Kentucky-commit Jamal Murray scores 20 to headline Wednesday’s Pan-Am Games

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The biggest story from Wednesday’s Pan-Am Games was Jamal Murray.

The Kentucky-bound Canadian came off the bench and absolutely caught fire, scoring 15 points in the span of about six minutes in the first and second quarters. He hit four tough jumpers, including three threes, in isolation situations, finished a drive at the rim around a bigger defender and drew a foul after he was freed up by a devastating screen in the back court.

There’s no question it was an impressive performance for an 18-year old kid playing in his first senior national tournament, and it sent Kentucky fans into a tizzy.

Murray finished the game with 20 points on just 6-for-15 shooting, the only field goal he made after that initial burst coming when he banked in a prayer to beat the shot clock in the fourth quarter. He struggled beating his man off the dribble and didn’t show off the kind of vertical explosiveness that would make one believe he can finish at the rim at the highest level, going just 2-for-8 inside the arc. He also finished with just one assist and three turnovers despite playing the majority of his 27 minutes as a primary ball-handler.

Outside of that initial burst, I’d argue Murray actually played a fairly poor game.

But we can’t just pretend that an 18-year old Murray didn’t light up a team full of professionals.

All of this drives home the point I made about him when he committed to Kentucky last month. Murray understands that his somewhat limited athleticism and relatively small stature — when compared to NBA two-guards — means that his best long-term position is as a big point guard, a position he’s still adjusting to. He’s a natural scorer, one that operates at his best with the ball in his hands. He’s also one of three elite guards on Kentucky’s roster that operate at their best with the ball in their hands. Murray will score, but will he make the other players on the Kentucky roster better?

In other words, I’ve thought that Jamal Murray’s impact this season will be closer to Andrew Harrison than D’Angelo Russell, and that 20-point performance didn’t exactly dissuade me.

Other Pan-Am Games notables:

  • While discussing Murray, it’s also important to note that the other two collegians on Canada’s roster — All-America candidate Kyle Wiltjer and All-Pac 12 candidate Dillon Brooks — didn’t play a single second.
  • That said, Argentina also lost to Mexico, who got blown out by a Dominican Republic team that doesn’t have Karl-Anthony Towns on their roster. This isn’t Manu Ginobili’s Argetina. George Washington’s Patricio Garino played 26 minutes and had just two points in the loss.
  • The Americans blew out Rick Pitino’s Puerto Rico team, using a 36-10 second quarter to put the game out of reach. Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine had 15 points and four boards, Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski finished with seven points and seven boards and Baylor’s Taurean Waller-Prince added 10 points. None of the other four college kids on the roster had a major impact.
  • Four college players are on the roster for the Dominican Republic, although none of the four played all that well on Wednesday. Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado managed just three minutes after posting 15 points on Tuesday. South Florida’s Nehemias Morillo didn’t play and USF commit Andres Feliz had just five points in 16 minutes. Morehead State’s Miguel Dicent played just two minutes.