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San Antonio Spurs breakout candidate: Dejounte Murray

SAN ANTONIO,TX - OCTOBER 10: Elfrid Payton #2 of the Orlando Magic tries to take the ball away from Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center on October 10, 2017 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO,TX - OCTOBER 10: Elfrid Payton #2 of the Orlando Magic tries to take the ball away from Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center on October 10, 2017 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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With larger responsilibty to start the 2017-18 season, San Antonio Spurs point guard Dejounte Murray is in for a big season.

Under the tutelage of coach Gregg Popovich, Dejounte Murray is one of the San Antonio’s strongest assets heading into the future. His athletic ability, court vision and work ethic are considered some of the strongest in his class.

Despite the poor circumstances, Murray’s opportunity as a starter makes him a breakout candidate for this season. With increased minutes and a year of experience under his belt, Murray could become the guard that Popovich envisions for the future.

Manu on Dejounte Murray: He is going to get those 25-30 mins, it is going to be great. It will be an accelerated maturing process #gospursgo

— JeffGSpursZone (@JeffGSpursZone) October 9, 2017

Preseason analysis

While it may not be the perfect indicator, preseason has given a glimpse of what can be expected from Murray in the regular season. He’s played nearly 23 minutes per game, which is similar to his anticipated playing time in the regular season.

Through four preseason games, Murray has averaged 9.3 points, 3.8 assists and four rebounds. He’s shot 45 percent from the field and has accumulated five steals.

Murray has been relentless in his drives to the basket which has resulted in 13 free throw attempts. The Spurs’ tendency toward crafty guards has allowed Murray to fit into many lineups in the place of Parker.

His ability to draw defenders on the drive and create plays for teammates has been a bright spot for Popovich’s offense. This strength will be a huge asset for the starting lineup, as the four other projected starters are all capable of hitting open three’s.

Luckily for the Spurs, Murray’s playstyle will compliment shooting guard Danny Green. Murray is known for creating catch-and-shoot three pointers, which are Green’s specialty. The same could apply for Kawhi Leonard and Pau Gasol.

In addition to the skill, Murray has the physical tools to succeed in the NBA. His natural strength and wingspan give him the chance to be a great defender. His ability to alter shots and strip the ball from opposing guards has made him a difficult matchup.

Throw. It. Down. Dejounte. pic.twitter.com/LDMTYnuH52

— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) October 8, 2017

Most recently, Orlando point guard Elfrid Payton was smothered by Murray in a preseason exhibition. Payton turned the ball over four times and shot 5-12 from the field on the night.

Interestingly, Murray contributed three blocks in the game- all of which came against opposing bigmen. His defensive awareness and hustle allow him to rotate accordingly and help guard opponents. In the latter parts of his career, Parker’s defense is questionable. Murray’s dynamic defense entering the starting rotation will be a breath of fresh air for the Spurs.

What to expect from Murray

As a second-year player in a large rotation, Murray is bound to make mistakes. He’ll need to limit his turnovers and personal fouls to succeed with the starting five.

He’ll also need to practice his three-point shot, as the Spurs offensive rotations require a moderate amount of jump shooting from the point guard. Popovich may look to assistant coach Chip Engelland to work with Murray on his shooting consistency.

Engelland, who is considered one of the greatest shooting coaches of his time, has been with the Spurs’ organization since 2005.

Luckily for Murray, he’ll have Patty Mills to share minutes with at the point guard. Ball handlers like Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili will often have primary control of the ball to ease Murray’s transition.

With all of these factors in play, the responsibility lays on Murray’s shoulders. If he can step up and be the starting point guard that San Antonio needs, then the sky’s the limit. With his stellar scoring and his high octane offensive mindset, he could average upward of 10 points per game as a starter.

He could also be a stat sheet stuffer, as his defensive tenacity and hustle often result in rebounds, steals and blocks.

In the 2016-17 regular season, Tony Parker averaged 10 points and 4.5 assists per contest in 25 minutes. Murray could easily eclipse and improve upon these numbers. His competitive drive makes him a standout prospect and his increased role will allow him to develop.

Next: Spurs: Kyle Anderson facing make-or-break season

As frightening as Parker’s injury may be, it could pave the way for San Antonio’s next star to grow.

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