Following the Spurs’ challenging 2017-18 NBA season, I covered the Player Reviews here at Pounding the Rock. For some reason I recently had an inkling to look back at them, only to realize there is now only one Spur remaining from that season: Dejounte Murray, and looking back at his review inspired me to compare the player from 2018 versus today to see how far he has come.
First, here’s a quick review of how the 2017-18 season went for the then second-year guard. Murray became the first player not named Tony Parker (who was coming off a ruptured quad suffered in the 2017 Playoffs) to start a season at point guard for the Spurs since Antonio Daniels in 2001. After a strong first three games, he would hit a serious sophomore slump for the next 44 games, eventually ceding the starting PG job back to Parker when he returned twenty games into the season, and Murray continued to struggle off the bench.
However, Parker himself eventually hit the recovery wall and became stagnant, so in desperate need of some change, Gregg Popovich decided it was time to give the job back to Murray. From there he would thrive, jumping from 5.8 points and under 40% shooting during his 44-game slump to 10.5 points, 7 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.8 steals on 46.9% from the field over the final 34 games, making the All-Defense 2nd team while leading the 3rd best defense in the league (despite missing Kawhi Leonard for all but nine games).
Following that season, here is what I said about Murray going forward in his player review:
Murray already has the makings of a true defensive stud, now he needs to keep working on the other half of his game if he wants to meet his true star potential. As previously mentioned, his decision making with the ball needs to improve, but even more so he needs to work on refining his shooting touch. While he showed improvement inside the three-point line this season with a developing floater and mid-range shot, his numbers are still below average for a guard, especially from beyond the arc, where he only shot 26.5% this season on 0.4 attempts per game, down from 39.1% on 0.6 attempts last year.
He doesn’t have to be a superior three-point shooter to be an elite guard, but developing his outside shot enough to at least keep defenses honest will help his driving and play-making ability, as well as make life easier for his teammates on the offensive end when defenders can no longer leave him alone once the ball is out of his hands. Another summer with Chip Engelland and some hard work should definitely help.
Even at 21-years-old Murray is already showing leadership qualities and a calm demeanor that the Spurs value. Combine those qualities with his superior work ethic, and he already has the looks of the Spurs next franchise point guard. Now it’s up to him to take things to the next level.
It’s probably safe to say Murray has accomplished just about everything listed above in the four seasons since, only three of which he actually played. Despite missing the entirety of the 2018-19 season after tearing his ACL in the preseason, just a glance at his career stats show his steady improvement each season to become a first time All-Star this season:
About the only part of his game that still needs work is his three-point shooting, but he’s slowly trending upwards (granted in a small sample size since he hardly shot them at all before the last two seasons) and has reached a point where he is willing to take them when open, hitting 32.7% on 4.3 attempts this season.
Overall, he has improved so much that he came in runner-up for the 2022 Most Improved Player award behind Ja Morant. (Purist will and are arguing that a player who was drafted 2nd overall and rose to stardom as expected should not win MIP over one who was drafted 29th overall and somewhat unexpectedly became a star, but it’s a futile argument now. The reality is any recognition for any Spur is an accomplishment nowadays, especially after they had zero games on national television this season, so just appreciate that he got the second most votes despite being far from the second most hyped for the award.)
The Spurs are still a young squad in rebuilding mode, and it may take another season or so before the fruits of their labor start showing in the form of consistent wins, but at least for now, Murray is the most sure thing in San Antonio. His work ethic, continuous desire to be the best he can be, and a new chip on the shoulder will continue to fuel further improvement on his end.
It’s hard to imagine the lanky guard from Seattle has come this far, but it’s equally unsurprising knowing everything we do about him today not just as a player, but as a person we well. With a year of being the leader of his own team finally under the helm, it will be exciting to see what he brings to the table next season.