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San Antonio Spurs: Reassessing the star potential of Dejounte Murray

Dec 30, 2020; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray (5) lays in a basket as Los Angeles Lakers forward Montrezl Harrell (15) and guards Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (1) and Dennis Schroder (17) look on in the second quarter at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 30, 2020; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray (5) lays in a basket as Los Angeles Lakers forward Montrezl Harrell (15) and guards Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (1) and Dennis Schroder (17) look on in the second quarter at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
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San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio Spurs

Dec 30, 2020; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray (5) lays in a basket as Los Angeles Lakers forward Montrezl Harrell (15) and guards Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (1) and Dennis Schroder (17) look on in the second quarter at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs young point guard has all the makings of a star

I can pinpoint the exact moment when I knew that the San Antonio Spurs were going to be just fine with Dejoutne Murray as the future of their backcourt. It was back in 2017, during a game against the Toronto Raptors that Murray showed that he was going to be exactly the kind of leader the Spurs needed him to be.

After Serge Ibaka and LaMarcus Aldridge got into some extra pushing and shoving, Dejounte stepped in to pull his veteran teammate away before the action got out of hand. As Gregg Popovich walked over to talk to Murray and Aldridge, Murray calmly put his hand out and waved Pop off. He had the situation under control.

It might not have seemed like much at the time, it was just one brief interaction between a player and coach. But it spoke volumes about Murray’s leadership ability and comfortability in intense situations, exactly the kind of qualities you want in your point guard.

Since that moment, Dejounte has permanently taken over the starting role, torn his ACL and worked his way back, and made huge improvements in his game. This year he’s been one of the most versatile point guards in the league, a candidate for Most Improved Player, and, at times, the best player on the Spurs.

So, the question is, just how good can Dejounte Murray be? Let’s look back at some of his best moments from the first half of the season and see what they can tell us about his potential.

Next: A growing offensive talent

San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio Spurs

Feb 3, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray (5) points during the first half against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

San Antonio Spurs need Murray to keep expanding his offensive influence

Murray has always been a good defender. He made an All-Defensive Team in just his second season in the league for goodness sake. But this year he’s really taken steps forward as a key part of the San Antonio Spurs offense.

In the past, the  Spurs ran their offense through their two mid-range stars, DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge. This year they’ve moved away from that in favor of a drive and kick focused offense predicated on penetration and quick ball movement.

This opened a door for Murray to have a larger role in the offense. He hasn’t squandered the opportunity. On the season, Murray is averaging career highs in shots per game (14.2), points per game (15.8), and assists per game (5.4), while also turning the ball over just 1.7 times per contest.

The thing that stands out most about Murray’s offensive game this year is how much the game has slowed down for him. Young point guards often struggle with the increased speed of the NBA in their first years in the league, Murray wasn’t immune to that. Even last year there were times where he’d get flustered, leading to unnecessary turnovers. This year he’s seeing the floor at a much higher level and the results are speaking for themselves.

The last part of Murray’s offensive game that needs to come together is a reliable three-point shot. He’s made clutch shots for the Spurs this season and looks more confident letting it go from behind the arc but consistency has been an issue.

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Murray’s game icing three against the Warriors was one of the best plays he’s made all season. He spoke after the game about how he felt about taking the shot and sounded confident in his ability to shoot the ball whenever the Spurs need him to.

Clutch shot maker or not, Murray is still only shooting 32.4 percent from behind the arc this season. That’s certainly less than ideal and something that he is going to continue to have to work on. But if he stays locked in the gym with Chip Engelland as he has throughout his time in San Antonio there is little reason to believe that he won’t be a consistent three-point threat sometime soon.

All in all, it’s difficult to assess what Murray’s offensive potential is due to the still somewhat limited role he’s had in the Spurs’ offense. Given the presence of other playmakers and scorers like Derrick White and DeRozan, it’s unlike Murray ever reaches the level of offensive production that we see from stars like Bradley Beal and Trae Young.

That shouldn’t worry Spurs fans though. Murray has shown that he’s more than capable of stepping up his offense in whichever way the Spurs need him to. If there ever comes a time where he has to shoulder an even larger load I’m sure he will be up to the task.

Next: The best defensive guard in the NBA

San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio Spurs

Feb 9, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) brings the ball up court as San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray (5) defends ini the second quarter at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Dejounte Murray can be the best defensive guard in the NBA

During the season suspension last year, Dylan Carter pointed to Gary Payton as one of the players that Dejounte Murray should’ve spent time studying. “The Glove” dominated the NBA for years as its most fearsome defensive point guard. Dejounte Murray can have a similar impact.

By most measures, Murray is already one of the best defensive guards in the league. As mentioned before, he made an All-Defensive Team in just his second season in the league and he’s only gotten better since then.

This season he’s near the top of the leaderboard for most defensive metrics among his fellow guards. He’s fourth among guards in steals, ninth in deflections, and he does an excellent job closing out possessions too, ranking sixth among guards in defensive rebounds.

Watching Murray lock down opposing point guards never ceases to entertain me. It has to be an incredibly frustrating experience for anyone going up against him. He’s relentless, hounding his opponent from the moment the ball goes up.

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Here’s a perfect example of the Dejounte Murray experience. As soon as Dillon Brooks crosses halfcourt Murray is on him. One well-timed poke forces Brooks to take a step back and get control of his dribble and as soon as he takes a step forward, Murray is back. This time the ball gets poked away and Murray is off and running, heading the other way for an easy basket.

This kind of pesky, point-creating defense has become the norm for Murray and there is still more room for improvement for the Spurs young point guard.

We often hear about how aware players like LeBron and Chris Paul are of what the other team is doing on offense. There are plenty of stories of these guys calling out opponents’ plays before they happen, telling players on the other team where they should be when they’re out of place, or directing their own teammates into a perfect position before the play. That kind of heady, veteran defensive leadership is the next level Murray has to reach.

He’s already an elite defender but there’s little reason to believe that Murray can’t become the undisputed best defensive point guard in the NBA when he reaches his prime. He should be a regular fixture on All-Defensive Teams until he retires a long time from now.

Should the Spurs consider trading DeMar DeRozan?. Next

Altogether, I think Dejounte Murray is capable of being a top-ten point guard in the NBA. His offense isn’t quite as flashy or impactful as someone like Damian Lillard but few guards impact the game on both ends of the floor quite like the young leader of the San Antonio Spurs.

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