San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray will enter next season as, arguably, San Antonio's best player following the departure of several key players, including DeMar DeRozan, Patty Mills, and Rudy Gay. For the first time in his career, he'll have the opportunity to carry the Spurs offense, marking the first time a point guard has done so since Tony Parker.
Murray has often been compared to Parker and, while it may seem premature to compare him to a future Hall-of-Famer, Murray possesses many of the same qualities as Parker had as a player. Therefore, a lot can be gleaned by comparing the two, and Spurs fans will finally get a better idea of how he stacks up against Parker.
Early on in Parker's career, he relied heavily on his amazing speed to blow by defenders to consistently get into the paint. It was there that he did most of his damage, using a deadly combination of floaters and athletic finishes at the rim. He also became a one-man show in transition, occasionally even going one-on-three, yet still managed to score in fast breaks.
After several seasons, Parker increased his offensive impact by developing into an above-average mid-range shooter, and later, a decent corner three-point shooter. With his ability to get to the basket at will, coupled with his newfound jumper, Parker quickly evolved into one of the league's best scoring point guards.
In fact, it grew to the point that Parker actually drew criticism early on in his career for being a score-first point guard and less of a traditional playmaker. As a result, the Spurs even flirted with the idea of acquiring Hall of Fame point guard Jason Kidd in 2003 and moving Parker over to shooting guard.
However, considering the Spurs' offense mostly revolved around Tim Duncan, and that Parker had to share playmaking responsibilities with Manu Ginobili, it took a while before he was able to prove himself as a passer. Once the Spurs moved away from a post-heavy offense to more of a perimeter offense, though, he quickly emerged as an excellent pick and roll point guard. He proved adept at creating high percentage shots for himself, Duncan, and shooters on the perimeter.
Dejounte Murray isn't at Parker's level yet, but he can make it there
In comparison, Murray also lived in the paint early in his career. In fact, over his first two seasons, he attempted more than two-thirds of his shots within 10 feet of the basket. Additionally, while Parker relied more on sheer speed, Murray relied heavily on crossovers to get defenders off balance before then blowing by them and using his length to finish.
That said, Murray wasn't nearly as accurate as Parker when shooting inside the paint. His finishing at the rim has improved dramatically, though, particularly as he's gotten stronger. Like Parker, Murray has also developed into a great mid-range shooter, after intially being a very inconsistent. Over the past two seasons, he's connected on 46.3% and 45.4% of his mid-range shots. Additionally, he shot 34.3% on threes during that span, which is around league average.
As Murray continues to improve both as a shooter and a finisher, it's possible that he could make a big leap as a scorer next season. As a passer, Murray has come a very long way since college and managed to develop into a reliable playmaker in the NBA. While he displayed impressive handles as a rookie, he was also prone to being careless with the basketball, resulting in 4.2 turnovers per 36 minutes.
Since then, though, he's cut that number down by more than half and has grown very comfortable creating in the pick and roll. His court vision and decision-making have also improved, allowing him to find more open shooters on drives to the basket and make an extra pass when a teammate had a better shot.
As a result, Murray had a terrific 3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio this past season, which ranked 24th among all NBA players last season. Despite that improvement, he had to share the ball with both DeRozan and Derrick White. Fortunately, that is likely to change next season with DeRozan gone, and he'll have a chance to finally run the team's offense more or less on his own.
At 24, he is coming off a career season in which he averaged 15.7 points, 5.4 assists, and 7.1 rebounds while shooting 45.2% from the field. Despite this, Murray wasn't quite as productive as Parker at the same point in his career. Parker averaged 18.6 points, 5.5 assists, 3.2 rebounds, and shot 52% from the field. While Parker was better at the same age, Murray isn’t as far behind as it might seem. For Murray to close the gap between himself and where Parker was at the same age, he'll need to shore up his outside shooting.
Murray attempted a career-high 3.0 three-point attempts per game last season, though may want to consider increasing that number of attempts to at least five per game. Were he able to become a high-volume three-point shooter and remain relatively efficient, he could quickly gain the edge over Parker, who only averaged 1.3 attempts per game over the course of his career.
While Parker's lack of attempts certainly didn't hold him back from being an All-Star caliber player, it might for Murray given the value placed on three-point shooting in the modern NBA.
With everything here in mind, though, Murray has two swing factors that could set him apart from Parker: his defense and rebounding. If he's able to maintain those components of his game while continuing to improve a few areas of his offense, I believe that Murray will ultimately stack up very well against Parker.