Despite the tumultuous regression of the San Antonio Spurs this year, starting point guard Dejounte Murray leveled the ship as a leader on & off the court.
From day one, starting point guard Dejounte Murray has been an ideal cultural fit with the San Antonio Spurs. His steadfast dedication to winning has been pivotal to a team trying to transition from a period of sustained excellence to the next generation of the organization.
Coming off of a devastating ACL tear in the 2018 preseason, Murray buckled down in his third NBA season, showcasing improvements in crucial offensive departments like passing vision, shooting stroke and leadership at the one-guard. Though he’s still far from a finished product, Murray continues to impress with his constant focus both on and off the court, earning him a four-year extension just prior to the start of the season.
Though he hit a rough patch, getting benched for eight games early in the season in favor of his future running game, Derrick White, Murray exploded past that by becoming the player we all knew he could be.
For the season, Murray averaged 10.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game, each of which was career-high marks. Furthermore, he became more weary of his shot selection, resulting in a career-best true shooting percentage at 53.5 percent including 47.5 percent from the field and 79.8 percent from the charity stripe.
Excluding his brief cold streak earlier in the year, Murray has continuously pushed the needle, improving his scoring output and passing ability with time. In eight games after the All-Star break, Murray improved his scoring, assist and steals output while maintaining great efficiency.
San Antonio’s brain trust knows that Murray has the capacity to be a special two-way athlete and leader for this team. Now it’s only a matter of time until he reaches a point where he can be a deadly, go-to scoring option as leader of the young core.
Next: Staying the course on defense
The same old Dejounte on defense
Ever since he was drafted, we’ve known that Dejounte Murray is more of a defensive specialist than anything else. His primary focus is shutting down his matchup, using his long reach and vast athleticism to bump bodies with his opponent and make their lives miserable when going one-on-one with the 23-year-old.
Though San Antonio wasn’t the same kind of defensive team that we’re used to, Dejounte was extraordinary on that end this year. Murray has never hesitated to hustle, even after suffering an injury that could’ve been career-altering last preseason. He fights, scraps and claws for loose balls constantly, making him the team’s leader in steals (100 total, 1.7 per game) and more indicatively, deflections.
Murray’s 188 deflections this season ranks first on the team by 80 whole deflections and places No. 8 in the league in that category despite playing at least 250 minutes fewer than six of the seven players ahead of him. With outstanding defensive instinct and quick reaction time, Murray makes getting the ball to his assignment a pain for any opposing team.
It’s been proven that the starting unit in San Antonio allows more points than the bench unit does. In part, this is because the second unit is oftentimes playing against other bench players, but it’s also because they play in-sync and are anchored by a massive defensive presence in Jakob Poeltl, who ranks first on the team in defensive rating.
The second-best defensive player on the team, according to defensive rating and defensive box plus/minus, is Dejounte Murray despite playing way more minutes against the star players on opposite teams. It’s not often that a team can rely on a point guard to be its defensive anchor, but Murray is the core of the Spurs’ defense and continues to grow in that role despite taking on larger offensive duties.
He leads the team in defensive win shares with 1.7, which really shows how much his defensive impact helps the team grow stronger in the long run.
Next: Becoming a true point guard
Coming into his own as a floor general
Learning from the great Tony Parker has clearly made a lasting impact on Murray, who is quickly developing into one of the most well-rounded offensive players the Spurs have had in years. When the team drafted him, the primary concern was how he’d develop on offense being a spotty shooter with limited offensive tools.
Dejounte’s mentality has always been his greatest asset because of his dedication to becoming a great player and winning championships in his playing career. This is exemplified perfectly in his offensive growth since entering the league in 2016. Murray is now one of the game’s most accurate mid-range jump shooters despite being pegged as a non-shooter coming out of college.
Of players who took at least 80 shots from 10-14 feet from the basket, Murray ranks third in efficiency behind two renowned shot creators in CJ McCollum and Chris Paul. Furthermore, he ranks eighth in mid-range field goal percentage, 47.7 percent, for players who took at least 140 mid-range jumpers this season.
Dejounte Murray took Trae's ankles ? pic.twitter.com/K9oMIWesbF
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 18, 2020
Even more impressive is Murray’s 37.8 percent three-point mark this season. He hit 34-of-90 three-pointers this season including at least 16 triples attempted from each zone. Murray is comfortable as a three-level scorer at this point, which enables him to take command of the floor and dish out more assists than ever before.
Murray still has some clumsy moments when handling the ball, making ill-advised passes and getting himself into turnover trouble from time-to-time. He has just as many turnovers from bad passes as the team’s highest usage player, DeMar DeRozan (51) despite playing fewer minutes.
While he’s still incomplete, Murray has come a long way and the 2019-20 season was an irrefutable testament to his advancement as a ball-handler and on-court leader.
Next: What to expect moving forward
Time to work out the kinks
Now that he’s on to his next contract and likely a greater role for the Spurs in the 2020-21 season, Murray has to keep up the work. Even if wing DeMar DeRozan opts into his contract for next year, it’s still likely that the team intends to give him a greater workload as time goes on. He needs to continue this upward trend by learning to be a more thoughtful decision-maker, ensuring that his passes get to the intended target.
For many high IQ defenders, Murray can be too predictable. He struggles with pivoting out of his intended decision and reacting to what the defense is giving him instead of forcing the game plan. Strategy is crucial to team success, but great players don’t just stick to what their coach is asking of them at all times—they react to on-court situations and pick the smartest course of action in a given moment.
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When a play breaks down or an opportunity opens up, Dejounte needs to know that he can stray away from the gameplan in order to put his team in a better spot. He’s not just a conduit for head coach Gregg Popovich on the court, which is evident at times with Murray.
With that said, Murray got much better at playing his game and taking what the defenders gave him as the season went along. Earlier on, he had plenty of jitters, but Dejounte became a different player before the stoppage of play. During his last 11 games before the hiatus, Murray was up to 14.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.1 steals per game on .471/.455/.905 shooting splits.
This is the Dejounte we’ll hope to see throughout the 2020-21 season because that’s the player San Antonio just inked to a long-term contract extension. He has the capability to be a future All-Star and a champion, but Dejounte needs to keep unlocking new layers of his potential and showing the world what he’s really made of.
I’m not concerned with him finding it within himself to do that. Murray is a warrior out on the court and nothing is going to stop him from achieving his dreams of being an NBA champion.