Dejounte Murray is star is on the rise as he starts for the San Antonio Spurs
Despite the absence of injured stars Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker the Spurs play well and are 34-20, good for third place in the packed Western Conference. But we kind of expected it. The biggest surprise is Dejounte Murray, a 21-year-old point guard whose all-around contributions have made quite the difference.
It’s no secret that Murray is a piece of Spurs’ future. He was selected in the first round of the 2016 NBA draft with the 29th overall pick. He joined the Spurs for the 2016 NBA Summer League, and on July 14, signed his rookie scale contract with the team. On October 29, 2016, in the Spurs’ third game of the 2016–17 season, Murray made his NBA debut.
During his rookie campaign, he became the youngest player in Spurs history to score at least 24 points, breaking Parker’s record and just the fourth rookie in franchise history to record a point/rebound double-double in a playoff game, joining David Robinson, Tim Duncan, and Leonard.
In his second season, he’s beginning to look like part of the team’s core. Murray continues to put up impressive numbers as a rebounding guard. Back in October, Murray became just the second Spurs point guard to have multiple double-digit rebounding performances in the same season, Rod Strickland had two double-digit rebounding games in the 1989–90 season. The sophomore guard now has the most double-digit rebound games by a point guard in Spurs history, 9. Technically, he is tied with Johnny Moore, but if he stays healthy, he will be the leader before the All-Star break.
The new starting point guard is setting Spurs records each week. On January 21, for the first time, Murray started over long-time Spurs starting point guard Tony Parker as a coach’s decision by Gregg Popovich. Two days later, he had 19 points, 10 rebounds, and a career-high seven steals, helping the Spurs defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Murray became just the third Spur to ever have a 19/10/7 game (also Tim Duncan, Alvin Robinson). The 21-year-old is averaging 5.3 rebounds per game and three other players on his own team have averaged more boards this season. But don’t let that number fool you. His 5.3 rpg is the highest average by a point guard in Spurs franchise history (current full-season record is 4.6 set by Moore in 1984-85 season and matched by Strickland in 1991-92). His current streak of three games with 10-plus rebounds is also a franchise best for a guard.
When Murray can’t buy a bucket, he is not a huge detriment to his team, he’s rebounding, getting assists steals and blocks. This season he led the team in rebounds eight times, assists 14 times, steals 10 times and in blocks five times. Early this week Murray had a highly productive night for the Spurs in their win over the Nuggets. Murray finished scoreless in over 25 minutes of action but led San Antonio with 13 rebounds and seven assists.
The only other Spurs player to achieve that feat since San Antonio joined the NBA in 1976–77 was Dennis Rodman, who posted a team-high 20 rebounds and eight assists on April 2, 1994, in a scoreless performance. Murray and Rodman are the only two NBA players in the shot-clock era to finish a game without scoring any points and having at least 13 rebounds and seven assists.
Gregg Popovich has never coached a guard like this. Only Manu Ginobili, Derek Anderson, and Danny Green have had a season where they’ve had double-digit rebounding nights three times in a season. Manu has accomplished that feat twice. Murray would average 10.0 rebounds per 36 minutes based on his production this season (the reigning MVP Russell Westbrook is second among guards with 9.4). To give you some context, Tony Parker never reached 4.0 rebounds per 36 minutes (career-best – 3.9 in the 2004-05 season).
After grabbing a total of just six offensive rebounds during his rookie year (38 games), the second-year player grabbed 68 through 54 games this year and become one of the most productive players at his position. Among players who played at least 1000 minutes this season, Murray is second in offensive rebound percentage (7.3) and defensive rebound percentage (23.4), the only guard who has a better offensive rebound percentage is Andre Roberson (7.9), and the only guard who has a better defensive rebound percentage is Westbrook (24.7).
Popovich has been pleased with Murray’s progress. “The more minutes he gets, the better,” Popovich said. Through 54 games this season, he’s averaging 6.7 points, 2.8 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 0.9 steals, which is not impressive. But those per game stats look solid when you check his starts (21 games): 9.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.2 steals. Murray’s star is on the rise, in Year 2 of a long journey. He knows there will be highs and there will be lows. But with coach Pop, time and Murray’s physical tools he can become a six-time all-star, a Finals MVP, and a four-time NBA champion.
Statistics used courtesy of NBA/Stats, Elias Sports Bureau and Basketball-Reference.