The San Antonio Spurs played in a game that hardly felt important on Sunday. Despite the final result, you can still find some consolation in the play of the two young Spurs guards.
The sports world was shaken to its core on Sunday morning as the news broke that Kobe Bryant had been killed in a helicopter accident that had also claimed the lives of eight others. Despite the heartbreaking news, NBA games proceeded as scheduled and the San Antonio Spurs took the court against the Toronto Raptors with heavy hearts.
Nothing felt right as the game began. The Raptors came out to a hot start behind the strong play of Pascal Siakam. For a moment it looked like Siakam would go for 81 points on his own. What a fitting tribute that would have been. Trey Lyles simply couldn’t keep up with Toronto’s rising star. This is what ultimately may have led to Gregg Popovich starting Derrick White alongside Dejounte Murray to start the second half.
Spurs fans have been clamoring for the coaching staff to play the two young guards together more this season and their play on Sunday showed why. Their impact on defense was immediately apparent. In the twelve minutes that they shared the floor together they posted a defensive rating of 84 with an overall net rating of +20.2.
Popovich has hinted at playing Murray and Walker together more often but so far we haven’t seen too many lineups featuring the two. Including yesterday’s game, they’ve only played in 44 minutes together all season. Given the defensive struggles that have plagued the Spurs for much of the season, it’s frustrating to see the coaching staff shy away from playing these two together and consistently put Bryn Forbes, with all his defensive shortcomings, out on the court.
D3JOUNT3 at the buzzer! ? pic.twitter.com/pb2Mql4CUt
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) January 23, 2020
The biggest barrier to serious playing time for White and Murray seemed to be the constraints a lineup featuring the two would have on the Spurs’ ability to space the floor. That’s much less of a concern now, given the emergence of LaMarcus Aldridge as a legitimate three-point threat and the improvement that both guards have shown from behind the arc.
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After only making 18 three’s in his two previous regular seasons combined, Dejounte is up to 22 on the season. He’s really taken off over the past month, connecting on an eye-popping 51 percent of his long-range attempts. That’s an incredibly impressive number but not entirely surprising. We all saw the videos of Dejoutne canning three’s in Chris Paul‘s face during summer pick up games. It’s great to see him making these sorts of shots in real game situations.
Together the duo combined to make 55 percent of their shots from deep yesterday. That rate is almost certainly unsustainable but still supports a growing case for playing them together.
At this point, no options should be off the table when it comes to finding ways to get this team back into the playoffs. Playing White and Murray together serves the dual purpose of helping the Spurs play better now while also helping build on-court chemistry between the two that will only further help the Spurs down the road.
They’re still improving but this pair looks like they could be truly special if they were given the opportunity by the coaching staff. It’s time for Pop to take the reins off and let these two young guards shine.