San Antonio Spurs: Dejounte Murray’s return should turn defense around

SAN ANTONIO, TX - APRIL 1: Head Coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs talks with Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs during the game against the Houston Rockets on April 1, 2018 at the AT&T Center 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photos by Chris Covatta/NBAE via Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - APRIL 1: Head Coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs talks with Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs during the game against the Houston Rockets on April 1, 2018 at the AT&T Center 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photos by Chris Covatta/NBAE via Getty Images)
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After a rare down year for the defense last season, the return of Dejounte Murray should vault the San Antonio Spurs near the top of the league in that category once again.

The San Antonio Spurs have a long and storied history of defensive dominance during the two-plus decades of Gregg Popovich’s leadership.

Heading into last season, the Spurs had led the league in defensive rating in four of the past seven years, ranked among the top three in that statistic in seven of the past nine years, and had not been outside of the top 10 since the 2009-10 season.

Pop’s defensive formula had helped San Antonio become the model of defensive consistency in the league, but his system didn’t work as well without a certain level of defensive talent, and that’s what the Spurs lacked last season.

Outside of Derrick White and Rudy Gay, no one on the roster could claim to be an above-average defender.

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The loss of Dejounte Murray to a preseason ACL injury exacerbated that weakness as they fell to 19th in defensive rating last year.

In Murray’s last healthy season, he led all point guards in defensive real plus-minus by a wide margin and ranked ninth among all players in a statistic that usually favors post players.

The Spurs’ defensive rating was a whopping 7.6 points better with Dejounte Murray on the floor in 2017-18, and that 101 defensive rating would’ve lead the league by 3.56 points.

Murray’s 1.2 steals per game were sorely missed as the Spurs ranked dead last in team steals last season.

Assuming Dejounte’s knee is fully healed after 12 months of rehab, he should once again be that All-Defensive Team player that we witnessed in 2017-18.

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With a healthy Murray alongside Derrick White, who ranked fifth amongst point guards in defensive real plus-minus last year, the Spurs’ dominant defensive backcourt should help them improve mightily on that end of the floor.

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