Preview: Dejounte Murray Returns to San Antonio

On Sunday afternoon, the San Antonio Spurs  play the final game of their six-game homestand against a familiar face. With the Atlanta Hawks in town, that means that Dejounte Murray will play his first game in San Antonio since the Spurs traded him last summer. 

Murray was drafted by the Spurs with the 29th pick of the 2016 NBA Draft. Over the years, he got better and better. Murray’s improvement culminated when he made the All-Star team last season. However, with an eye to the future, the Spurs dealt Murray to the Hawks in the offseason for a collection of potentially valuable draft picks. 

This season, Murray is averaging 20.5 points, 6.0 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game. Despite averaging more minutes than he ever did in San Antonio, all of those numbers are down from his averages last season. That said, he’s having one of the best shooting seasons of his career. With the Hawks, Murray is shooting 46.1% from the field, 35.5% from three-point range and 82.5% from the free throw line.

Surprisingly, the Hawks haven’t improved since acquiring Murray. Two seasons ago, Atlanta advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. Last season, the Hawks had a record of 43-39. This season, the Hawks are 35-35 and find themselves in the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference.

To be fair to Murray, the Spurs have been much worse than they were with him last season. San Antonio has a record of 18-52, which is tied with the Houston Rockets for the second worst record in the entire NBA. Only the Detroit Pistons at 16-55 have a worse record.

San Antonio Spurs Injury Update

Injuries continue to be a sore subject for the Spurs. Most notably, Jeremy Sochan is out against the Hawks with right knee soreness. The rookie seemed to tweak the knee against the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night. Devonte’ Graham will miss a second consecutive game with what the team is calling right quad tendon soreness.

Three players are iffy for the Spurs. Zach Collins is questionable due to a right biceps bruise. He played against the Grizzlies and performed very well (see the Grades). Doug McDermott is also questionable with a right hip bruise. McDermott missed the game versus the Grizzlies. Keita Bates-Diop is listed as doubtful for Sunday’s contest. Bates-Diop departed the Grizzlies affair with left achilles soreness and that injury continues to bother him.

Atlanta Hawks Injury Update

Trae Young, Atlanta’s primary offensive weapon, is listed as questionable against the Spurs due to a knee bruise. On the season, Young is averaging 27.0 points, 10.1 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game. Recently he has been on fire. The point guard has averaged 30.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.7 rebounds per game over his last six contests. During that span, he’s shooting a sizzling 53.3% from the floor, 45% from three-point range and 90% at the free throw line.

If Young is forced to sit out due to injury, that will result in Dejounte Murray playing an even bigger role than usual. In such a scenario, Murray will have the ball early and often for the Hawks.

San Antonio Spurs Starting Lineup

It’s difficult to predict who the Spurs will start due to all the moving pieces. That said, let’s give it a shot. Expect Tre Jones to start at point guard, Devin Vassell to start at shooting guard and Keldon Johnson to start at small forward. At center, Zach Collins will start if he’s able to play. If Collins can’t give it a go, expect Sandro Mamukelashvili to start at center. 

The fifth starter will likely be Keita Bates-Diop if he’s able to play. If Bates-Diop sits, head coach Gregg Popovich may decide to go small with Malaki Branham. Otherwise, Dominick Barlow could get the start.

Betting Guide: Spurs vs. Hawks

The Hawks are favored by nine points and the over/under is 245 points. Right now, the smart money is on the Spurs. With Trae Young questionable, Atlanta would be without a big part of their attack if he’s forced to sit. Dejounte Murray will be motivated but so will the entire Spurs team. Not only will the team try to do well against their former teammate, San Antonio has to be extra motivated to at least keep it close after blowing a 29-point lead against the Grizzlies on Friday night.