Coming off a lost season due to a knee injury, the San Antonio Spurs have carefully managed Dejounte Murray’s minutes early in the season. The plan, according to coach Gregg Popovich, was to increase his minutes after about 10 games. Doing so allowed for the Spurs to slowly ramp up his minutes while monitoring his surgically-repaired ACL.
Twenty-three games into the season, Murray has played more than 25 minutes only three times, including Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings. Murray logged a season-high 32 minutes in the overtime win. It’s an encouraging sign and a step forward in his post-injury progression, however it’s unclear whether it’ll be the norm going forward.
Dejounte Murray: From Starter to Bench Spark
After an eight-game losing streak, Popovich decided to make changes to the starting lineup. The starting five of Murray, Bryn Forbes, DeMar DeRozan, Trey Lyles and LaMarcus Aldridge simply wasn’t working. In fact, that lineup’s net rating is -7.6 points per 100 possessions.
Jakob Poeltl was inserted in place of Trey Lyles, providing additional rim protection, only to be replaced later by Rudy Gay. Murray, at the same time, was replaced in the starting lineup by Derrick White.
The shuffling and reshuffling of the starting lineup was likely to address the team’s 24th ranked defense, but also the spacing issues. San Antonio attempts the fewest three-pointers per game in the NBA. With that in mind, Murray’s benching for White was a necessary, if difficult, decision. White provides a healthy balance of what the Spurs need as an above-average defender and a 39.2% three-point shooter.
What to Expect from Dejounte Murray
Murray’s perimeter defense remains his best skill, as his offense is still a work in progress. His offseason work on his jumper hasn’t translated into a higher shooting percentage from three — or teams defending him closer out on the perimeter.
Pairing White and Murray together, in theory, could be one of the best defensive backcourts in the league. Popovich, however, has been unwilling to play the two together. Instead, White and Murray split time at point guard. It’s a curious decision but not entirely unjustifiable given the dearth of shooting on the roster.
In the meantime, Murray is adjusting to his new role as the backup point guard. It’s been a work in progress. His scoring, rebounding, assists and true shooting percentage all are down despite playing similar minutes to when he started.
That said, while Murray has struggled with consistency, he has still managed to be very productive, averaging 9.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.5 steals in just 22.7 minutes per game. Per 36 minutes, those numbers project out to 15.4 points, 9.8 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 2.5 steals, which provides a tantalizing glimpse at how productive he could be with extended minutes.
Dejounte Murray’s New Role
Murray can affect the game off the bench in a multitude of ways. He still struggles with turnovers — as most young point guards do — but his playmaking has taken a step forward this season. Murray currently leads the team in assists per possession.
His speed allows him to push the pace in transition, attack the basket and/or set up teammates for open shots. He ranks second on the team in rebounds, which is extremely impressive for a point guard playing limited minutes. Among all guards in the NBA, Murray ranks ninth in rebounds per game. As a defender, he leads the Spurs in steals and ranks sixth in the NBA in pass deflections.
While technically a demotion, Murray has said all the right things about his new role. Whether he is actually happy with the change remains to be seen. Ultimately, his role — should he choose to accept it — might just help the Spurs overcome a bad start and make the playoffs.