The year is 2021. Victor Oladipo, now a perennial All-Star, dribbles right, hesitates for a fleeting moment, then zips left. Back right. Now left again, burrowing his head for added vigor. Dejounte Murray mirrors every step, stonewalls Oladipo and picks his pocket clean. On the other end, Lonnie Walker IV snares the feed from his backcourt mate and hammers home a bravado-charged dunk, letting the crowd absorb the momentum-shifting sequence while a grin sprouts across his face as he recognizes the fuse that’s been lit.
This is the future the San Antonio Spurs are betting on. One where the majority of their chips are placed squarely on No. 4 and No. 5 in black and grey, pledging they’ve found the successors to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, who have claimed a combined eight NBA championships for San Antonio between them.
In some ways, Walker, the 18th pick from this year’s draft, and Murray are the antithesis to Parker and Ginobili: hyper-athletic freaks whose talent and physical profiles are undeniable, but whose basketball skills require scrupulous refinement. Parker and Ginobili, meanwhile, have never fit that mold. Neither will be revered as physical specimens once they hang it up, but instead, remembered for their trickery and guile.
Parker, the man who could weave through defenders like they were stationary cones, only to loft a delicate floater over a 7-footer’s outstretched limb. Parker, the 6-foot-2, 185-pound track star in basketball sneakers whose midrange jumpers rarely grazed the rim — a mini-phenomenon within each Spurs game.
Ginobili, the impassioned, no-holds-barred Argentinian whose first-career game was defined by the same reckless abandonment his 1,275th-career game was. To describe Ginobili best, one would need to channel their inner Woj, flip through a thesaurus and list every word synonymous with flair, craft and wit. Ginobili popularized the Eurostep, denigrating any and every defender who stood between him and the basket. Today, he serves as the lone true relic of San Antonio’s Big 3. Tim Duncan has retired while Parker, no longer the star guard of yesteryear, has witnessed his blaze fade with age and his body betray him.
But tune into a Spurs game and there’s a chance the 40-year-old Ginobili is still giving teams the business, whipping lefty whirls around the court, draining heart-wrenching stepback triples and willing logic-defying flip shots through the bottom of the net.
If Parker and Ginobili combined to form the statue of David, Murray and Walker are the marble block, having hardly been chiseled with their best moments yet to come.
At 6 feet 5 inches with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, Murray’s measurables at the point guard spot are enviable. San Antonio nabbed Murray with the 29th overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft — subscribing to the church of lengthy wingspans — and he toiled away on the bench much of his rookie season.
In his sophomore campaign, though, Murray assumed the mantle from Parker and the franchise embraced him as the point guard of the future. There are no questions about Murray’s defense as he projects to be one of the marquee perimeter defenders in the league for the next decade, having already earned a Second Team All-Defense nod this past season.
Despite his incremental growth as a passer last season, the offense is littered with concerns. He’s not an above-average facilitator nor does he have any semblance of a jumper yet, posting shooting splits of .441/.316/.708 through two years, which meld together for a ghastly 48.8 true shooting percentage. There is genuine and substantiated hope for development, but it is by no means guaranteed and perhaps even unlikely.
That’s where the 6-foot-4 Walker, a dynamic shot creator with near-textbook shooting mechanics, enters the equation. In his prime, Walker could offer the scoring punch San Antonio’s backcourt requires while Murray engulfs opponents defensively as the two fuse together, forming a yin and yang duo.
Even if Murray continues to chip away at that hunk of marble, his scoring potential is limited, making Walker’s fluid athleticism and burst a necessity to torch defenses. Harnessing his 40-inch vertical, which tied for 10th among all prospects at the NBA Draft Combine, Walker pops off the floor and harmoniously spirals through defenses.
A brief look at Walker’s averages during his season-long vacation as a Miami Hurricane — 11.5 points, 2.6 points and 1.9 assists on .415/.346/.738 shooting splits — doesn’t inspire much confidence or signal top-20 pick status, but a torn meniscus in July diced up any chance at harboring rhythm prior to the season. Late in the year, Walker rekindled some of the magic that anointed him a top-15 recruit, prophesying that his best days could most certainly come in the Association.
But again, Gregg Popovich, RC Buford and the rest of the Spurs organization will need to grab their hammers to cobble together a dominant Dejounte Murray-Lonnie Walker IV backcourt of the future. Unlike Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, much of Murray and Walker’s allure is theoretical to this point — especially Walker’s.
Potential can only carry a player so far on their basketball journey. Walker will need to make rich improvements across the board. Of utmost concern, as it currently stands, are his finishing ability, limited passing vision and defensive discipline, none of which are close to being positives at this stage. With a 6-foot-10 wingspan, though, Walker has the frame to join Murray as a defensive wasp, hounding opponents and stealing their lunch money on a nightly basis.
The tools exist between Murray and Walker to nail down the 1 and 2-spot in San Antonio, accepting the torch that will soon be passed down by Parker and Ginobili when they take the court for their final time as Spurs.
There’s a reason the scene choreographed at the beginning of this piece is set in 2021. The statue of David monopolized more than two years of Michelangelo’s life. Murray and Walker are two slabs of marble that will require detailed and meticulous carving to become works of art dominating the basketball landscape.
Once the dust settles and the extraneous marble has crumbled, though, there’s a chance two more masterpieces are enjoying careers in San Antonio, having seamlessly meshed to usher in another prosperous era of Spurs basketball — one that’s defined more by eye-popping athleticism than veteran savvy and craft.