San Antonio Spurs: Three players Dejounte Murray should study during the hiatus
With all of this extra time on his hands, San Antonio Spurs point guard Dejounte Murray should be watching a specific group of historic players.
After his performance as a 21-year-old in the 2017-18 NBA season, San Antonio Spurs point guard Dejounte Murray became the youngest player to ever make an All-Defensive team. From early on in his career, he set the bar high for himself, proclaiming that he wants to bring a championship to the River City.
Though there isn’t much opportunity to practice right now, Murray can still learn and improve himself as a basketball intellectual by studying other great players. As a defensive-minded, two-way player, Murray is unique compared with many of his contemporaries. His determination and intensity are reminiscent of players from a previous generation. These are the basketball minds that he should draw from to achieve his goals.
Dejounte Murray took Trae's ankles ? pic.twitter.com/K9oMIWesbF
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 18, 2020
To be the championship-caliber player he’s outwardly aspired to be, Murray has to become more polished than ever before. Entering the 2019-20 season, it was clear that he had been working on his game. Murray came out of the gates with a refined jumper and eventually, his instincts as a floor general came along as well.
Becoming a reliable passer can be extremely difficult for any basketball player—let alone a starting point guard in the NBA. For as much as he progressed over the course of the year, Dejounte is far from reaching the heights he set for himself early in his career. His turnover rate is still higher than it should be he’s only just getting comfortable scoring outside of 15 feet from the basket. It’ll be a long path to success, but Murray is poised for a long, storied career in this league.
First, he’ll need to draw from legends of the past to push forward into a brighter future.
Next: A longtime rival to the silver and black
1. Learning from storied point guard Chris Paul
Though he’s never won a championship, few point guards have taken their jobs as seriously as future Hall of Famer Chris Paul. He’s been undersized his whole career at an even six feet tall, but that never stopped CP3 from being a dog on defense and slicing apart opponents to generate offense for himself and others.
Few players have combined mastery of three-level scoring with exquisite leadership on both ends of the floor like Paul. As a matter of fact, he’s such an insurgent leader that other stars had trouble learning to cope with his presence. That’s the part where Murray needs to stick to his ways because he’s great at inspiring his teammates through determination and hard work.
What Paul can teach Dejounte is how to approach the game with confidence and level-headed decision-making every sense of the way. CP3’s on-court distinctiveness comes from his intangible ability to read the court floor like a book and make the right play frequently. Paul is a master of the pick-and-roll because of the way he can position his body, manipulate defenders and dissect defenses to ensure a bucket for himself or his teammate.
Paul is also a pesky defender who led the league in steals a whopping six times and has made nine All-Defensive teams in his storied career. There’s a strong argument to be made that Paul has a higher basketball IQ than any other player in the league and I’d agree with it. That’s also part of the reason why he’s the President of the NBA’s Player’s Association.
Every step of the way, Paul leads his team. He plays hard during every minute he’s on the floor and does everything he can to make his teammates better. If Murray could assume even a fraction of that on-court intellect and authority, he’ll dramatically influence the team’s win total.
Next: Drawing from The Glove
2. Studying the dynamic of Gary Payton’s defense
When comparing the third season of Murray’s career to the third year of the criminally underrated Gary Payton‘s career, you’ll find the similarities to be uncanny. Murray played 6.2 minutes per game less than Payton did for the Seattle SuperSonics that year, so we’re going based on stats per 36 minutes to adjust for the difference in playing time.
Per 36 minutes, Murray averaged 15.4 points per game, only 0.3 points fewer than Payton, as well as the same steals per game (2.5). Murray averages 0.3 assists more than Payton did per 36 minutes and 8.3 rebounds, which is 4.3 more than Payton’s four per game. Even the advanced statistics are eerily similar to Payton’s third-year PER at 17 and Murray’s at 17.1.
Dejounte’s assist percentage is 23.7% compared to Payton’s 22.7% and their steal percentage is within 0.2 percent of each other’s in their respective third season.
It wasn’t until Payton’s fourth season that he popped, earning his first All-Star bid and bumping his nightly output to 16.5 points, six assists and 2.3 steals per game. He went on to be a nine-time All-Star, nine-time All-Defensive selection, nine-time All-NBA player, and most importantly, a champion in 2006 with the Miami Heat. Payton is everything that Dejounte should aspire to be at this point in his career and more.
What’s even more interesting is that Murray’s three-level scoring is coming along much faster than Payton’s did. His range is expanding quickly to keep up with the modern NBA without harming his defensive presence, which is going to be key to his longterm success.
For Murray to fulfill his potential, he needs to maintain elite defense while letting that offensive output come to him. Payton’s nine-year stretch of at least 19 points per game coincided with plenty of All-Defensive selections and even a Defensive Player of the Year award in ’96.
Given his drive, ambition and talent, Murray could achieve these same accolades one day.
Next: A threat in every statistical category
Learning to be a “Do-It-All” point guard from Jason Kidd
When you look back at it, was there anything Hall of Fame point guard Jason Kidd wasn’t good at when he was at his peak? He struggled to become an elite three-point shooter until later in his playing career but even then, he wasn’t bad at it either! Kidd is the perfect kind of point guard for Murray to look at when aspiring to be the best version of himself.
Kidd’s passing vision was unusual from the start so that bar is too high for Murray right now. Besides that, Murray could achieve all of the same highs that Kidd did across his 10 All-Star selections and six All-NBA bids. It took Kidd 13 NBA seasons to post a total rebounding percentage as high as Murray’s this year and in his third season, he posted the same 3.3 percent steal percentage that Murray did this year.
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The term “jack of all trades, master of none” doesn’t fully apply to Kidd because he was a masterful passer. However, he really was a jack of all trades because his lengthy 6-foot-4 frame at point guard and underrated athleticism were paired with a basketball IQ higher than that of most players to ever step on the court.
Just like I mentioned with Paul, the basketball IQ is that part of Kidd’s game that Dejounte needs to draw from. Like Murray, Kidd’s turnover rate was much higher early in his career, but he worked hard and kept his head on straight; eventually lowering it as he reached the apex of his career. Kidd was a fearless leader and did so by example, just like Murray does at the Spurs’ starting point guard of the future.
Dejounte has a handful of incentives in his new contract to earn some extra money over these next four seasons. Drawing from Kidd’s amazing, well-rounded playstyle would be a great way not only to impress his team and head coach Gregg Popovich but earn those additional payouts along the way.
There’s a reason why Kidd was almost the starting point guard of the Spurs and drawing inspiration from someone who had the organization’s admiration would take Murray to the next level.