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San Antonio Spurs: Can Dejounte Murray handle a greater scoring load next year?

Feb 3, 2020; Los Angeles, California, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray (5) warms up before a game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 3, 2020; Los Angeles, California, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray (5) warms up before a game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
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San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio Spurs

Aug 7, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA: Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs moves to the basket against the Utah Jazz at HP Field House. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports)

Starting point guard Dejounte Murray’s improvement as a scorer was palpable in his third full NBA season, but can the San Antonio Spurs rely on him?

As the season drudged on and the San Antonio Spurs’ playoff hopes began to dwindle, starting point guard Dejounte Murray began to assert himself. With increased volume over time, Murray not only began returning to form but showcased many of the skills that he worked on in these past two offseasons.

No one in their right mind is going to question Murray’s motivation or work ethic — He’s already earned the starting role because of it. However, there’ve always been questions about whether or not the scoring will come to match the defensive intensity. Now that we have a complete season to look at, there’s evidence to suggest that he can handle a greater scoring load if it comes to that.

#Spurs PG Dejounte Murray asserted himself late in the season.

First 46 Games: 10 points & 3.7 assists, 48.2% on 8.6 FGA, 36.4% on 1.4 3PA, 76.1% on 1.5 FTA

Final 20 games – 13.1 points & 5 assists, 42.8% on 12.2 FGA, 37.8% on 2.3 3PA, 86% on 2.2 FTA#GoSpursGo

— Dylan Hunter Carter (@DylanHCarter) October 9, 2020

As the season progressed, we saw a different approach by Murray. Instead of letting the game come to him, the guard went out and sought his shot more frequently. As his total field goal attempts increased, we saw his overall field goal percentage decline. In less frequent scoring bursts, Murray proved he can be effective, but he cannot afford to force those shots.

A noteworthy development is that despite his decline in overall field goal percentage, Murray’s 3-point percentage and free throw percentage each increased with more opportunity. This is the perfect display of the fruits of his labor from offseasons past as shooting has been the main offensive concern for the 24-year-old as his rookie-scale extension kicks in.

Interestingly enough, it seems like Murray would be an underrated candidate to take an offensive leap should San Antonio Spurs star DeMar DeRozan walk in free agency this offseason.

Next: Stepping up in place of teammates

San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio Spurs

Feb 29, 2020; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray (5) signals to teammates in the first half of the game against the Orlando Magic at AT&T Center. (Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports)

The San Antonio Spurs can lean on Dejounte to score if DeMar/others walk.

With the lineup as currently constructed, there’s not a grave need for Murray to shoot more often than he did near the backend of the season. Injury troubles kept key contributors in and out of the lineup, forcing the team to let their point guard seek his own shot. Murray’s handles as better than ever with a more coherent flow that allows him to manipulate defenders and find the shots he wants.

This was on full display during the three games that San Antonio played without DeRozan this season. In those three games, Murray played 32.3 minutes per game and averaged 17 points. We saw him increase on his field goal attempts (12.3 FGA/G) and free throws (3.7 FTA/G) in that span. In these brief glimpses, we saw what Murray was capable of doing when the team puts the ball in his hands and says ‘You’re our primary facilitator — Make something happen.’

Murray hit 40 percent of his limited 3-point attempts in that span, moving off the ball and finding his spots within the course of the action. This isn’t to say that Murray is better off when playing without DeRozan. Even if the ball isn’t in his hands quite as often, the quality of Murray’s shots increases when playing off of the former All-Star. Still, these three games were a positive sign that Dejounte can handle more of the offense when DeRozan eventually departs from San Antonio.

Next: The best is yet to come

San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio Spurs

Mar 2, 2020; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray (5) shoots over Indiana Pacers forward Justin Holiday (8) in the first half at the AT&T Center. (Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports)

Murray’s most important offensive traits for the San Antonio Spurs.

Yes, we’re focusing on Dejounte’s offensive growth, but it’s hard not to point out the trait that made him such an appealing fit for this team: Defensive intensity. No one turns defense into offense like Murray does when he’s fully engaged. Those high-energy plays are have set the Spurs apart from their competition over the years, whether it be by Dejounte Murray, Bruce Bowen, or Kawhi Leonard.

Here it is again: DJ anticipates the dribble and reaches at the right moment, leading to an easy, energizing bucket. pic.twitter.com/QnbUmkE53E

— Dylan Hunter Carter (@DylanHCarter) October 9, 2020

These plays right here are the spirit of the San Antonio Spurs. Beyond that, everything Murray brings to the team is icing on the cake. As the season went along, he became significantly more comfortable taking 3-pointers with increased volume and percentages to match. One thing to consider is that Murray spent the season getting his legs back after returning from injury. Not only was he working on returning to physical form, but he fought to regain his confidence as well.

In returning to form, Murray found himself improving as a playmaker. In the final 30 games of the season, Murray averaged half a turnover less than he did in the first section of the year. His assist per game average improved from 3.7 to five dimes per contest in the final 20 games of the season as his decision-making became stronger and his scoring threat drew more defensive attention.

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A large segment of fans aren’t satisfied with what they saw from Murray this season, but everything must be taken with a grain of salt. Of course, there were games and miscues that Dejounte wishes he could have back, but these are teachable moments that will help him improving heading into the future.

When the San Antonio Spurs signed Murray to a four-year contract extension last offseason, it was a sign of faith in their starting guard. No one returns from a torn ACL better than they were before it, but that doesn’t mean this 24-year-old isn’t going to keep getting better. The recovery from an injury with that severity takes months and in some cases, years to fully reach the heights one’s capable of.

This is the same rising talent that became the youngest All-Defensive selection in NBA history just a few years ago. The offense is coming along nicely despite some consistency issues and a shaky jump shot. Repetition is key and to this point, we’ve seen that Dejounte can get his team some buckets in important situations.

Murray scored at least 18 points in nine games this season and proved that he wasn’t afraid to leave it all on the court as an offensive presence.

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That says a lot about his growth. The best is certainly yet to come from the San Antonio Spurs’ guard.

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