Keegan Murray By The Numbers: Banana-pants Crazy

By Horace E. Cow on March 15, 2022 at 9:00 am
GO KEEGS GO
© Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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Before the NCAA tournament begins and the regular season fades from memory, we thought we'd summarize in one place just how remarkable Keegan Murray's season has been. Everyone knows he's played well, scored a lot, dunked on fools, etc., but until you sit down and look at the numbers, it's hard to appreciate just how banana-pants they are in a historical context.

But first, just look at this beauty:

Keegan Murray, 2021-2022 per game statistics
G MP FG FGA FG% 2P 2PA 2P% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PTS

34

31.7

8.8

15.9

0.555

6.9

11.1

0.62

1.9

4.8

0.405

4

5.4

0.741

2.9

5.8

8.6

1.5

1.3

2

1.1

23.6

That is disgusting.

And it's historically exceptional. College Basketball Reference has leaderboards on advanced metrics going back to 2009. So while we won't be able to compare Keegan to historical greats like Bill Walton or, say, Les Jepsen, we can get a pretty good idea of how well he's been doing relative to the post-Steph Curry generation of college basketball players.

The answer is: pretty dang well. While debates have been had about whether Murray deserves this or that accolade for this year, there's a good case that his season thus far is one of the best in the past 13 years (the time that advanced stats are available for college basketball), right up there with all-timers like Zion, Anthony Davis, and (sigh) Frank Kaminsky. What follows are plots of how the players who finished in the top 10 of the CBB-reference leaderboard for various stats, going back to whenever the stat was first collected. 

Player Efficiency Rating

PER

Might as well start off with the best. Player Efficiency Rating (PER), a metric devised by John Hollinger back in the day, incorporates all of the box score statistics, weighting each by an estimate of its importance toward winning (and adjusting for pace). PER has the reputation of being an "offense friendly" stat, but is similar to many other all-in-one box score metrics. CBB-reference has PER going back to 2010, so it just misses Steph Curry's electric 2008-09 season.

Keegan kills it on this measure. He's right up there with Zion Williamson and ... no one else. There's a sizable gap between Williamson and Murray and the pack. Names like Anthony Davis, Ja Morant and DeMarcus Cousins are in the rearview (although Brandon Clarke had an extremely good season a few years back).

Win Shares per 40 minutes

WS_40

Another all-in-one metric (explained here), adjusted for per-minute performance. Again, Keegan Murray does very well by this stat, again right up there with Zion Williamson and Brandon Clarke. (Also, curious who the outlier is at the top? It's Thomas Walkup of Stephen F. Austin, who had a fantastic season in 2015-16.)

Win Shares

WS

The unadjusted partner to WS/40. Players that play a lot of minutes and/or a lot of games do better by this number, so you see players who had deep tourney runs (or averaged a few more minutes per game) here -- this picture could change depending on the length of Iowa's NCAA Tournament run.

Box Plus/Minus

BPM

A variation on the usual box score statistics, box plus/minus tries to synthesize an individual plus/minus statistic from overall box score stats. This stat tries to estimate the positive impact a player would have while on the court, so it's not an accumulating thing.

Keegan Murray does very well here, too, right up there again with Zion, Brandon Clarke, Frank Kaminsky, and Anthony Davis.

Offensive Box Plus/Minus

OBPM

We can also break out just Murray's offensive contribution to box plus/minus, and by this measure, he's very nearly at the top of the list. Only Zion tops him.

It should be noted that Murray's defensive box plus/minus doesn't even make the leaderboard, so it's omitted here. While Murray is a productive defensive player, averaging a combined 3.3 blocks and steals per game, he's not in the league of the defensive monsters who top the charts of defensive box plus/minus (e.g. Walker Kessler, Anthony Davis, Chet Holmgren).

Offensive Rating

ORTG

Offensive rating is all about producing points, so things like defensive rebounds, blocks and steals are omitted from the calculation. Keegan Murray does well here, but is closer to the middle of the pack than in some of the other statistics. Still, it's a pretty good pack -- he's a little below Jimmy Butler and a little above Aaron White, for reference.

Defensive rating is omitted here for similar reasons to box plus/minus.

Points Produced

PTPR

Another points-centric metric, this one only factors in points, assists and offensive rebounds (while adjusting for pace). Keegan rates more poorly here compared to primary ball-handlers like Trae Young and Kemba Walker, but again, this is a cumulative stat that keeps growing as the NCAA tournament goes on, so this picture could change. Also, blocks and steals and defensive rebounds matter!

What does it all mean?

First of all, Keegan Murray ranked first for 2021-22 in every CBB-reference overall statistic:

  • PER: 38.5 (1st)
  • Win Shares per 40: .314 (1st)
  • Win Shares: 8.5 (1st)
  • Box Plus/Minus: 15.9 (1st)

When all the signals point toward excellence, there's a good chance this was a special season.

Second, when you look at this historical record (and ignore accumulating stats like Win Shares) he's still close to the very top:

  • PER: 38.5 (2nd)
  • Win shares per 40: .317 (4th)
  • Box plus/minus: 15.7 (6th)

THIS IS NOT NORMAL, PEOPLE!

Numbers aren't everything. Iowa still has a pretty weak defense (77th overall by KenPom), played a weak early schedule, and lost quite a few games earlier in the year. But look at it this way:

  1. Phase 1: Iowa is predicted to finish in the back half of the Big Ten at best
  2. Phase 2: ???
  3. Phase 3: Iowa wins 26 games, finishes 13th in KenPom, finishes 5th in the Big Ten and wins the Big Ten Tournament.

There are many explanations for what filled in that ???, but one that seems reasonable is that Keegan Murray had an all-time great season that lifted his team far beyond its initial expectations. With all due respect to the many other players who had great seasons this year, Keegan Murray's 2021-22 was the best in the country and one of the best since advanced stats were recorded.

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