Expected draft position: Second round
College career: If you're asked to chronicle a prototypical 4-star recruit's four-year journey through college, it probably wouldn't draw many parallels to Erik Murphy. After turning down offers from Ohio State, Duke, UConn and Marquette, Murphy committed to Billy Donovan's program, where he'd have to pay his dues before garnering significant playing time each game. He spent his first two years behind the likes of Alex Tyus, Vernon Macklin, Chandler Parsons, and Dan Werner, which became increasingly frustrating and nearly led him on the brink of transferring. A startling run in with the law put everything in perspective for the young kid out of Rhode Island, galvanizing him into changing his work ethic and trusting Florida's system.
Donovan had a plan in place for Murphy, asking him to put on more muscle to endure the physical play down low in the SEC and to better conform to Florida's inside-out attack. This style of play proved to be worthwhile, producing NBA caliber talent out of players cut from the same cloth as Murphy. Players such as David Lee, Matt Bonner, Chandler Parsons and Udonis Haslem all found it auspicious playing this way.
As a stretch forward, Murphy thrived in his final year in Gainesville. He showcased his pure stroke all season, shooting over 51 percent from the field while connecting on 45 percent of his three-pointers. His performance against Wisconsin, going 10-10 from the field with the bulk of his attempts coming on long jumpers, was the pinnacle of his college career, and in addition, also hit 5 3-pointers twice in the same season. He faltered late down the stretch, as his penchant for turnovers and a complete deviation from the pick and pop in Florida's offense led some to sour on his draft stock.
Erik Murphy Draft Combine Interview (via DraftExpress)
Offense: Florida fielded a roster full of versatile guards and a big man down low that served as an anchor for the defense. Donovan would often trot out three-guard lineups that shot the ball extremely well and really worked the ball along the perimeter. But Murphy was perhaps their most dangerous weapon. His dexterity in shooting the basketball and playing inside brought a completely new look for defenses, with opposing big men struggling to keep track of him each time down the court. Florida was able to use Murphy well as a screener, using his big body well to set hard ball screens that would either result in pick-and-pop situations or clever slip screens that allowed Murphy to showcase his crafty low-post game.
Murphy has a tendency to go right, sometimes exclusively in games, but is quite adept at finishing with his left as well. His strength and general proclivity for playing physical down low is an underrated part of his game. He shows good footwork and is able to get his shot off with ease due to his patience and awareness of what's around him. In college, he shot 72 percent at the rim, but doesn't project to have the same success in the NBA due to his lack of athleticism, rudimentary ball handling and average length (just a 6'10 wingspan). He's not a high flyer by any means and lacks the foot speed to take NBA 4's off the dribble, especially when opposing teams downsize. He has a soft touch around the basket and can shoot over either shoulder, but didn't produce much off straight drives to the basket from the perimeter. He would seek out contact to no avail rather than looking to score, which teams didn't respect at all judging by his pedestrian 1.4 free-throw attempts a contest.
Luckily for Murphy, his perimeter game more than made up for his struggles everywhere else, as he pairs his efficiency from downtown with a finesse mid-range game, complete with a fine turnaround jumper, jab steps, shot fakes and an improved catch and shoot game off screens. He squares himself to the basket well, can use an escape dribble to either take it to the rim or pull up, makes the all-important swing pass in Donovan's spread system and takes advantage of his size to see over defenses. His aforementioned penchant for turnovers does bring up a red flag; he does throw errant passes and can struggle with decision making.
Defense: What propelled the Gators to the Nation's upper echelon in college basketball was their resurgence on the defensive end. Donovan attempted to redistribute the looks his opponents received, opting to cede long two's and three in favor of protecting the rim. The Gators gave up just 28 percent at the rim on average each night per hoop-math, with opponents converting 61 percent of them. Their weak-side rotations were immaculate, with slow footed players like Murphy still netting positive results on that end despite their physical limitations. Guards had a hand in this as well, cutting off dribble penetration was key in funneling ball handlers into traps, but it was Patric Young and Murphy using their body to contest shots at the rim. Florida ended the season ranked second in defensive rating according to basketball-reference. No other team this season was ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, attesting to Billy Donovan's genius.
Murphy will never be a one-on-one stopper on this end of the floor. He'll always struggle to stay in front of quicker forwards and he doesn't have the length to consistently contest shots at the rim. But the right system has proven to hide his deficiencies well. His rebounding totals are a much larger issue; his high motor can only take him so far, and it is concerning that he may not net much else outside of perimeter shooting.
Pro potential/Wizards fit: The quest for the elusive stretch 4 may end if the Wizards select Murphy. I may be slanted with my inclination to go with Florida prospects, but Murphy looks to be the most well-rounded stretch 4 player in the draft, at least among those likely to be available in the second round.
Donovan's track record speaks for itself. He runs a pro-style offense equipped with ball movement and pick and pops, with preponderance on spacing. This was tailor-made to get Murphy ample clean looks from deep. The system forces players to read and react, run the floor hard and spread the court, which gives these players a leg up once they debut in the NBA. Donovan gives his kids plenty of freedom, choosing to let them play through adversity and relying more on their intuition gained during practice sessions rather than holding their hand night in and night out. In turn, it's accelerated the learning curve that will inevitably strike once they're drafted, which is why you see many of these Florida kids overachieve relative to their draft stock.
Naturally, the first player to come to mind is Matt Bonner, whose success probably falls in line with the way Greg Popovich runs his team. But one can't help but notice how quickly these players carve out a niche in this league, system or not. Murphy has a good head on his shoulders, has earned his way, and looks to have a long career ahead of him. He can set hard screens, quickly pop out behind the line and is fundamentally sound on both ends of the court. If that doesn't scream out a second-round steal, I don't know what does.