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Kings take mature path with Keegan Murray vs. Jaden Ivey

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Purdue guard Jaden Ivey heads for the basket past Iowa forward Keegan Murray (15) and center Riley Mulvey (44) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the tournament of the Big Ten Conference, Sunday, March 13, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

PA

The Kings could very well regret letting Purdue’s Jaden Ivey pass with the No. 4 pick in the NBA draft. But I don’t think they will.

Many argued that Ivey was the best player available when Sacramento was on the clock, the most athletic player in the draft, and the guard with the most upside in the class.

If you subscribe to drafting the best player available and figuring it all out later — a perfectly acceptable draft strategy, in most cases — that misses one of the Kings’ big weaknesses. During their record 16-year playoff drought, Sacramento showed it time and time again: The Kings aren’t good at figuring things out later.

So, yes, Ivey could become an All-Star with the Detroit Pistons, who took Ivey a spot after Sacramento’s pick at No. 4. Maybe he’ll become the next Ja Morant or Russell Westbrook. He could join the long list of elite talent the Kings have overlooked, such as Luka Doncic, Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

But I’m here to affirm that Sacramento made the right call in Iowa swing man Keegan Murray.

Because sometimes the best result is more important than finding the best player available. And the bottom line here is that Sacramento landed a prospect with versatility and maturity, two of the most important ingredients for postseason success, which is what this is all about.

Murray, a 6-foot-8 forward with a full offensive game, represents what’s important to winning. He can keep several positions and will not be a handicap at each end of the floor.

When the stakes are highest, these are the players you want. Guys who need to be kept at bay and can switch defensively to smaller players are the ones who help the most in May and June. Or in the case of the Kings, maybe late April. Even with Morant now a star for the Grizzlies, Memphis was 3.2 fewer points per 100 possessions with him last season because he was a defensive liability.

Murray can shoot from 3. He made 40% of his shots from beyond the arc last season with the Hawkeyes. He already has the basics to defend, as evidenced by his 1.9 blocks and 1.3 interceptions per game. Sacramento should hope he becomes their version of Al Horford or Pascal Siakam, a pair of two-way players who were key cogs in the deep playoffs due to their two-way versatility. New Kings coach Mike Brown, a defensive specialist, should be pleased the team prioritized defense with this selection.

Ivey has star potential, of course. But in college, he wasn’t as effective on the offensive end (57.9 true shooting percentage versus Murray’s 63.8). Murray averaged 23.5 points per game last season compared to 17.3 for Ivey. And Murray added 8.7 rebounds, which should help Sacramento, whose 33.3 defensive rebounds per game rank eighth in the NBA.

But here’s the real problem with Ivey’s writing and later discovery. Many of Ivey’s attributes — a combo guard who can score, isn’t a great 3-point shooter or defender — are similar to a player on the books for $30-37 million over the next four seasons: ‘Aaron Fox.

The idea that the Kings should draft Ivey and figure out what to do with Fox later misses an important part of the equation. The $135 million remaining over the next four seasons on Fox’s contract makes it nearly impossible to trade right now. So the Kings would have been stuck with another guard block, like they did with Tyrese Haliburton and Fox last season, leaving Fox and Ivey to fend for themselves.

Maybe they would have, but which team made it deep into the playoffs with two point guards struggling to shoot from range and defend? Teams that didn’t have this problem: Warriors, Suns, Mavericks, Grizzlies, Heat, 76ers, Bucks and Celtics (the eight teams that made the conference semifinals this spring) .

Murray is both a better fit than Ivey and helps the Kings in the short term, which is crucial given the long playoff drought and the fact that general manager Monte McNair’s contract is up past 2023. Murray can slip into the starting slot, which was occupied by Chimezi Metu and Trey Lyles throughout last season and develop unhindered.

This choice is safe. Murray may not have Ivey’s advantage, but he lines up with what wins in the NBA come playoff time. That should be the Kings’ prerogative, and apparently it is.

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Chris Biderman has covered the 49ers since 2013 and began covering The Sacramento Bee team in August 2018. He previously spent time with the Associated Press and USA TODAY Sports Media Group. A native of Santa Rosa, he earned a degree in journalism from The Ohio State University.