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Determining how good Dejounte Murray can actually be

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Will a chance to finally be the Spurs’ primary ball handler be enough to vault Murray to his peak potential?

2021 Play-In Tournament - San Antonio Spurs v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Before you start to think, “This writer must be out of his mind,” I’d just like you to bear with me while we go down the “How good can Dejounte Murray be?” rabbit hole. You’ll get a pretty wide array of answers to that question depending on who you talk to, but we’re here to focus on what the peak of Dejounte Murray Mountain is. With the draft quickly approaching, how high the Spurs think that peak is will impact not only who they draft, but also who they try to sign in free agency.

By the end of his second season, you could tell the Spurs felt Dejounte was going to be the point guard of the future, as his season that year ended up leading to the exit of the legendary Tony Parker. Unfortunately, a torn ACL before his third season got underway brought his development to a halt, and these last two seasons have been altered due to COVID. That makes the upcoming 2021-22 season, the fourth full season he will play, the most important in terms of what his future is with the team. (This is excluding his rookie season when he was mostly a third stringer when he wasn’t in the G-League). Let’s dive into what that future can hold.

Starting off with some basics: he’s 6’4”, 180 lbs. and has a 6’10” wingspan, which is just about everything you can ask for in the frame of a point guard. At the start of the season, Dejounte will be 25 years old, so he should be coming into his physical prime. His points, assists, and rebounds per game have increased each season, as well as his 2pt%, even while increasing his attempts. And outside of just his stats and metrics, he’s shown to be a leader on and off the court.

This is all while never being the focal point of the offense. In fact, the highest he’s ever been on the team in usage rate is third. This is what makes deciphering his potential so hard. Across the league, other young franchise point guards were given the keys to the kingdom right away, but the Spurs rarely ever do that. Instead, Dejounte has had to navigate being a secondary playmaker on a roster that didn’t necessarily fit his playing style while only occasionally taking the reins as the main creator.

With it looking more and more likely that DeMar DeRozan doesn’t come back for another year, Dejounte should be stepping into his shoes as the main ball-handler. In the two seasons together, Dejounte has played 11 games sans DeMar. In those, the Spurs went 6-5 while Dejounte averaged 16.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 5.3 assists a game, while shooting 50% on 14 attempts. Basically, even without DeMar, Dejounte still hasn’t been asked to be more than the player he was in 2020-21. In fact, in his career, he’s attempted 20+ field goals in a game four times: averaging 25/10.75/6 in those games. Again, that’s four games in his career that he’s shot the ball 20 or more times.

Compare that to another young point guard like Ja Morant, who in two seasons has 19 such games, or in an extreme case, Trae Young, who has 76 games. The point is Dejounte has never been asked to be the catalyst for the offense. He’s shown the ability to knockdown mid-range jumpers and get to the basket. He shoots 65% at the rim and 48% between 16 feet and the three-point line. That 48% ranks 13th in the league for players who took 75+ of those shots. To put this into perspective, 13th ranks ahead of Steph Curry’s 44.7% on 87 shots, Damian Lillard’s 43.6% on 110 shots, and it’s .001 behind Luka Doncic and DeMar.

So far, none of this takes into account that Dejounte is one of the best defenders at the point guard position. Only Ben Simmons and Jrue Holiday, both of whom made NBA All-Defensive First Team this season, jump out as possibly being better. Because a lot of defensive stats reflect who a player is on the court with, it’s hard to explain how impactful Dejounte truly is — other than this. He was one of two players on the Spurs with a Defensive Box Plus/Minus above 0 that qualified for the leaderboard on basketball-reference.com. When he was on the court, the Spurs had a Defensive Rating of 111.8, which would’ve been 11th in the league. When off the court, that rating drops to 115.4, which would’ve been 28th.

Regardless of what deep-dives will say, the majority, especially when it comes to NBA fans, are going to rank the players they see more often higher than others. Players who score the most, make highlight plays, and are shown on national TV are naturally going to get a better rank. And for a position that’s as loaded as point guard and is only getting deeper with the addition of players like Cade Cunningham, it’s hard for a player to break into the top ranks when his usage rating is barely higher than Elfrid Payton’s. Add in the fact that Dejounte averaged 6.7 possessions a game of being the ball handler in a pick-and-roll, where the league-leading Trae Young had 14.1 possessions a game, and it’s easy to see why he tends to go unnoticed.

At the end of the day, the talent is there for Dejounte. He looks to have all the tools it takes to become one of the best point guards in the league. There just hasn’t been a chance for him to shine so far in his career. His player rankings prior to this last season were 100 on CBS Sports and Sports Illustrated, and 83 on ESPN. It’s time for the Spurs to let Dejounte spread his wingspan and fly. There’s no way to know what kind of player he can actually become until he’s behind the wheel. Will he become a top-5 point guard in the league? Probably not, or at least not with how stacked the position is. But he could easily be top-10, possibly pushing the threshold of that top-tier, and lead the Spurs back into the playoffs.