This Spur is Primed for a Breakout Season
It’s no secret every year there are a few players who start to shine, that didn’t see much playing time in the previous year or two, such as Clint Capela last year, and CJ McCollum in 2015-2016. A few things factor into a player breaking out and becoming known around the league. Opportunity, skill, and fit (scheme & positional fit) are the big three factors for how a player will come into his own at the professional level. One player that has an excellent opportunity to be that guy this year is Dejounte Murray.
The point guard from the University of Washington, who the Spurs took with the 29th overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, is finally going to get his shot to solidify himself as a starting point guard in this league. Murray fell to the Spurs at pick 29 in the 2016 Draft due to questions surrounding Murray’s off-ball defensive discipline, forgetting help defense responsibilities, and his jump shot. The Spurs took Murray with the plan to develop him into their point guard of the future.
San Antonio will likely know this year whether Murray is that guy or not. The Spurs point guard is going to have a huge opportunity this year when he starts for the Spurs in place of veteran point guard Tony Parker, who is scheduled to be out at least until December as he nurses a quad injury.
Insert Murray, the 6-foot-5-inch, extremely athletic point guard. He should be more than ready to seize the opportunity of running the Spurs offense in Parker’s absence. If Murray does a good job on both ends of the floor, he could end up the Spurs permanent point guard of the future (one they will desperately be needing in the next 1-2 years given Parker’s age and recent injury history).
Murray spent most of last season learning the offense, and developing his skill set with the Spurs coaching staff. The best staff in the league at developing players and getting the most out of their potential (Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter, etc.) Spurs Shooting Coach Chip Engelland will likely have helped Murray enough throughout last year to become a respectable perimeter shooter. The Spurs coaching staff as a whole should have Murray developed enough to really shine in an unselfish Spurs environment.
Though Murray only appeared in 38 games last year, his per 36-minute stats were extremely good for a rookie. Averaging 14.5 points per game, 4.7 total rebounds per game and 5.4 assists per game. If he can get his stats around these numbers this year as the starting point guard, it will give the Spurs a huge lift in a star-crowded Western Conference. Murray should also prove to be a much better defensive upgrade than Tony Parker was last year.
The taller, 7-foot wingspan, more athletic Murray has a much better frame than Parker. Mix that with a reliable Popovich-led defense that always ranks in the upper echelon of the NBA, and Murray should be a very good two-way player for these Spurs.
Murray has also voiced that one of his mentors is Minnesota Timberwolves’ Jamal Crawford, so it should come to no surprise he has a little bit of that flashiness in him.
This season Murray should add some of that flash to a Spurs team that usually doesn’t produce many of those SportsCenter Top-10 plays. A crafty finisher around the rim, equipped with a floater that makes your jaw-drop, Murray showed flashes last year of what he’s capable of. Don’t be surprised if he’s making highlights all throughout this year like the ones in the video below.
It’s important to note that Popovich wouldn’t throw Murray into this position without belief that he’s ready to conduct the offense. Popovich isn’t looking to build players by throwing them into the fire and having them figure it out.
Popovich spoke highly of Murray last December in an interview with Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News saying, “He needs to get repetition on pick and rolls, making decisions on the fast break, that sort of thing.” Popovich went on to say, “I just think his potential is off the charts… We just need to work on his skills and stick with it.” That’s high praise for Murray coming from the best head coach in the NBA.
It looks as if the Spurs have developed Murray’s skill set enough over the past year that they trust him to lead the offense. Popovich is now ready for Murray to run the show. This could be an extremely exciting year for Spurs fans.
If Murray plays up to his potential, it should also end a lot of the criticism the Spurs received this offseason for staying the same team for the most part, while Oklahoma City, Houston, Denver, and Minnesota all made big free agency signings to put themselves in position to compete for the West. It looks like the Spurs are prepared for another season where Coach Popovich and General Manager R.C. Buford prove that they can stay among the top half of the Western Conference through good coaching and correct talent assessments.
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