The New Orleans Pelicans are not looking for moral victories following a Game 1 road loss to open an NBA Playoffs series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Zion Williamson may be out with an injury and Brandon Ingram is still seemingly shaking off some rust but there are some silver linings to consider. Trey Murphy III's breakout debut as a postseason starter stands out as the most important takeaway for a front office still trying to determine the best path to the NBA Finals.

The underdog Pelicans are not demoralized following a Game 1 win. Willie Green's game plan adjustments are tweaks instead of total teardowns. A great deal of that stability in team identity can be credited to the All-Star hype level of play from Murphy III this season and to start this series. Plenty of national media personalities are starting to echo what most of New Orleans already knew.

Mark Medina had plenty of kind words for Murphy III during a postseason preview spot with Fox Sports.

“(Murphy III) had gone through different shooting slumps throughout the season, but he still kept his head on straight. He's a resilient player who's put in the work,” Medina noted. “It's really good that at the perfect time, late in the season, he became capable of being that player, and it’s incumbent on him to be able to make some shots. He's been doing a good job in taking advantage of that opportunity.”

ESPN's Zach Lowe and Kevin Pelton went one step further in complimenting Murphy III but left room to speculate on who would be the odd man out with the Pelicans.

“Trey Murphy III. I don't know what the solution is next season as you project ahead but he just has to be in the starting lineup,” posited Pelton. “…If we are ranking their players, Trey is no lower than third. He's in the top three and he might not be third. Let's put it that way.”

“I've been saying this since he came back from an injury and even before that. He's going to have to start,” Lowe replied. “You're going to have to figure it out. Like, I don't know who gets traded or who comes off the bench. Whatever happens, there is just no world where Trey Murphy III and Herb Jones are not starting on the wings next year. Zero. They both have to start.”

Pelicans give Trey Murphy III the green light to fire away

New Orleans Pelicans guard Trey Murphy III (25) shoots as Oklahoma City Thunder guard Josh Giddey (3) defends during the first quarter of game one of the first round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center.
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Trey Murphy III logged a game-high 44 minutes and led the Pelicans with 21 points, four rebounds, and two assists while shooting 8-18 from the field. The 23-year-old was 5-12 on three-point attempts, rejected three shots, and snatched a steal. Murphy III showed off a high level of defensive intensity and awareness in Game 1 that will come in handy during contract negotiations. Defense was the last piece of a potential All-NBA puzzle when paired with his combination of size, skill, speed, athleticism, and shooting range.

Murphy III got a taste of the NBA Playoffs as a rookie going against the Phoenix Suns led by Chris Paul and Devin Booker. He sank five three-pointers in the entire six-game series as a rookie. The former 17th overall pick in 2021 matched that total in Oklahoma City while starting in place of Zion Williamson.

The Virginia alum was soaking in the moment before the game and did well to correct some mistakes after the opening tip.

“This is a moment you live for as a child. So I'm just grateful to be a part of it…For me, it was just being aggressive,” Murphy III explained. “I was just trying to make the right play, also defensively. First-half I think I had a few defensive mistakes that I tried to make up for in the second half.”

Williamson played a career-high in games and minutes this season. Ingram was close and the knockout effect was felt down the roster. Thankfully, it wasn't noticed too much on Murphy III's stat sheer. He had career-highs in points (14.8), rebounds (4.9), and assists (2.2) this past regular season while playing fewer minutes per game.

Murphy III missed the first 19 games of the season following knee surgery. There were a few bouts of being unavailable throughout the season due to soreness but those worries seem long gone. In his last four starts, Murphy is averaging 25.7 points on 52% shooting from the field and 49% from beyond the arc.

The high level of production for the Pelicans is as much mental as it is thanks to Murphy III's physical gifts.

“I would just say I was just being aggressive,” Murphy said. “I was just letting the game come to me and just trying to make the right play. Early on, I was definitely excited and amped up, but as the game progressed, I settled down a little bit.”

The Pelicans-Thunder tale of the tape suggested a tightly contested slugfest was highly possible. New Orleans let Game 1 slip away according to coach Willie Green. Whatever happens, the front office cannot let Murphy III leave the Crescent City anytime soon. His All-Star talents are too crucial to any future NBA Finals runs.