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Beach's Bits: In Praise of Murray and Chriss

Washington Basketball fans took a double punch to the gut Wednesday afternoon when Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss announced they were both entering the NBA draft after just one season at Montlake.

For many it was a shock, and they voiced that shock as social media immediately lit up with an outpouring of disappointment and criticism of the two talented youngsters.

This shouldn't have been a surprise though. If you had been reading the tea leaves the last couple of months, this was an inevitable outcome. 

First and foremost, it didn't take an NBA GM to recognize that both players had NBA futures. Chriss is an athletic freak of nature, Murray an elite penetrator with a natural ability to get to the basket and finish at the cup with a flourish. These were traits obvious to anyone who watched them play for more than 10 minutes. 

The buzz started in January when both players started showing up on various mock draft boards - which are little more than buzz barometers for potential NBA prospects. However, if a player is showing up in a mock draft, it's safe to assume that he's also showing up on NBA scouting radars.  

Judging by the volume of scouts in the stands at Hec Ed for most of conference play, that was certainly the case with both players.  

Fans were quick to pounce on both as unprepared to declare for the draft so early in their careers, which turned ridiculous. Too skinny, emotionally immature, lousy defense, inconsistent jumpshot, and erratic decision making were common themes brought up. 

There's certainly a case to be made for all of those observations and armchair assistant coaches quite vocally picked them apart. But guess what? The NBA doesn't care. 

They're not looking at players the same way you and I are.  The NBA doesn't draft on first year game readiness when they're projecting 19-year olds. The NBA is a game played by men, not boys. They're drafting purely on long-term potential. 

Minnesota’s Zach LaVine is a perfect example. The bouncy Bothell native was a disaster as a freshmen at UCLA. He averaged 9.4 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 24 minutes a game, and he didn't play a lick of defense. To most observers, nothing about his freshmen season screamed out NBA.  

The Timberwolves thought otherwise, selecting him 13th overall, netting LaVine a paycheck of about five million dollars guaranteed over the first three years of his contract. 

After a brutal first year in the league, LaVine’s sophomore year has been far more encouraging. He's averaging 14 points and three assists per game as the Timberwolves’ starting two guard next to Ricky Rubio - and he continues to improve. Over the last 10 games he's averaging nearly 20 points a game. 

Oh, and by the way, LaVine just celebrated his 21st birthday. He probably threw a pretty big party. He's certainly proven the skeptics wrong, yours truly among them.

Both Murray and Chriss totally obliterated LaVine’s meager UCLA statistics. Those who point to Murray's slender frame as a barrier to success in the NBA need only look at LaVine, who entered the NBA at about 180 pounds. He's basically the same size as Murray. 

People like to point to the fact that Murray and Chriss could have made considerably more money if they had a stuck around a year and improved his draft stock.  That's not really true. 

Based on the pre-set NBA rookie salary scale, the difference between being the 10th pick and the last pick of the first round is about three million dollars over three years. Sure, that's a pretty hefty chunk of change, but in the big picture it means a lot less than you think. 

Leaving a year earlier means a player can negotiate his second contract a year sooner as well, and that's where the big bucks really kick in. There's no guarantee either player will have that opportunity, but if they show any potential and have any moderate amount of success - cha-ching! They’ll earn back that three million, and then some, in one fell swoop. 

Some point to the theory that a player will be better prepared for the NBA after a few years of college hoops under their belt. That's not true either.  When you don't have to spend half your day studying, it leaves a lot of time to improve.  For a gym rat like Murray, he'll be able to commit to growing as a player full-time in a tailor-made NBA conditioning program. 

For these players, the argument about the value of a college degree is hogwash. The vast majority of NBA first-rounders are underclassmen who will never earn their degree, nor had they ever planned on it. College is nothing more than a required one or two-year step on the way to starting their dream career. They'll earn more in the first contract than most people will earn in a lifetime. 

Fans are justifiably disappointed. The Huskies were poised for a potentially unprecedented run in the NCAA Tournament next season had Murray and Chriss decided to stick around. 

I understand. I'm disappointed too. 

But I'm not mad at Dejounte or Marquese for making that decision, and you shouldn't be either. They owe us nothing. Despite the finish, this was the most entertaining season of Husky Hoops in several years, and they still have the nucleus going forward to be a good team next season - maybe not a potential Final Four team like many had hoped, but at least a team that that can get to the NCAA Tournament. 

There's still plenty of potential on the roster, though they need to add a body or two in the back court over the next couple of months. With the addition of Matthew Atewe and Sam Timmins, the front court will be as talented and deep as any since Lorenzo Romar arrived. 

And then there's Markelle Fultz, who is every bit as ridiculously talented as you've heard, maybe even more so.  

But fans might as well get used to the anguish of early NBA entry, because history will almost certainly repeat itself at the end of next season when Fultz leaves for The Show. 

So celebrate and congratulate their accomplishments, and wish them well on their NBA journey. They deserve our support, not our criticism. 

Congratulations Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss. Make Husky Nation proud! Top Stories