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San Antonio Spurs best chances for return to the playoffs will depend on internal development

San Antonio Spurs Dejounte Murray (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
San Antonio Spurs Dejounte Murray (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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CLEVELAND, OHIO – MARCH 08: Dejounte Murray #5 listens to Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs during overtime against the Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OHIO – MARCH 08: Dejounte Murray #5 listens to Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs during overtime against the Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

The San Antonio Spurs will have to rely on in-house talent to return to playoffs

For all the pundits who have written about the demise of the San Antonio Spurs dynasty, the team missing the 2020 playoffs may be an indicator that the end is truly here.  Or, it could be a minor setback and the Spurs will regroup and return to the playoffs in 2021.

The Orlando bubble showed that the San Antonio Spurs have a deep roster and a promising set of young players ready to take on a larger role.  The big question is: can one of those young players make the leap and be an All-Star selection?

But in order for the Spurs to reach the 2021 postseason, they will need one of the younger players to make greater leaps in development and play at an All-Star worthy level.  This may be a big ask, but it is possible.  If anything, the last three years of NBA All-Star festivities provide great hope.

Over the past three years, we’ve seen a number of young stars take the leap from good to great and make their first All-Star teams. A lot of these guys were doing so with very few years under their belts.

Players like Nikola Jokic and Pascal Siakam also proved that you don’t need to be a lottery selection to make it to the All-Star Game. These players were drafted by playoff teams and started off with minor roles in their first couple of years before earning a spot in the starting rotation and playing 30+ minutes per game.

Despite not having a lottery pick in the last 20 years the Spurs have a core of young players who show a lot of promise and may be ready for their All-Star level breakout seasons.

The Spurs do not need a representative at the 2021 NBA All-Star Game in Indianapolis but having multiple players worthy of consideration would greatly improve their chances of returning to the postseason.

Let’s dive in to see what each of the young players has to do in order to be All-Star worthy.

Next: What does Dejounte Murray have to do to get to the All-Star Game

CLEVELAND, OHIO – MARCH 08: Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs reacts during the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on March 08, 2020 (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OHIO – MARCH 08: Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs reacts during the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on March 08, 2020 (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Looking at what Dejounte Murray has done with the San Antonio Spurs so far

First on our list is Dejounte Murray. Of the young core, Murray has had the most time with the team.  Dejounte came to the NBA as a raw prospect oozing with athleticism and jaw-dropping measurables. Those physical tools are still there and have helped him grow into an elite defender. He’s also used his time in the league to shore up one of his major weaknesses. His jumper is much better than it was a few years ago and will surely be a continual point of focus going forward.

Murray increased his playing time from 8.5 mpg his rookie season to 21.5 mpg his sophomore season.  He was penciled in as the starting point guard for his third season which was expected to be his breakout year.  Dejounte’s expected breakout season was interrupted by a torn ACL in a 2018 preseason game.

During the down year, Murray stayed positive and remained a part of team activities.  He returned this past year as the starting point guard for the San Antonio Spurs and averaged 25.6 mpg in a recovery season.

At the start of the 2020-21 season, Dejounte will be 24 years old and his contract extension will kick in.  Will this be the breakout year Spurs fans have expected and hoped for?  Despite the Western Conference being stacked with many great guards, there are promising signs that Murray could indeed make the steps to enter All-Star level consideration.  The areas of improvement for Dejounte have already been covered in recent articles by Dylan Carter and Matty Farner.

Murray is going to need to take a leap to get to the All-Star game this year. Thankfully there are already quite a few point guards with games similar to his that he can draw inspiration from.

Next: Historical precedent for his improvement

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA – AUGUST 13: Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs talks with Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs during the first quarter against the Utah Jazz.   (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA – AUGUST 13: Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs talks with Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs during the first quarter against the Utah Jazz.   (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Historical precedents for Dejounte Murray’s Improvement

Earlier this spring we pointed to Gary Payton as one of the players that Dejounte Murray should spend some time studying. And while Murray’s game does have some similarities to The Glove’s, holding him to that standard will likely only lead to disappointment. Let’s set more reasonable expectations.

The following are examples of two point guards from the 1980s and ’90s who were not necessarily household names but had productive careers, played vital roles for their teams, and earned All-Star recognition along the way. By pure coincidence, each of the players made their first and only all-star game during their fifth NBA season at the age of 26.

Mookie Blaylock (1989-2002)

Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table

B.J. Armstrong (1989-2000)

Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table

For those who would argue that the league is completely different nowadays and are not convinced by the examples above here is another recent all-star selection Dejounte can get inspiration from:

Jeff Teague (2009-present)

Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table

He doesn’t have to make huge improvements but if Dejounte can methodically raise his game like these players were able to, while also helping the Spurs return to the upper reaches of the Western Conference, he could make a compelling case for inclusion on the All-Star team.

Next: Where can DJ improve?

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA – AUGUST 02: Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs dribbles up the court against the Memphis Grizzlies during the first half of an NBA basketball game. (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA – AUGUST 02: Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs dribbles up the court against the Memphis Grizzlies during the first half of an NBA basketball game. (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)

Where does Dejounte Murray need to improve his game?

We’ve shared multiple examples of players who earned their first All-Star selections in their mid-20’s.  So how does Dejounte Murray earn those accolades and make it to his first All-Star game?

The first and most important step is for him to stay healthy and have his playing time increased to 30 minutes per game. His numbers show that as his time on the court has increased so has his performance.  Earning that additional time will be the first step in the right direction. The Spurs backcourt is going to be crowded this year but Dejounte looks like a major component, grabbing 30 minutes a game won’t be easy but it’s not out of the question either.

He also has to continue his tenacity on defense.  Murray is a rare shutdown defender that can hound the best offensive players in the league.  He is already recognized as one of the league’s best defenders and was the youngest player ever to be selected to an All NBA Defensive Team in 2018.  Our own Dylan Carter recently covered this topic regarding James Harden.

Third, he’s got to keep improving his jump shot. This past season Dejounte was also able to show off the vast improvement in his jumper. He became a legitimate threat from the mid-range and was also able to improve his 3-point shooting percentage to a solid 37 percent.

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The final thing Murray needs to do to be considered a borderline All-Star is to improve on finishing at the rim and fight through contact. Murray should study his predecessor, Tony Parker, to see how he can improve around the rim. Parker was consistently one of the best in the league at getting points in the paint despite his small stature. By the end of his time with the Spurs, he had hit on an incredibly 65 percent of his shots within three feet of the basket, a far greater rating than Murrays current rate of 59 percent.

If Dejounte can do the four items mentioned it is reasonable to expect season averages of 30 minutes per game, 15+ points per game, 7+ rebounds per game, 5.5+ assists per game, and 2 steals per game.  These are very reachable numbers, especially considering his performance last year on a per 36 minutes basis.

If Dejounte can perform at this level it is not farfetched for him to hear his name for all-star consideration. He’s openly talked about wanting to achieve greatness.  And he is putting in the gym work to get there.  As long as he continues to focus on his strengths and work on his weaknesses he will continue to improve.

Next. Spurs backcourt is ready to slow down Murray and Mitchell

These are high asks but you have to believe that Dejounte Murray is up to the task. A lot of the San Antonio Spurs hopes for the future are riding on the shoulders of their young franchise point guard, let’s hope he’s up to the task.

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