There is cautious optimism mixed with considerable concern over Dejounte Murray's first two performances in Vegas Summer League. After a disappointing start on Saturday against the Warriors (five turnovers, one assist, three for eleven shooting), he followed up Sunday with a similar effort. In 22 minutes, Murray shot 3 for 13 from the field, had 6 turnovers, and just one assist. He did haul in seven rebounds and knock down two three's. He's been working on his shot with Spurs staff. That, coupled with his effort on the boards are positives. The biggest concern at this point is the turnovers. While of course he's a rookie who hasn't played in one NBA game, he is not seeing basic reads in transition. His ball handling is also leading to giveaways. This is my assessment of the good, the bad, and the ugly of Murray's game thus far.
The Good: Rebounding and Effort Plays
Murray grabbed 17 rebounds in about 44 minutes Saturday and Sunday. He is crashing the defensive glass and helping a smaller summer league roster on the boards. Murray also had 3 blocked shots and had 4 steals in the two games. Murray is engaged and making multiple effort plays. His defense has held up for the most part though the competition has been lacking. Murray did get beat off the dribble a few times by Russ Smith, but recovered and continued to fight on those possessions. It's clear Murray is a competitor who will contribute to the grind it takes to win basketball games.
The Bad: Shooting long contested two's
Murray's shot selection has been spotty. He took multiple contested long two's and didn't make any of them. He scored Sunday on two three's in rhythm and a floater. When Murray played within the system (passing and screening away, driving to draw help and kicking, getting into the paint with his eyes up) he had some bright spots. But there were too many instances of over-dribbling, making the wrong pass, and turning the ball over.
The Ugly: Turnovers in transition and ball handling
Three of Murray's six turnovers Sunday night came in transition. Twice he tried to dribble through a crowd instead of outletting the ball to open players on the wing. The Blazers were pressuring, and it's much easier to beat pressure by passing than by dribbling. Murray tried to force his way through twice and coughed it up. On another play Murray did attempt the outlet and threw it out of bounds. A fourth turnover came from a Russ Smith strip in the full court press. Hopefully Murray's issues making reads has to do with adjusting to the pace of the game as well as the size of defenders. The second issue is his ball handling. Murray dribbles the ball high and away from his body which leaves him susceptible to getting the ball poked away. Running point, these turnovers stunted the flow of the Spurs offense at times.
It's important to remember that Dejounte is 19 and has a lot of time to develop. It's not far-fetched to believe he could remedy his weaknesses. At the same time, his flaws are not compatible with playing the point. Not every point guard needs picturesque vision, but it's hard to envision a point guard who is not creating for others and cannot shoot. Defenses will simply sag off. I expect his jumper to improve with coaching and time, but the decision-making is much more complex.
At 6 foot 5, the Spurs may explore using him as a combo guard. Given that Parker is under contract for two more years and Mills for one, Murray's chances to contribute as a rookie would have to be off the ball. If anything, Murray with an improved shot and his slashing ability would allow him to play a spark plug role initially. Once Parker's deal is up, the Spurs would have enough sample size to know if he's capable of being an NBA point guard.
Becky Hammon's thoughts on Murray's performance:
Hammon was as earnest as a coach could be evaluating a player in front of the media:
"I thought he was one of the guys who made one of the biggest jumps figuring out our system and figuring out where his spots are. We really like his athleticism, his length, he gets after it and he's coachable so we also love that. We're expecting good things out of him so we just got to keep moving him in the right direction as well as learning the point and the two. So it's a delicate balance especially for a young kid, understanding the different responsibilities and where he actually fits into all this. He's figuring it out."
For one, Becky acknowledged directly that he may need to play the two. That could be for flexibility but also as a hedge in case he doesn't learn the point guard position. She also seemed to give him a lot of room to grow. By lowering expectations for where he should be now, he will have more time to develop without constant scrutiny. One thing is clear, the Spurs staff knows he's a project.
It's too soon for definitive opinions on Murray. The ball security, shooting woes, and court vision are legitimate concerns. What role and position he could actually play at the NBA level is still up for debate. But he did play with more flow Sunday and when he ran the offense he blended in with Simmons and Anderson. His two three's shows he is putting in the work, and his effort, rebounding, and defense demonstrate the ability to carve a role for himself.