San Antonio Spurs: Five ways for Dejounte Murray to maximize his offseason
Though Dejounte Murray’s return to the San Antonio Spurs lineup wasn’t perfect, there’s plenty to be excited about in regards to his future.
Not everyone’s bought into the energy and hustle that San Antonio Spurs point guard Dejounte Murray brings to the table. No matter which side of the fandom you stand on, there are two unequivocal truths that we can all agree on. The first is that Dejounte’s unwavering commitment to being his best self for the Spurs is an intangible asset to the franchise. The second is that he failed to reach his true potential in the 2019-20 NBA season.
Many factors go into Murray’s mediocre season beginning most importantly with his return from injury. Absolutely no one returns from an ACL tear and immediately takes a step past their previous level of play. Murray needed to readjust to game pace and the immense pressure of being a professional athlete playing an 82-game season slate. Yes, I know the season was shortened, but the point stands.
Circumstances beyond his control halted the momentum Dejounte had built in February and March that helped the San Antonio Spurs create some sort of identity. His play inside the Orlando bubble varied night-to-night with miscues scattered throughout his performances. However, he deserves credit for taking more shots and attempting to be the scoring threat that Spurs fans hope to see him become.
This offseason is a critical one for his development and fit with the team long-term. To be the player that Gregg Popovich believes him to be, Dejounte needs to work on a few things this offseason.
Next: Locking himself in the gym
1. Get in the San Antonio Spurs’ gym and shoot
It couldn’t get more obvious than this one, could it? Whether he’s working with the San Antonio Spurs’ resident shot doctor, Chip Engelland, or not, Dejounte needs to get in the gym and keep on shooting. For as efficient as he was shooting above league-average from 3-point range, adding a consistent shot from deep would do dividends for Dejounte’s scoring profile.
We’ve already seen him emerge as one of the game’s more reliable mid-range shooters, taking advantage of team’s hesitancy to send defensive pressure in that area. Teams aren’t going to close out on him as they will against someone like Bryn Forbes, Derrick White, or Lonnie Walker IV since he’s known for being a defensive specialist and interior scorer.
It’s time for Murray to take advantage of that fact and make his mark as a shooter. For years now, he’s put in work to make that a part of his game that can be relied upon and so far, it’s worked out pretty well. He cannot afford to let up on his incredible efforts now when he’s beginning his second contract and inching closer to what’ll end up being his prime years.
Next: Improving his body
2. Keep packing on more muscle to work on finishing through contact
At this stage of his NBA career, Murray is transitioning from a young player to an established starter. It’ll be his second full season starting and the 2020 season opener will mark his 115th game in the starting lineup. This mean’s it’s time for Murray to start approaching the sport a bit differently.
As he showed on his Instagram page recently, Dejounte’s already been in the gym packing on some weight. Adding muscle will pay off in dividends for the 24-year-old, who struggled with finishing near the rim at times last year. Packing on some extra weight in his upper-body should help him navigate the trees down low, finishing through contact and avoiding hefty bigs who tend to protect the rim.
Finishing was Murray’s bread and butter early in the season, but as time went on, he began to struggle with finishing near the rim. This regression truly hurt his shooting percentages and overall offensive output. If he can become more of a stable interior scorer as we’ve known him to be in the past, Murray can fulfill a segment of his potential and hit greater scoring averages in the process.
Since it’s already known that Dejounte is hitting the gym, it’s clear to see that he’s on the right track in that regard. After packing on muscle, which he’ll need to do for his lower-body as well, Murray should have an easier time sustaining a greater scoring load in the future.
Next: Work on passing skills
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)
3. Become the floor general the San Antonio Spurs believe he can be
For a player destined to be the Spurs’ next great point guard, Dejounte has never been a natural playmaker. His scoring threat tends to create a chain reaction on the court, helping to open up shots for teammates around the perimeter and off of cuts. Slowly but surely, he’s been improving as a ball-handler and overall passer with time and repetitions.
