Right off the top, this is cheating. The Spurs most dangerous play isn’t really even a play; it’s Dejounte Murray in transition. It makes sense, of course, that players and teams score most efficiently when the defense isn’t set. And it also makes sense that a player who generates a lot of steals, like Dejounte, would do well in a stat that includes the benefits of undefended run outs. But there’s more to it than that. The frequency and efficiency of his transition offense is unparalleled.
Through the first week of the season, nobody in the league is scoring more frequently in transition. In just 23 minutes per game, he is scoring 8.7 points off transition plays. That’s almost as many as Kyle Lowry — who leads the league at 9.8 points off transition plays — despite playing 16 fewer minutes a night. Taking the top 10 players in points per game in transition from Synergy’s play type data and comparing their per minute rate to Dejounte’s is eye opening.
It’s not just his steals, though. Dejounte is averaging two thefts per game, so he has six so far this season. He’s been incredibly efficient with those opportunities, turning all six into transition opportunities and getting points on five. He’s made all three of his shots off those steals, drawing one free throw in the process, and dropped two assists, one each to DeMar DeRozan and Trey Lyles, both for thunderous dunks. But individually, that only accounts for 7 of his 26 points in transition.
He’s gotten a couple buckets off other players’ steals, but most of his transition points have come from pushing the pace after defensive rebounds. Dejounte is just so fast and has become so poised, even at high speed, that defenders don’t really stand a chance without help. Even when there are multiple defenders back, he will slice right through all but the most well coordinated transition defenses.
As Isaac Gutierrez mentioned in his piece on Dejounte earlier today, the Spurs lead the league in points added from transition plays per 100 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass, after finishing 18th last year. They’re doing that despite somehow forcing even fewer live ball turnovers: 5.68 per 100 possessions this year to 6.19 per 100 last year. They’ve more than made up for that small decrease in steals by turning a larger percentage of them into transition plays, pushing the pace more often off defensive rebounds, and finishing those opportunities extraordinarily well, all thanks in large part to Dejounte.
He’s such an outlier that it’s hard to imagine he’ll be able to continue at this pace. The numbers scream regression, but the tape shows a player who is too fast to be contained without a concerted team defensive effort and too skilled to be stopped without a well-designed and well-executed plan. Teams are going to have to account for him in ways they don’t typically consider on a night-to-night basis.
Like a miniature Giannis Antetokuonmpo, the gravity of Dejounte’s transition attacks will eventually cause opponents to adjust or suffer the consequences. Whether that means completely abandoning the idea of offensive rebounds, committing early fouls when Dejounte starts to take off, collapsing farther into the paint to keep him away from the rim, or some other strategy, they’ll have to try something.
Each of those strategies, and any other alternative most likely, comes at a cost, but it’s simply not tenable to give up points as easily as Dejounte is scoring them. Through the first three games, the only thing limiting his impact has been the Spurs playing him what are essentially reserve minutes as he returns from missing last season due to injury. Once that restriction is lifted, “Dejounte in Transition” will be one of the most dangerous plays in the league.