To describe Dejounte Murray as a uniquely skilled point guard feels like an understatement. Murray’s size allows him to be an exceptional positional rebounder, a solid perimeter defender, and a crafty finisher around the rim. He has not yet, however, developed his shot, which has become a common skill among the league’s top point guards. While he certainly has time to develop his three-pointer, the Spurs have spent a good portion of this calendar year finding lineups that maximize Murray’s strengths while providing that outside shooting from other positions.
Lineups containing Murray have played 2099 non-garbage time possessions this season and have outscored opponents by 4.1 points per 100 possessions. The Spurs as whole outscore opponents by 2.7 points per 100 possessions in non-garbage time situations, meaning that, in the aggregate, lineups containing Murray are above average lineups for the Spurs. These lineups, don’t, however, excel on offense. They score 104.2 points per 100 possessions (ranking in the 22nd percentile of all NBA lineups), shoot a 49.8% eFG percentage (ranking in the 15th percentile), turn the ball over an average amount (ranking in the 49th percentile), and get to the line less than a majority of other lineups (ranking in the 24th percentile). These lineups do exceed in one key area on offense – grabbing offensive rebounds. The Spurs grab 29% of their own misses when Murray is on the court, better than 89% of all other NBA lineups.
Lineups containing Murray do excel on the defensive end of the court, holding opponents to 100.1 points per 100 possessions (ranking in the 96th percentile). In fact, these lineups rank better than the 90th percentile in each of the Four Factors (eFG%, TOV%, OREB%, and Free Throw Rate), other than turnover percentage, which they rank about league average in. Lineups with Murray rebound 7.5% more of their misses than opponent’s lineups do. Differences of that margin can absolutely make the difference between winning or losing basketball games.
In trying to find a lineup that retains the defensive edge while improving the numbers on the offensive end, the first step is moving LaMarcus Aldridge to center. Lineups with Aldridge at center outscore opponents by 8.9 more points per 100 possessions than lineups with Pau Gasol do, in about 300 possessions less. With Aldridge at center and Murray at point guard, the Spurs are forcing even more turnovers and allowing opponents to grab even fewer offensive rebounds, while improving across the board on offense – including rebounding more than 30% of their own misses. These lineups score 109.8 points per 100 possession, which would rank as the 8th best offense in the NBA while still producing an elite level defense.
Moving Aldridge to center gives these lineups more flexibility at power forward. Playing Kyle Anderson with Murray and Aldridge gives the Spurs another solid defender and playmaker with length. Lineups with those three players have outscored opponents by 12.1 points per 100 possessions in 264 possessions. Another option at power forward in these small ball lineups is Davis Bertans, who plays the role of a stretch four for the Spurs. Lineups with Murray, Bertans, and Aldridge outscore opponents by 26.2 points per 100 possessions and hold opponents to only 83.9 points per 100 possessions. Opponents struggle to shoot, rebound, or get to the free throw line against these lineups.
Playing Danny Green at the small forward position next to Murray and Aldridge with either Patty Mills or Bryn Forbes at shooting guard gives the Spurs at least three capable three point shooters on the court, with a potential fourth in Bertans. These lineups allow more opponent offensive rebounds, but still rebound an absurd 35.1% of their own misses. They also turn the ball over on just 13% of possessions while forcing opponents to turn the ball over on 16.7% of their possessions. These extra opportunities are good for a point differential of 15.2 more points per 100 possessions than their opponents.
While these lineups are producing good numbers, a healthy Kawhi Leonard unlocks the potential of these lineups even further. A lineup consisting of Murray, Mills, Green, Leonard, and Aldridge may be hard to contain for all but the league’s top teams. Whether the Spurs will be able to deploy that lineup this season is to be determined. In the meantime, Murray’s skills gives the Spurs flexibility that they have been lacking otherwise this season, providing one of the bright spots in an injury plagued year for the Spurs.
All stats from cleaningtheglass.com