This offseason, Dejounte should be looking to work on skill drills and focus on setting teammates up during pickup games. This year, he posted the best assist percentage of his career (23.1%) and improved his assist-to-turnover ratio for the third consecutive season. With time and trust from the Spurs’ coaching staff, Dejounte is making better decisions with the ball in his hands, resulting in a more well-rounded offensive effort from the silver and black.
Dejounte Murray took Trae's ankles ? pic.twitter.com/K9oMIWesbF
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 18, 2020
Furthermore, the San Antonio Spurs’ winning percentage was 4.9 percent better than its season average when Murray dropped seven or more assists. Having a functional point guard who can set a teammate up while bringing defensive intensity on the other end does dividends for the team’s ability to compete.
Again, becoming a better passer comes mostly with increased opportunities. Eventually, the Spurs’ starting point guard will be their primary passer and now’s his chance to prepare for it.
Next: Study up on preserving health
4. Take advantage of modern innovation by studying sports science
Part of what’s made LeBron James so great is his ability to enhance his physicality. No one puts time, energy and money into their body the way that Murray’s mentor, LeBron does. It’s a large part of why the potential GOAT can tear off an incredible run for a title in Year 17. Being that Dejounte and LeBron have a good relationship and are represented by Klutch Sports, Murray should pick his brain about sports science and how to make the most of his physical tools.
After suffering an injury of critical nature as he did last year, Murray needs to take extra care of his body. Now more than ever, it’s crucial that he pays attention to the way he approaches the game and preserves his health as much as humanly possible without it impacting his ability to perform on the court.
Sports science is more advanced than ever and newly-evolving practices help athletes maintain playing shape late into their careers. Around the time when LeBron was Dejounte’s age, he began to take sports science a lot more seriously. He changed his dietary habits, changed the way he works out and began making lifestyle changes to make sure his mental health was in check.
I’m not going to tell anyone how to live their life, but taking an interest in this side of being a pro athlete could be of great value to Dejounte Murray. His new extension should take him to the front door of his prime years in the NBA. Preserving his health and ensuring his availability is one way to ensure that he can cash in on generational wealth later in his career.
Next: Asserting leadership
5. Establish a leadership role with San Antonio Spurs teammates
The best development the San Antonio Spurs could ask for in Dejounte Murray’s fourth season with the team (third on the court) was his advanced leadership role. Between his connections with the veterans and willfulness to aid rookies in their transition to the next level, Murray has been as dependable as they come in terms of a leader.
Murray’s relationship with rookie Keldon Johson has been well recognized as Murray took KJ under his wing, helping him to get adjusted to pro-life. He’s stood by LaMarcus Aldridge, who missed the Orlando restart due to injury, and has built friendships within the Spurs locker room that transcend the sport. These are great examples of being a leader and right now, Murray is the team’s best hope of preserving the San Antonio Spurs culture as they transition into this new era.
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Aldridge is on the decline and enters unrestricted free agency next year. His time in San Antonio could come to a close and even then, he’s less of a vocal leader than Murray is. Veteran Patty Mills, who previously mentored Dejounte in some ways, isn’t getting any younger himself and chances are, Marco Belinelli will be gone this offseason.
Murray needs to carry the spiritual torch that keeps the San Antonio Spurs’ culture alive. Others will come to truly understand it and exhibit it too, but for the time being, Murray is the guy who can truly embody what it means to wear silver and black. He constantly remarks on how the team saved him and how much he truly believes in and appreciates being a Spur.
The relationship between Dejounte Murray and the Spurs culture is a beautiful thing. A major part of why they extended his contract, beyond showing him that they still believe in his despite his injury, is that he stands for more than he produces on the court. Murray has strong morals and an incredible work ethic that others within the organization can truly learn from.
Now, it’s time to continue building on his incredible relationship with the team and organization.