Even after five NBA Summer League games and 122 minutes of action, Kevin Murphy still couldn’t believe it.
He’d dropped 50 points in an NCAA contest. Averaged 20.6 points while shooting 44 percent from the field and 41.6 percent behind the 3-point line during his senior season at Tennessee Tech, guiding the 2011-12 Golden Eagles to a 19-14 record and the Ohio Valley Conference tournament semifinals.
The 22-year-old shooting guard had stayed mostly trouble-free growing up near Atlanta, found a safe haven in the highly competitive world of Amateur Athletic Union basketball, then risen above hundreds of young adults from larger and better-known universities to be selected by the Jazz with the No. 47 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.
But despite five Summer League games last week in Orlando, Fla., reality still hadn’t hit Murphy. He was wearing a Utah uniform. Alec Burks, Enes Kanter and DeMarre Carroll were his teammates. Eleven-year veteran Earl Watson offered friendly tips and invaluable insight on the bench. Murphy had averaged 8.6 points and 2.4 rebounds, shooting 42.5 percent from the field and 87.5 percent from the free-throw line. But had he really, truly made it?
“It hasn’t hit me. But it’s fun; it’s a fun experience,” said Murphy, who started two games for a Jazz Summer League squad that went 3-2. “Everybody doesn’t get the chance to experience this and get drafted and step out there. So I’m enjoying it.”
The 6-foot-6, 185-pound guard’s hesitation was evident during Utah’s initial two contests. Murphy shot a combined 5 of 16 from the floor, missing all four of his 3-point attempts, and committing as many turnovers as recorded assists. He was rarely smooth and often struggled, failing to create offensive separation along the perimeter and looking more like an NBA castoff who’d soon be heading to Europe than a promising young shooter who could compete for backup minutes with the 2012-13 Jazz.
“I’ve got to get used to playing the NBA-style game,” Murphy said. “Coming from college, a lot of the offense [was run] through me. … I’ve just got to learn to play the game with these guys. Get all around, get open shots, shoot when my time comes.”
At the same time Burks and Kanter elevated their games and Utah’s Summer League team dug in, Murphy found his rhythm. Shots were quickly fired, with an elevated release allowing him to overcome a height disadvantage. He broke free of defenders, slicing through the lane and pulling up for mid- and short-range jump shots off screens. During Murphy’s final three games, he strolled along the court — pocketing a 12-of-24 shooting stretch that offered a glimpse of future days — and sounded more assertive during postgame interviews.
Murphy’s final Summer League outing was his best. Ten points on 4-of-7 shooting, 2-for-3 behind the 3-point line, and 20 minutes of smooth, efficient play.
He’s smaller, shorter and skinnier than Burks. He lacks Gordon Hayward’s and Burks’ ability to suddenly take defenders off the dribble and strongly finish at the rim. His shooting range during Summer League was limited, expanding only during the fifth game. But there’s a smoothness to Murphy’s shot — the ball floats off his fingers and smoothly arcs through the air — that reinforces everything coach Tyrone Corbin and general manager Kevin O’Connor said about him during the past two weeks: The kid can score.
“He can find shots in a hurry,” Corbin said.
Now, Murphy must turn the promise into reality. He’s less than four months away from training camp and an official Jazz roster spot is his for the taking. Murphy wants more, though. The buzz of simply being in the NBA will soon wear off. He was the man at Tennessee Tech. He wants to walk taller as a pro.
“All of the guys who are on the team, I already have a good bond with them,” Murphy said. “We laugh, we joke — I feel like we’re going to be all right.”
Kevin Murphy file
Position • Shooting guard
Year • Rookie
Vitals • 6-foot-6, 185 pounds
Stats • 8.6 pts., 2.4 rebs., 1 ast. (Summer League)
Age • 22
Draft • No. 47 overall in 2012
College • Tennessee Tech