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The Knicks are eyeing Virgiinia draft prospect Trey Murphy III with the 19th or 21st selections in Thursday’s draft.
Virginia draft prospect Trey Murphy III could still put on some weight to make him a more physical defender, like his fellow former Cavalier and current Hawks forward De’Andre Hunter.
But Murphy, a 6-foot-9 swingman, has come a long way. Virginia associate head coach Jason Williford recruited Murphy coming out of high school. And passed.
Murphy’s uncle, who played at the University of Richmond, had contacted Williford, a friend and Richmond native.
“He called me and said his nephew is pretty good but pretty skinny,’’ Williford told The Post in a phone interview. “He wasn’t kidding. He was 6-3 ¹/₂ then and 160 pounds soaking wet. I loved how he competed. But physically, he wasn’t ready for the ACC.’’
Murphy, whom the Knicks are eyeing with the 19th or 21st selections in Thursday’s draft, wound up at Rice. Two years later, he transferred … to Virginia.
“Two years later, Trey is 6-9 and wants to transfer from Rice,’’ Williford said. “We beat out Villanova and N.C. State. The backstory was our relationship and having done legwork early when he was in high school. He was an under-the-radar kid because of his size.”
The 21-year-old Murphy has now grown into a prototypical “3-and-D” NBA prospect. He worked out for the Knicks last week and had a solid showing, according to a source. The Knicks also worked out 6-6 Oregon sharpshooter Chris Duarte on Friday. The Post reported last Saturday that Duarte is squarely on their radar, too.
Murphy has risen up the mock-draft boards from an early second-round pick last month. Williford believes, according to his intel, his name will be called between 17 and 30.
Six weeks ago, Murphy, listed at a still-light 206 pounds, wasn’t sure he’d stay in the draft. Murphy shot 43.3 percent from 3-point range and averaged 11.3 points in his lone season with Virginia in 2020-21. He also shot 92.7 percent from the free-throw line.
“He can guard multiple positions — 2-to-4 for sure — and sometimes 1-to-4 with all the switching,’’ Williford said. “I see him as a floor spacer. Cam Johnson [of Phoenix] comes to mind. Similar size, similar ability to shoot the ball. He’s that wing-hybrid forward.’’
He’s right up the Knicks’ alley as Tom Thibodeau’s squad is seeking wings who can shoot from deep. That is, if he can handle the defensive end. Knicks general manager Scott Perry doesn’t want to draft the next Kevin Knox, who is turning into a lottery bust. The scuttlebutt within scouting circles is Murphy could use more toughness — also the knock on Knox.
But scouts and coaches love the athleticism, quickness that potentially can have Murphy guarding anyone at the perimeter.
“He’s got a ton of upside,’’ one ACC coach said.
“He came a long way for us defensively,’’ Williford said. “He got better as the year progressed. He’s not De’Andre Hunter, who we had from a physical standpoint. His next step is to put on weight to be stronger, to be able to hold ground with some bigger-body guy and rebound at that level. That will come.’’
That issue pales in comparison to the Knicks’ major need — a 3-point sniper. As respectable as they were in the regular season, they struggled to score against the Hawks in the playoffs, when teams actually put together much more detailed game plans. The Knicks shot 34.2 percent from 3-point range in the first-round series after posting a 39.2 percent regular-season rate.
“He’ll be a good two-way guy in shooting the ball and defending,’’ Williford said. “He’ll be a good franchise guy — high character, represent himself well in the locker room. He’s prototype size, good with all the measurements. With his ability to shoot the ball, he’s too intriguing for NBA guys to pass up. That’s why he moved up the board.’’
When Murphy transferred from Rice, he wanted to sit out this past season to work on his body. Virginia’s staff talked him out of it.
“He wanted to redshirt that year to put on that weight for the next level,’’ Williford said. ”They were adamant about it. But the NCAA allowed everyone to get the year back, so it made no sense to sit and not play. The best way to improve your game and stock is to be on the floor. We told him you need to show what you can do. Experience is the best teacher. And you can always continue working on your body.’’
The Lakers, who select 22nd, are believed to have interest if the Knicks pass.
“We had hoped he’d come back,’’ Williford said. “I knew it would be a tough decision but the feedback he was getting, I think it was the best move for him.’’
This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Marc Berman