Coming off a devastating injury, All-Defensive selection Dejounte Murray of the San Antonio Spurs is preparing to make waves throughout the NBA with his comeback efforts.
In heartbreaking fashion point guard Dejounte Murray, the planned successor of Tony Parker as floor general for the San Antonio Spurs, missed the entirety of the 2018-19 season. An ACL-tear suffered in a preseason game against the Houston Rockets sent shivers down our spines as the team’s hopes and aspirations for their rising star crumbled under the weight of his leg.
After a long and grueling recovery process that tolled Murray physically and mentally, the even-keeled athlete is back on the hardwood having recovered most of his explosiveness and confidence.
Murray worked tirelessly in the 2018 Offseason to develop skills, condition his body and create good habits to ensure his growth as a two-way player. He entered training camp last year with a significantly filled out frame, strengthening his broad shoulders and preparing him to continue fulfilling his potential as one of, if not the best one-on-one defender at his position.
One aspect of Murray’s game that’s been scrutinized is his iffy jump shooting. He boasted an impressive 39.1 percent from the three-point line in limited time as a rookie but dropped off significantly as a sophomore. He made only 26.5 percent of his triples last season, a mark that will need major improvement considering the team’s lack of floor spacing with All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan.
Outside of his jump shooting, Murray’s offensive arsenal can use some improvement; nothing that he’s not prepared to tackle. He’s always had good instincts as a passer, but sometimes misses opportunities to hit a teammate for a triple as opposed to attacking the basket on his own. To take his game to the next level, Murray needs to improve upon his assist numbers and establish himself at the point guard position.
His year away from the game was a detriment to the team, but he can certainly grow from it.
Next: Improve as a shot creator for himself and others
Improve as a shot creator for himself and others
During his two years under head coach Gregg Popovich, Murray quickly earned the trust of San Antonio’s coaching staff for sound decision-making on the court. Combining confidence, intelligence and intangible skill, Murray is great at drawing the attention of opposing defenses and misdirecting them. As time goes on and his skillset expands, he’ll be able to control the gravity of opposing teams by drawing them toward the basket, subsequently opening himself or others for easy buckets.
In a projected starting lineup featuring combo guard Derrick White and DeRozan alongside a revitalized Murray, Pop has the option to deploy three individuals capable of taking over as primary playmaker. This will pair nicely with a frontcourt that provides a lot of scoring and defensive help, but lacks additional playmaking.
Three-point shooting is becoming increasingly more important as the league’s dynamics shift. Golden State’s dominant playstyle of three-point barrages complimented by crafty forwards has opened Pandora’s Box on the rest of the NBA, forcing teams to deploy lineups with complimentary shooters often. San Antonio took a different approach this past year, using the three-pointer sparingly compared to their competition while ensuring that their threes were more open and calculated. As a result, the Spurs led the NBA in three-point percentage at 38.9 percent as a team.
Even if he’s uncomfortable shooting the three-ball himself, Murray will need to keep enhanced awareness of his teammate’s whereabouts when controlling the ball. As the main ballhandler for the Spurs this year, DeRozan notched a career-high average in assists by finding shooters around the perimeter when slashing to the basket or isolating in the mid-range area.
In the many intricate aspects of shot creation, Murray is a well-endowed individual with the ability to generate offense within a team system. For the 22-year-old to take that next step toward stardom, his jumper needs some work.
Next: Establish himself as a solid three-point shooter
Establish himself as a solid three-point shooter
Three-point shooting immediately becomes the elephant in the room whenever discussing Dejounte Murray as a star-level talent moving forward. His abysmal three-point percentage in the 2017-18 season was oftentimes overshadowed by his outstanding defensive effort and explosiveness as a slasher. Even if he were never to become a serviceable three-point shooter, Murray still has a wide enough range of abilities beyond the shooting that’ll enable him to take strides in his development.
With this said, its imperative to Murray’s ascendance in this league that he becomes a halfway decent three-point shooter. Using the help and masterful technique of shot doctor extraordinaire Chip Engelland, it would be ideal to see the third-year point guard hit at least 32 percent of his triples in the 2019-20 season as an improvement. Ideally, he can get up to the league-average of 35.5 percent next season, but this is the kind of process that takes a lot of time and dedication.
There were rumblings ahead of last season that Murray had taken noticeable strides as a jump shooter after spending the Summer back at the University of Washington practicing to extend his shooting range.
Should his hard work come to fruition next season, Murray could garner a large contract in restricted free agency next year. The Spurs will surely work to secure their new leader and floor general’s future with the franchise, negotiating contract extensions throughout the season.
Still, it’d be smart of him to wait until he’s able to showcase his new talents and an improved shooting form before locking into any deal. General manager R.C. Buford may want to consider adding percentage-based incentives to any contract that the team drafts up for Murray in the future.
Next: Return to the court at full strength
Come back at full strength
Considering the scrambled defensive identity the San Antonio Spurs displayed over the course of the 2018-19 season, the team sorely missed Dejounte’s presence.
In many cases, the anchor of a team defensively will come from the frontcourt, but Murray was surely the go-to defender for the Spurs in his sophomore season. Everything from his hustle, energy, intensity and passion for the team rallied San Antonio and made them a more cohesive unit on both ends of the floor.
More from Air Alamo
- San Antonio Spurs: How Spurs stack up against the best teams in the West
- San Antonio Spurs: 3 Games postponed in wake of positive COVID tests
- Andre Drummond is everything the San Antonio Spurs don’t need right now
- San Antonio Spurs: White’s return to form skyrockets Spurs potential
- San Antonio Spurs: Four trade partners to watch for as deadline nears
More so than they may have realized, the Spurs need Dejounte Murray. This is a drastically different team from the one he was drafted into, but Murray has picked the brains of former teammates and now embodies the Spurs’ future through his character and on-court performance. At a ripe young age, Murray has taken to the culture of this team and found values that he recognizes within himself. To take the next step and return to championship contention, the Spurs need him healthy.
Recovery is a tricky thing, especially when dealing with something as strenuous as an ACL tear. For as excited as he is to return to the court, Murray needs to monitor his workload and continue his conditioning with the intention of returning at full strength next season.
San Antonio’s medical staff was tested by the Kawhi Leonard saga, but the Spurs are famous for having world-class doctors and staff members available to their players. They won’t put Murray back on the court until all parties agree that he’s ready, so it’s a great sign that he’s taking part in contact drills, as seen on his social media.
Dejounte is aware of the willpower and effort that is necessary to build a championship-caliber team. If he can accomplish these goals and bring that same energy into next season, the Spurs will be in good shape.