Dejounte Murray is clearly one of the best defenders in the NBA
Dejounte Murray is an elite defender. If you’ve been a Spurs fan for longer than a month or two this should be abundantly clear. The guy was named to the All-Defensive Team in his second season in the league for goodness sake, he’s been elite for a while now.
Watching Murray bully opposing ball handlers is routinely one of the most enjoyable parts of Spurs games. I cannot imagine how annoying it must be for the other team’s best guard to have to play a full game with Murray basically living inside his jersey.
This pesky attitude has helped Murray work his way to the 6th most steals per game among guards and the 8th most deflections. It doesn’t matter if you’re dribbling near him or trying to pass away from him, lose your focus around Murray for even a split second and you will lose possession of the basketball.
At first glance, the advanced stats don’t do justice to the defensive impact Murray has on the Spurs. Amongst his teammates, Murray’s defensive rating is in the middle of the pack. Furthermore, the Spurs team defensive rating hardly fluctuates when he sits – they’ve got a 108.5 defensive rating when he’s on the court and 108.4 when he’s off.
But those numbers are more of a function of who Murray’s been playing the majority of his minutes with than his individual abilities as a defender. Aldridge has been an atrocious defender this year and the heavy minutes Murray has played with him all season have dragged down his own numbers. Surround him with similarly skilled defenders and watch the magic happen.
The clearest example of this is the Murray, Poeltl, Rudy Gay, Devin Vassell, and Patty Mills lineup that has been putting opponents in a chokehold all season. They’ve only played 82 minutes together but in that time they’ve limited opponents to just 80 points per 100 possessions. That is absolutely bananas and by far the lowest mark of any five-man lineup to play more than 80 minutes this season.
Murray’s defensive impact is enormous and should put him on another All-Defensive Team at season’s end. It should also weigh heavily into his case for Most Improved Player. As good as he’s been on the defensive end throughout his career he’s only gotten better this year.
Dejounte Murray’s case for the Most Improved Player award is this – he’s emerged as one of the most unique two-way players in the NBA and a top-ten point guard. Only Nikola Jokic, Jimmy Butler, and Ben Simmons can match his combined production of points, assists, rebounds, and steals.
Those three are All-Star/All-NBA level players. At the very least Murray deserves a Most Improved award now that he’s at their level.