The answer to San Antonio Spurs’ point guard situation might be simpler than we initially thought.
Losing their starting point guard in the preseason definitely put a damper on the team’s outlook prior to the start of the year, but it’s not the end of the world for the San Antonio Spurs. Yes, Dejounte Murray’s two-way potential and athleticism are surely valuable, but it takes much more than a single player to make a team.
Murray’s injury is a huge disappointment, especially coming off of an offseason that saw him take major steps toward the next phase of his career. Nevertheless, his value can be replaced with a little bit of extra effort from the rest of the unit.
First off, Murray’s injury created an unlikely boost in the playing time and responsibility of sophomore combo guard Derrick White. Selected with the No. 29 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, White has come into his own as a scorer, defender and playmaker. Over the past year, he’s adjusted to the pace of NBA basketball while learning how to lead a team in the G League.
Fresh off of a stellar Summer League, White earned a spot in the preseason rotation prior to the injury. Even though the circumstances aren’t quite how he would’ve expected them, White has been thrust into the heat of NBA action and will start at point guard for the foreseeable future.
Living up to Murray’s standards will be tough, but White has done a great job of showing extra effort on the defensive end. He must’ve spent some time learning from Danny Green over the past year because his shot blocking has been one of the more pleasant surprises of the preseason. By playing hard and physical defense, White has easily met and exceeded his expectations. He’s operated the pick-and-roll nicely up to this point and does a great job of capitalizing on both mismatches and switches.
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One thing that White provides that Murray lacked was floor spacing. Although Murray spent the summer expanding his range, it hasn’t come to fruition on the NBA stage quite yet. White’s ability to knock down shots around the perimeter creates more space for All Stars DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge to operate.
White can help solve San Antonio’s point guard issue by emphasizing ball movement and giving extra effort on defense to put a bandaid on the loss of an All-NBA defender in Murray.
Murray’s assist totals never blew anyone away, averaging 2.9 assists per game in his sophomore season. This is where DeRozan needs to step up.
DeRozan has his name thrown around in MVP contention last year. His enhanced emphasis on passing the rock was a catalyst in what many consider his best season to date. He finished his 2017-18 campaign averaging a career-high 5.2 assists per game through 80 games played.
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— NBA (@NBA) October 10, 2018
By the nature of his explosive play style, DeRozan has drawn help defenders during the entirety of his nine-season professional career. Last season, he fully realized how to capitalize on double teams and help defense by creating shots for others. This is a crucial step in the career of a player hoping to achieve greatness.
To truly make up for the loss of Murray, DeRozan will need to realize his potential as a playmaker and continue to trend upward as a passer.
Pop on DeMar DeRozan's transition: "He’s turned out to be maybe the best passer on our team, frankly."
— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) October 10, 2018
His emphasis on passing the rock has been evident over the course of San Antonio’s preseason. DeRozan does a great job of finding open shooters around the perimeter or big men cutting to the basket when he drives to the cup. This season more than ever, San Antonio needs him to make those extra passes so that the team can run their motion-based offense.
The Spurs have historically succeeded by having players stay active off the ball while ball-dominant players operate pick-and-rolls or isolate. After a down-year offensively, San Antonio added a plethora of three-point shooters and instinctive scorers. DeRozan’s passing ability will be more valuable now than it’s ever been, he must capitalize on his new scenario to achieve greatness.
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There’s no way around it: It’s going to take a ton of extra effort as a collective to replace Murray’s output this season. Not only are there more shots to go around, but added ball handling duties and defensive assignments will be a continuous theme for many of the Spurs’ guards this year.
Bigs need to box out and snag rebounds now more than ever, as Murray’s 5.7 rebounds per game from last year will no longer be accounted for. This means that centers Pau Gasol and Jakob Poeltl, who’re both known for their great rebounding ability, will have more opportunity than expected to do damage on the glass this year.
Fulfilling the point guard duties previously occupied by Murray is one of the most important tasks of the year, but head coach Gregg Popovich will guide the San Antonio back court to the promised land.