Last week, the Spurs announced that Tony Parker would no longer be the team’s starting point guard. At age 35 and in his 17th year in the NBA, Parker had officially become a role player. Transitioning from six time all star and former finals MVP to the bench is not an easy move, but Parker has taken it in stride.
After the announcement, Parker explained that he fully supports the decision.
“If Pop sees something that is good for the team, I will try to do my best…I will support Pop’s decision, and I will try to help (Dejounte) as best as I can and try to be the best I can in that second unit with Manu and Patty (Mills).”
The decision in itself, however, could not have been easier. The Spurs new leading man at point guard, Dejounte Murray, has fully deserved his opportunity to start. Taken in the first round of the 2016 Draft based on raw offensive talent and superior defensively ability, Murray is starting to flash some of the upside that caught the eye of LeBron James when he was a prospect coming out of high school.
Murray is already an elite talent on the defensive end. In ESPN’s defensive real plus minus (DRPM) rankings, a statistic that estimates a player’s on-court impact to a team’s defensive performance in terms of points allowed per 100 possessions, Murray ranks first in the NBA at the point guard position with a +3.31 rating. The next closest player, Tyus Jones, grades out 0.72 points behind Murray – an extremely wide gap.
The edge that Murray has brought to the Spurs backcourt defensively has been undeniable. And just how good has Murray been? The Spurs – who have only had two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard for 210 minutes across nine games this season – rank second in the NBA in defensive efficiency. In fact, up to this point their 100.9 defensive efficiency rating is exactly the same as it was at the end of 2016-2017. Kawhi Leonard played 74 games that season.
Another factor that sets Dejounte Murray apart from your typical point guard is his rebounding prowess. Murray has a 14.8% rebounding percentage that ranks second among all guards in the NBA, behind only reigning MVP Russell Westbrook. While a player like Westbrook can sometimes be guilty of cheating off of his defensive assignment to get closer to the rim, the most impressive part of Murray’s work on the glass comes from his ability to close out his assignment and still get to the rim for a rebound. Murray’s superior DRPM shows that he can defend on-ball better than anyone and still get into the paint to grab rebounds.
Check out his hustle to get to the defensive glass on this pick and roll. Murray fights to get around a Lucas Nogueira screen a few feet behind the three-point line and still finds a way to grab a rebound a few seconds later.
Up to this point in the season, Murray ranks 6th in the NBA in rebounds per game at the point guard position. Here are the leaders:
Clearly, the one number that jumps out in this table is Murray’s 18.9 minutes per game which is 44.7% lower than the average of the five players ahead of him. For most of the season, Murray had been in a timeshare with Tony Parker and he was splitting time with Patty Mills prior to Parker’s return from a left quad injury that was suffered in the playoffs last season. When we expand his numbers out on a per 48-minute basis, it is clear to see how dominant Murray can be on the glass.
He also stands at 6’5” and has an insane 7’0” wingspan, which makes him a matchup nightmare for opposing point guards. In this clip from earlier in the season, you can see how effortlessly Murray uses his length and speed to glide around a Bobby Portis screen and stay right with his defender to cause a turnover.
Clearly, it would be unfair to compare Murray to Tony Parker defensively simply because Parker was never a good defender. Throughout his career, the Spurs were able to hide Parker in Greg Popovich’s defensive scheme, much like what the Celtics are currently doing with Kyrie Irving. However, at this point in his career, Parker just doesn’t bring the same edge offensively to warrant starters minutes.
Tony Parker’s 47.7% effective field goal percentage (eFG%) is his lowest since his rookie year in 2001-2002 and his 8.3 points per game represent the lowest total of his entire career. On top of having a -1.92 offensive real plus minus (ORPM) rating this season, Tony Parker’s -0.63 defensive real plus minus (DRPM) is ranked 57th out of 98 point guards.
Now from an offensive standpoint, Dejounte Murray is still extremely raw with a streaky jump shot. However, he possesses a superior ability to get to the rim and has an explosive play-making ability that Tony Parker simply does not have at this stage in his career. In a game against the Cavaliers on January 23rd, just his second in the starting lineup, Murray went off for 19 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 steals. His ability to get to the rim at will was on full display. In this clip, he dismantles the defense of Isaiah Thomas and Kevin Love for an easy layup.
Here, Murray has the awareness to crash the offensive glass and put himself in position for an easy put back.
While Murray has shown a lot of promise, there are a couple of glaring weaknesses in his game. He has a 43.5% effective field goal percentage (eFG%) and shoots a paltry 22.2% from downtown. However, young players have shown the ability to make enormous strides from year to year with their jump shot. Murray has flashed a nice shooting touch at times so there is certainly potential. For comparison, Tony Parker had a 46.7% eFG in his rookie season but after a few years he was consistently shooting 50% or better in most seasons. In the same vein, there’s no reason to believe that the Spurs won’t be able to help Murray become a more reliable shooter.
Murray’s offensive game will come along in time, but his defensive ability is rare and unmatched by other young guards. In a defensive scheme that has consistently been among the best in the NBA, Murray is likely to be an elite defender for years to come and has the ceiling to become a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in short order. Tony Parker’s benching may have been a surprise to the casual NBA fan, but for those watching Dejounte Murray’s development over the past two years – it was a long time coming.