Why Aren’t Dejounte Murray and Derrick White Playing Together in Preseason?

After last season in which the San Antonio Spurs struggled to put a halfway competent defensive squad on the court, this season looked like it would be different. With the return of Dejounte Murray, the Spurs could pair Murray and Derrick White to wreak havoc on that end and return San Antonio to their rightful place among the NBA’s best defensive teams.

Strangely, Gregg Popovich and the coaching staff are apparently uninterested in that duo. In fact, Murray and White haven’t played together at all during the first three preseason games or the scrimmage. Moreover, in the most recent preseason game against the New Orleans Pelicans, Pop went out of his way to avoid playing Murray and White together by substituting Patty Mills into the game prior to White because Murray was still on the court.

Sure, preseason games are meaningless. And I recognize that Pop and his assistants really want Murray and White to concentrate on learning to play the point guard position. But why not allow Murray and White to build chemistry next to each other in preseason? To make that combination work, they’ll need to figure out how to divvy up the ball-handling duties, among other issues. What better time to do that than preseason? 

Defensively, both Murray and White can guard multiple positions, which is why that combination is so exciting in theory. Murray and White are both quick enough and long enough to defend at least three positions (it could be four with how small the NBA is becoming). We’ve seen Murray and White hold up well on switches in the preseason, even if they end up on a big man. Combine their defensive talents and the Spurs could climb out of the basement of the defensive leaderboards.

But here we wait with the regular season nine days away and all of that defensive potential is still only in a theorized state. Instead, we’ve witnessed San Antonio’s defense get dismantled in exhibition play, as Murray and White attempt to cover the holes left by separate but equally as poor defensive units surrounding them. 

Instead of seeing what the combined powers of two of the best weak-side defending guards in the league could do when teamed together …

… we watch as the likes of Mills, Belinelli, Bryn Forbes and DeMar DeRozan get annihilated by opposing perimeter players. 

Dejounte and Derrick, Beyond the D

And it’s more than just the defense. I think Murray and White have a chance to be compatible pieces next to each other on offense, too. Both can get out and run to create easy buckets. Both can penetrate-and-kick in the halfcourt. And while one will need to be off the ball while the other is in charge of a particular possession, both have worked on their catch-and-shoot threes, so it’d be a good test to see how far they’ve come in that regard, as well.

Even if you zoom out and look at the bigger picture, this preseason should have been the time to play those two together due to the looming decision regarding DeRozan’s extension. If Murray and White can successfully coexist, it lowers DeRozan’s value to San Antonio. The Spurs wouldn’t (or, at least, shouldn’t) give DeRozan a max extension if the Murray and White tandem is the future. But with only a week left to come to an agreement with DeRozan on an extension, the Spurs have more questions than answers regarding their possible backcourt of the future.

Heading into the regular season, it’s safe to say that Murray and White will split point guard duties, with Mills taking the role of third string point guard and second string shooting guard. Before the start of preseason, I thought it’d be a no-brainer that Murray and White would be on the court together to end games. You put your two best defenders and two of your best overall players on the court during money time, right?  

I thought so. I don’t know what to think now.