In his first game against the Rockets since tearing his ACL against them in last year’s preseason, Dejounte Murray led the San Antonio Spurs to victory.
It’s been a slow start to the preseason for fan favorite Dejounte Murray. After a year spent overcoming his demons both in the physical realm and inside his own head, the San Antonio Spurs finally have their beloved floor general back at full strength.
Murray shot the ball poorly in his first three games, but truly came to life against his toughest competition yet – perennial MVP candidate James Harden, who he stayed attached to throughout most of Wednesday’s contest.
Through just 21 minutes of play, Murray tallied 20 points on a hyper-efficient 72.7 percent shooting while making both of his three-point attempts and both of his free throws. This kind of efficiency signals hope throughout the Spurs fanbase for Murray’s abilities as a shot creator will be crucial to the outlook of this year’s group.
In general, Murray has seemed more comfortable when going one-on-one with opposing guards. His ball handling has been more fluid than ever before as the 23-year-old settles into the flow of Gregg Popovich’s half-court offense once more. Adjusting to game pace is no easy task, especially after a year off from NBA competition.
However, Murray is more than willing to step up to the challenges that await him. His teammates have faith in his capabilities as a floor general, which alleviates pressure from the young guard as he begins a contract year. With a lot to prove and the chip on his shoulder as prominent as ever, Dejounte is on track to have a breakout season for the silver and black.
Murray was highlighted by social media for one sequence in particular where he defended an isolated Harden.
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Dejounte forced last year’s runner-up for MVP into a tough layup, extended his reach to snag the rebound, took the ball up the floor with an elegant crossover and accelerated his way to an acrobatic fastbreak layup on the either end. This kind of two-way effort is going to pay dividends for a team that was mediocre on defense with their All-Defensive selection sidelined last season.
Although he only finished with one steal, Murray is getting his bearings as an on-ball defender as of late. When guarding both Harden and his backcourt-mate Russell Westbrook, Murray seemed to keep his broad shoulders squared and in front of his matchup. After spending most of his young career as lanky and undefined, Murray has buffed up for the new year and is putting that muscle to use as a defender.
This kind of encouraging play is going to pay dividends for a Spurs team looking to get over the hump of the seventh seed in the West – a position they’ve secured in each of the two seasons. Although they nearly snuck out a series win against Denver last year, a sixth or fifth seed would serve them much better and Dejounte’s presence with this kind of upside gives San Antonio hope.
As the season progresses, the intensity of competition will too, and Murray needs to be prepared for that. However, his explosion against Houston is a great sign of things to come.