened December with a 23-point performance and finished the month being named the Western Conference's top rookie.
Murray is playing even better since the ball dropped on New Year's Eve. His confidence and newfound comfort are showing up in the box scores with spending all but two of 12 games in double figures and averaging 5.8 rebounds in January, compared to 3.8 over the first 32 games of his career.
“We play a lot of games. At some point, you’ve got to get more comfortable," Murray said. "It took me a while to get to this spot where I’m at right now. Just keep my confidence high and know that the guys support me.”
One of those teammates is Harrison Barnes, a fellow Iowa native who grew up 100 miles west of Murray. Barnes and Murray sparked the Kings' record-breaking surge in the first quarter by combining to make all eight of their attempts from the perimeter. The Kings finished the quarter with 12 treys -- tying the all-time NBA record -- and dropping 47 points, the second-most for any first quarter in franchise history.
"Especially with him being from Iowa, we kind of just had a connection right away off the court," Murray said of Barnes. "He’s a guy that I can go to for anything on and off the court. He’s been good for me, telling me what to expect in the NBA and just being encouraging.
"I’m glad that he’s on this team. He’s been a good friend."
After notching their seventh win in the last eight games, Murray and the Kings return to the court Wednesday for a matchup against the Toronto Raptors.