Lineup #3: Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, Doug McDermott, Jakob Poeltl
If you find yourself being cautiously optimistic about the potential of a starting lineup featuring Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, Doug McDermott, and Jakob Poeltl, you aren't alone. At least on paper, this group looks like they'll have the ability to hound opposing offenses, crash the glass, and protect the rim enough to be a potent lineup.
Let's address the most pressing concern with this group right away: there isn't a lot of perimeter shooting. McDermott is coming off a season in which he shot just under 39 percent from deep and he's a career 40.7% shooter from behind the arc, so there should be no concern there. It's the rest of the lineup that has some basketball pundits worried.
In his criticism of the Spurs earlier this summer, The Ringer's Johnathan Tjarks noted that the Spurs starting guards haven't exactly blossomed into perimeter threats in their time in the league.
"Both are defensive-minded slashers who need the ball and aren’t comfortable spotting up on the perimeter. White attempted a career-high 6.8 3s per game last season but made them at only a 34.6 percent clip. That still put him far ahead of Murray, one of the worst shooters at his position (31.7 percent from 3 on 3.0 attempts per game) in the league. Spurs shooting coach Chip Engelland played an important role in Kawhi’s growth in that area in his time with the franchise, but lightning hasn’t struck twice."- Johnathan Tjarks, The Ringer
To address these concerns one by one beginning with White, I think Tjarks overlooked some pretty important context in his article. Yes, White struggled to make three's last season. But he was still working his way back from a fractured toe to start the season, missed time due to COVID protocols, and had his season cut short by an ankle injury. With all those disruptions in mind, it's not surprising that he wouldn't shine in one of the weaker parts of his game like we would have hoped. But that doesn't mean he's incapable of doing so.
In his time in the bubble, we saw White take over games as a lead scoring option and consistently make shots from deep. He was a nearly 39 percent shooter from behind the arc in Orlando. It wasn't a long run but it was certainly an indicator of the success he's capable of having from three.
For Murray, I'd like to point to his gradual growth as a shooter since he came into the league and use it to bolster hopes that he can eventually grow into a legitimate three-point threat. His three-point percentage did drop to just under 32 percent last season but he was impressive from just inside the arc.
The Spurs love their long two's and Murray was consistently hitting those last year. He shot just under 48 percent from just inside the three-point line, up from 43 percent in the same area just the year before. The gradual improvement of his jumper has been an encouraging sign to see. Now, the last step for him will be to carry that success out behind the three-point line.
If White and Murray can improve as shooters, that should be the final missing piece from this lineup. If not, the same issues that bothered the Spurs starting five last year are likely to limit the potential of the starting group that Gregg Popovich is likely to run with to begin the upcoming season.