Three games into the San Antonio Spurs season, Dejounte Murray’s performance has stood out among the rest.
It’s fascinating what the San Antonio Spurs have done without Kawhi Leonard. LaMarcus Aldridge looks like his 2014 self, showing aggression and activity on the offensive end that rarely appeared in his first two seasons in the Alamo City. Danny Green put the ball on the floor at a world-record rate. Even Kyle Anderson stepped up in the first three games.
The story doesn’t surround any of them, however. It’s all about Dejounte Murray.
When Tony Parker went down with a torn quad in the 2017 NBA Playoffs, it set up Patty Mills as the starting point guard. He filled this role but it removed a scorer from the bench, the usual sixth man. Judging by the 2017 preseason and regular season rotations, even with Rudy Gay coming off the bench, head coach Gregg Popovich didn’t want to remove Mills from the spot he excelled in for the past six years.
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Instead, a young, inexperienced player was plugged in at point guard: Dejounte Murray. He played just 38 games in 2016-17, only receiving 8.5 minutes per game. Without removing someone from their comfort zone, Popovich threw this young point guard into the fire to handle the starting duties, and be the youngest player in the lineup, by far (and on the roster). The results have been extraordinary, to say the least, for Murray.
The talk of the Washington product was his size and length. He stands at 6-foot-5, above-average size for a point guard. Then, there’s his wingspan of 6-foot-10. With the way he plays around the rim and on defense, it looks like a full seven feet.
Ok, Dejounte, ok! pic.twitter.com/AiefDbCL7n
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) October 24, 2017
Well, it only took one season for Murray to use his measurables to his advantage, and look fantastic in the process. He’s causing mischief in the backcourt, making the opposing ball handler uncomfortable. The steal total so far: four, which doesn’t seem like an abundance but it’s only a detail of what he’s done on the defensive end.
For an even finer look at this, look at Murray’s Defensive Box Plus/Minus (defensive points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a league-average player, via Basketball-Reference). Through the first two games, it was 8.7, the highest in the NBA. The next best was Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams (6.0).
Under the basket, Murray rebounded like few other guards in the first three games. His boards total increased from 5 to 10 to 15 on Monday night, some of which were tip-ins against taller, physical players like Serge Ibaka. That’s where the wingspan comes into play, again, for that extra reach off his feet.
"He's watching Westbrook or something," chuckled Pop of Dejounte Murray's 15 rebounds.
— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) October 24, 2017
As an added bonus, Murray is scoring efficiently. He’s not taking 3-pointers, using his athleticism to cut to the basket or pull up for a mid-range shot. Stretching the floor isn’t something he needs to incorporate, yet, with ways to go in his development as an all-around player.
It’s only early developments and just three games in, but more than anyone could have expected from the second-year pro. If anything, he’ll have the inside track on the starting job when Parker returns, as long as he remains productive and careful with the ball. Double-double performances won’t happen every night, nor will 10-rebound outings. It’s about his progression as a young player on a team that will be one of the best in the NBA.