After averaging 15.7 points per game last season, San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray could be in for another career year. With several of the Spurs' most reliable scorers now gone, he appears to be the most likely to lead the Spurs in scoring. That said, he’ll have to improve upon an area that has been a weakness thus far in his career to further elevate his game.
That weakness, of course, is Murray's inability to get to the free-throw line. For someone who practically lives in the paint where contact is more likely to occur, he has a surprisingly low free throw rate. After all, nearly half of his career shot attempts have come from within 10 feet of the basket.
However, Murray's career free throw rate is just 2.6 attempts per 36 minutes. Worse yet, he only averaged two free throw attempts per game last season. Fortunately, that leaves a lot of built-in room for improvement.
Why Murray should focus on free throw shooting
San Antonio ranked 12th in free throw attempts and 10th in percentage last season, with former Spur DeMar DeRozan accounting for nearly one-third of those attempts. With DeRozan now with the Chicago Bulls, the Spurs will be without their leading free-throw shooter from last season and could suffer as a result.
Murray, who’s likely to have the ball in his hands much more next season, appears to be the most likely candidate to pick up the slack. Otherwise, the team could see an even further drop in their offensive rating, which was already ranked 21st. San Antonio wasn’t exactly dominant on offense, mostly due to the lack of outside shooting. That said, they were passable due to rarely turning the ball over and by getting to the line.
Getting to the line more involves learning to sell contact, which may not come naturally to Murray, though it's something that he can learn. Therefore he'd be wise to study the likes of James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, and Chris Paul. All of these guys are masters at drawing contact and getting to the line, and a lot can be learned from emulating a part of their game.
While Spurs fans likely aren't thrilled by the idea of Murray adapting parts of Harden, Leonard, and Paul’s game, I feel that it could help him elevate to another level. He has already worked on improving his playmaking and jump shot and has seen positive results in both. Therefore, he's already proven that he's a quick learner and should be able to incorporate some of their moves to get to the line more.
For instance, Murray could lean into his defender during drives to try and initiate contact. Also, he could try utilizing more pump fakes while in the paint to draw his defender in the air, then leaning in to draw contact. On the perimeter, he could take a page out of Paul’s book by using rip-through moves.
While the NBA has begun to crack down on the move, it's still an effective way of drawing fouls and could help the Spurs get into the bonus quicker. Another strategy involves him stopping abruptly after dribbling around a screen and forcing his defender to run into him from behind while he puts up a shot.
As a Spur, Leonard was also a low-volume free throw shooter over his first three seasons before drastically improving. He did so by using the aforementioned moves to increase his number of free-throw attempts to 7.2 per game during the '16-'17 season. Murray likely won't be able to match Leonard's impressive amount of attempts next season. However, he can still see a big improvement by also utilizing those moves and setting a more realistic goal of five free throws attempts per game.
After all, nine point-guards averaged at least five free-throw attempts last season, with all but one of them also averaging at least 20 points per game. Ultimately, I feel that Murray has a good chance of averaging over 20 points per game next season. This assuming that he raises both his average number of shot attempts and, especially, his free throw attempts. Were he to do so, he could propel himself up the list of best point guards, particularly when factoring in his defensive ability.