How good can San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray be?

Photos by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
Photos by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images /

San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray has long been hailed as one of the cornerstones of the franchise, but how good can he ultimately be?

From the moment he was drafted in 2016, San Antonio Spurs fans have labeled Dejounte Murray to be a future cornerstone of the team. After two promising yet unspectacular seasons, many people expected the young point guard to break out in the 2018-19 campaign. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL during the preseason and didn’t lace up again for over a year.

Following his long hiatus, Murray has shown flashes of brilliance this season while playing limited minutes, providing fans with glimpses of his tantalizing potential. The 23-year-old is far from a finished product, which is why it’s time to examine how good the former first-round pick can become in the future.

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The first thing that comes to most people’s minds when discussing Murray is his defense. He earned All-Defensive Second Team honors in just his second season, becoming the youngest player ever to be named to an All-Defensive team. Even though Murray’s play in his own end slipped a bit this year, this could be due to him working back from his ACL injury and focusing more on his offensive game; I have no doubt that he will be a perennial All-Defense candidate and be known as one of the best defenders in the league for years to come.

On the offensive end, Murray’s rebounding ability stands out the most. Standing at 6’5″ with a 6’10″ wingspan, the former Washington Huskies alumni is already among the best rebounding guards in the NBA. In fact, he grabs the second-most rebounds among point guards per 100 possessions (11.1 rebounds) in the league, only behind Luka Doncic (13.5 rebounds). Moreover, his athleticism and lanky frame allows him to sky over defenders and fight for boards, which is an ability that many point guards lack.

Even though he’s already one of the better rebounding guards in the league, Murray’s offensive game is still a work in progress. The biggest question mark that has plagued him throughout his young career is his perimeter shooting, as he still lacks a reliable 3-point shot. This season, Murray has drained 38 percent of his threes but has only attempted 1.6 each game, which indicates that he’s still not confident in his ability to make shots beyond the arc.

On the bright side, his mid-range game has improved significantly as he’s hitting 45 percent of his long twos. This is a huge increase from his sophomore season when he shot at a 37 percent clip on much lower volume, which could provide fans with some hope that Murray will be able to expand his range into the 3-point territory.

Another area of Murray’s game that has greatly developed is his finishing around the basket. Before this season, he had poor touch around the rim and frequently missed easy layups. Fortunately, he is now converting on a respectable 62 percent from 0-3 feet from the rim, which has made his drives to the basket a lot more dangerous and has also opened up shots for teammates.

Needed improvement

On the other hand, the two areas that Murray needs to improve the most outside of his shooting are his playmaking and ballhandling skills. The young guard is currently averaging 5.9 assists per 36 minutes, which is a decent number. However, he seems to lack the ability to thread the ball through tight gaps or to teammates in his peripheral vision since most of his passes are to wide-open targets who are directly in front of him.

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Moreover, Murray possesses somewhat of a loose handle as the ball occasionally flies out of his hands even without the intrusion of defenders. He relies on his supreme athleticism and size to blow past opposing guards rather than beating them with his dribble. The combination of Murray’s unreliable handles and rudimentary playmaking calls into question his ability to run an effective offense, which is one of the reasons why the Spurs have elected to make Demar DeRozan their primary ballhandler.

In the end, the type of player that Murray becomes will be determined by how well he develops his three-point shooting, ballhandling and playmaking abilities. The first two skills can definitely be improved through sheer repetition, although it seems unlikely that he will ever become elite at either of those things since he’s already been in the league for three seasons. However, it might be difficult for Murray to expand his playmaking since passing and basketball IQ are traits that are more innate than other skills.

What’s Dejounte Murray’s ceiling?

Realistically speaking, I see Murray becoming a perennial All-Defense candidate but a sub-All-Star level guard and one of the top 40-50 best players in the league. He could be the third-best player on a title contender, but the Spurs will likely struggle to make deep playoff runs if he’s their first or second option. With shooting coach Chip Engelland by his side, Dejounte Murray will likely develop into a decent 3-point shooter, albeit not an elite one; he could probably attempt four or five a game while shooting around 35 percent.

Moreover, San Antonio might be better off making him more of a secondary ballhandler, similar to point guards who have played with LeBron James. This would hopefully allow the team to run a more efficient offense and enable Murray to focus on his strengths such as driving to the rim and rebounding.

Ultimately, I believe that Spurs fans have come to slightly overhype Dejounte Murray, as I have seen many people claim that the young guard will undoubtedly make many All-Star teams in the future. Even if he doesn’t end up reaching that level, Murray will still be a vital piece to any contending team. His elite defense and expanding offensive game will make him a fan favorite for years to come, and San Antonio should feel lucky to have him.

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