The San Antonio Spurs aren't expected to make much noise in the NBA this season and that's exactly where they like to be. One man who particularly likes playing with something to prove is their starting point guard, Dejounte Murray. Now 25, Murray goes into his fifth NBA season with the most weight on his shoulders he's ever had in his career.
The Spurs will be missing 44 points of offense with the departures of DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, and Patty Mills alone, and it'll be up to the leaders of the team to fill those gaps. Murray, who's improved each year since he was drafted in 2016, will need to do so once again for San Antonio to compete in the Western Conference.
With averages of 15.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 1.5 steals per game last season, Murray certainly proved he has an all-around game right up there with some of the best in the league. When you compare his numbers last year to a perennial All-Star in Ben Simmons, the difference is fairly marginal.
Ben Simmons' 2020-21 line: 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.6 steals
With how much he's impressed as a secondary option, being a primary option should mean a natural evolution to Murray's game, but he'll have to be aware that defenses will now have a bigger focus on him. Still, there's no reason to believe he isn't up to task.
As my colleague Roberto Araiza previously wrote, Murray should improve in just about every category given his newfound responsibility. He's just too skilled to regress. But the bigger question is how good can Dejounte be?
The biggest obstacle still in Murray's way is his 3-point shooting. He made less than one-third of his attempts from the outside last season at 31.7% on a career-high 3.0 attempts per game. With San Antonio now re-loaded with long-range bombers, he won't need to depend on shooting from the outside too much. Still, he needs to develop a respectable outside shot to open up the rest of his offensive game.
If Dejounte can up his 3-point accuracy to at least the 36% range, that should open up more drive-and-dish or driving layup opportunities for him. With a midrange jumper that's becoming more automatic each season, he should see his scoring average raise above 20 this season, perhaps around the 22.0 points per game mark.
While it would obviously be ambitious to say Murray could average a triple-double next season, it's not too crazy to think he can be somewhat close. A line of 22 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 7.0 assists is what I would expect from an absolute ceiling Murray -- one who's added to his game while taking on a bigger role.
Of course, many of Murray's numbers will depend on the Spurs' offense, which isn't projected to be one of the better ones in the NBA this season. As such, his assist numbers could take a hit, bringing him back closer to his average of five per game over the last two seasons.
As he was last year, I fully expect Murray to remain one of the better rebounding guards in the league, and his defense still remains among the elite as well. If the Spurs outperform their low national expectations by even a small margin, Dejounte should get some All-Star consideration, even in the loaded Western Conference.
The 2022 version of Dejounte Murray should be the best one yet, and that could have the Spurs surprising some people before it's all said and done.