Long before he became an NBA All-Star, San Antonio Spurs and die-hard NBA fans knew Dejounte Murray first and foremost for his defense. The long-limbed menace from Seattle made an immediate impact on the defensive end of the floor and it didn't take long for him to be recognized for his efforts.
After the 2017-18 season -- just his second in the league -- Murray become the youngest player in NBA history to be named to an All-Defensive Team as he made the All-Defensive Second Team. But he hasn't been back since then.
Injuries and the average to below-average nature of the Spurs' defense have held Murray back from making another All-Defensive team. Now, in a career year, Dejounte is serving as the captain of a Spurs defense that would be utterly lost without him, and he's made a strong case for making the All-Defensive First Team along the way.
Why Dejounte Murray should be named to the All-Defensive First Team
The biggest point in favor of Murray making the All-Defensive First Team is how incredible he is at picking his opponents' pockets. It doesn't matter if you've got the best handle in the world -- when you play DJ, you're in for a long, long 48 minutes. His quick hands and omniscient sense for the ball help him average 2.1 steals a night, a figure that leads the entire NBA.
Leading the league in steals should almost put Murray on the First Team by default. Over the past decade, the player who has led the league in steals has made the All-Defensive First Team eight times, with Jimmy Butler (Second Team) and Stephen Curry being the lone exceptions.
Even if he doesn't end up with the ball, that same preternatural knowledge of where the basketball is helps him disrupt the opposing team's offense by racking up deflections, another stat in which he leads the league with 261 on the season so far.
What stands in the way of a return to an All-Defensive Team?
One thing that could hold Murray back from making an All-Defensive team is the critique that he's not a "team" defender. That's sort of true. He doesn't have the full defensive impact that someone like Marcus Smart or his former Derrick White does, but that's never been his primary responsibility.
Murray is at his best when he has a backcourt teammate or someone on the wing who can cover the instances when he does gamble and get beat. There's no one on the Spurs today who fits that mold. Devin Vassell is getting there, but he's not the defender that Kawhi Leonard was when he was on the team in '17-18 when Murray made his first All-Defensive Team.
Ultimately, Murray's case for All-Defensive First Team will rise and fall based on how the voters evaluate his steals figures. At the end of the day, that's what he's out there to do -- blow up dribble handoffs, harass his man, and generate easy fast break points off of that.
If the voters value that highly, then there is no way Dejounte shouldn't end up on the All-Defensive First Team.