Florida’s Donovan: Murphy capable of spacing the floor
When you ask Florida head coach Billy Donovan about the moment that stands out to him from Erik Murphy’s collegiate career, it’s not the time he recorded 27 points and 12 rebounds as a senior in leading the Gators past LSU in the SEC Tournament.
Nor is it the game when Murphy and the Gators faced Wisconsin and he didn’t miss a single attempt, scoring 24 points on 10-of-10 shooting from the field, including a pair of threes.
(Joel Auerbach/Getty Images Sport)
Donovan recalls a contest from the 2011 NCAA Tournament, when as a sophomore reserve Murphy scored seven points in nine minutes and second-seeded Florida pulled away from UCLA to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
“He came off the bench and made some really timely shots and helped us win the game,” said Donovan. “I thought that propelled him into his last two years. But he continued to be coachable. He was a great kid who worked hard. He had a good threshold for work.
“After his sophomore year, I think he really got serious about the game,” Donovan continued. “Not to say he didn’t love it already, but I think he felt there was an opportunity to play pro basketball. He focused on getting better as a player and helping us win.”
While Murphy’s role expanded greatly – he was named first team All-SEC as a senior after averaging 12.2 points and 5.5 rebounds – it is perhaps a scenario like the one Donovan described which made Murphy so appealing to a team like the Bulls, who selected him with their second round pick, 49th overall, in last month’s NBA Draft.
Furthermore, on the night of the draft, Bulls GM Gar Forman and Head Coach Tom Thibodeau talked at length about the need for shooting in the modern day NBA. It’s not only an area the Bulls want to improve, but it will serve the return of Derrick Rose well in opening up the floor for him to operate. Enter Murphy, a prototypical “stretch four.”
As Murphy gets his first taste of professional basketball this week at NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, Donovan shared his thoughts on why he believes his former player will fit in well with the Bulls.
“The one thing about Erik is that when he’s on the floor, offensively he immediately provides spacing for your team because you have to account for him behind the line,” explained Donovan. “Obviously Rose is as good of a player in the backcourt as any player in the league. He’s a great penetrator, so the more space he can play in, the better off he is going to be.
“Erik is not Taj Gibson or Joakim Noah; he’s different and he brings something different to the table,” added Donovan. “He’s a pick and pop guy, someone you can space behind the line. He’s a guy you can run pick and roll with and he’ll put some teams into dilemmas because they can’t switch on him and put their power forward on someone like Rose.”
Donovan’s relationship with Murphy dates back to the end of Murphy’s sophomore year of high school when Donovan first saw him play in an AAU tournament.
It was at that time he learned Erik was the son of Jay Murphy, who attended Boston College before advancing to the NBA, where he played for the Washington Bullets and Los Angeles Clippers from 1984-88. Donovan, just a couple years younger than the elder Murphy, played at nearby Providence, so a familiarity existed as the relationship began. And it didn’t take long for Donovan to see that Murphy, who went on to become the first ever player from Rhode Island named a Parade Magazine All-American in 2009, was someone he wanted to coach at Florida.
“I could see that Erik in our system and style of play would be a great fit,” said Donovan. “He was a big kid, lengthy, really good skill level and tremendous upside. He had good hands, could score around the basket with either his left or right, and he could also step away from the basket and score. I thought he was really advanced for a young kid offensively.”
Not only is Donovan proud of Murphy’s development during his four years with the Gators, he says he was extremely coachable as a player and an exceptional presence in the locker room.
“He was one of those guys on our team who everyone loved,” said Donovan of Murphy. “He played with a lot of different guys in his four years and they all enjoyed being around him. He’s a team first guy and he understands team chemistry and dynamics. “
Now, as Murphy prepares for his first season with the Bulls, Donovan keeps going back to the game against UCLA at the end of Murphy’s sophomore season when he found his shot. After all, aside from possessing an NBA ready body at 6-10, 230 pounds, it’s his ability to shoot the ball that sets him apart.
“He’s one of those guys who in college basketball this past year was probably as good as anyone in the country as far as being a stretch four and shooting threes,” said Donovan. “He could really, really do that well and I think his offense around the basket continued to get better. So it was really a great thing for me as a coach to see where he was as a freshman and how he evolved into a leader for us by his senior year.”
(J. Meric/Getty Images Sport)
Donovan expects to have another one of his former players lend a helping hand when it comes time to acclimating Murphy to the NBA. Bulls center Joakim Noah spent three seasons in Gainesville, winning back to back NCAA championships as a sophomore and junior. According to Donovan, Noah and Murphy have developed a relationship over the years with Noah going back to Florida and spending numerous hours around the program during the offseason.
“I’ve always respected Jo’s passion and his energy for winning,” said Donovan. “I think he’ll do a great job with Erik in helping him grow at that level. For Joakim as a rookie, there was a transition period he went through. He’ll understand that the same will be true for Erik. He knows Erik pretty well and is a great guy to get him prepared for the next step.”
As for what type of player Donovan expects Murphy to be in the NBA, another former Gator comes to mind.
“I think he’s similar to guys like Ryan Anderson and Matt Bonner,” said Donovan, the latter having played for Donovan from 1999 to 2003. “He’s going to be kind of a specialist when he gets in there offensively. I wouldn’t compare him to Bonner too much though as they are different kinds of players. But they both have the ability to step behind the line, shoot it, and create spacing. He’s a stretch four and there’s no question he’s got NBA skill.”
As summer league concludes and training camp in early October approaches, Murphy will be tasked with the challenge of proving that. But given what he knows about his work ethic, Donovan is confident he has what it takes to succeed at the next level.
“He’s always been a great worker and a great teammate,” said Donovan of Murphy. “But the thing for Erik is figuring out what he can provide and what he can do to help the Bulls. That should be his focus. And however he is utilized or whatever kind of role he needs to play, I expect Erik to be receptive to always helping the team. That’s the one thing I admire about him is that he’s such a team oriented guy.”