One of the biggest moments in the San Antonio Spurs’ opening night win over Minnesota came courtesy of star sophomore Dejounte Murray.
He has become a defensive force, and used his seven-foot wingspan to intercept a lazy pass from Karl Anthony Towns. A few quick dribbles later, the point guard dunked with an anger and ferocity largely unfamiliar to fans in San Antonio.
As he came back down the floor, Coach Popovich gave him the universally recognized pump the brakes signal as if to say, “Easy, tiger.” When asked about it after the game, Murray simply responded, “He’ll get used to it.”
Not many 21-year-olds would have the confidence, no, the audacity to tell one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game to get used to it, but Murray is not most players. His response and the mentality behind it are reminiscent of another fiery guard that Popovich could never tame: Manu Ginobili.
The youngster has a perfect opportunity to step up as a leader as Tony Parker recovers from injury, and he’s already showing a willingness to speak up in the huddle. Pop seemed a bit taken aback and genuinely impressed when Murray chimed in that the guards needed to help on the glass.
"That's a great idea DJ, that's coaching right there"pic.twitter.com/Q8FlJMz4qL
— Tom Petrini (@RealTomPetrini) October 19, 2017
Murray has all the makings of an NBA star, and it showed on Wednesday night. He contributed 16 points on just eight field goal attempts, adding five boards and two assists while being truly disruptive on the defensive end of the floor and snatching two steals and blocking a shot.
14 points, 4 boards, 2 steals and a block for the youngsterpic.twitter.com/1yACmunw92
— Tom Petrini (@RealTomPetrini) October 19, 2017
If Murray is able to consistently perform at this level, it stands to reason that he will remain the starting point guard even when Parker returns to the floor. Pop doesn’t like to disrupt the flow of the starting lineup, and Murray brings a ridiculous amount of length and athleticism that neither Parker nor Patty Mills could hope to match.
Murray is a slippery scorer with deft touch around the basket, but his defensive prowess is what will end up earning him the starting job. When Kawhi returns, the trio of Leonard, Danny Green, and Murray will be an absolute nightmare for opposing wings.
"Coach tells me a lot, be greedy on defense," said Dejounte Murray. "I've got to use that 7-foot wing span."
— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) October 19, 2017
His defensive ability isn’t all long arms, either. The kid has a tremendous feel for the game, and his positioning and anticipation are superb. Sure the wingspan doesn’t hurt, but his ability to be in the right place at the right time sets him apart, and shows how mature he is and how much he’s absorbed already.
The other sophomore Spurs are both solid players, but neither seems poised for a significant increase in responsibility. Davis Bertans has a better opportunity to make an impact than Bryn Forbes because of the depth chart, but expect both of them to remain on the mop unit for the second half of blowouts.
Bertans is a unique player in many ways, and it’s a shame he doesn’t see more playing time. He’s a deadeye three-point shooter off the catch, he’s long, athletic, and can defend multiple positions, and that’s all quite valuable at the power forward position.
He’s basically everything that Kyle Anderson is not, and there’s an argument to be made that Bertans is a better complimentary player than Slo Mo. The problem for the Latvian is that it doesn’t look like he’ll get a chance to prove it.
Anderson started in place of the injured Kawhi Leonard against the Timberwolves, and had mixed results. Andrew Wiggins went off for 26 points, and Kyle made some downright ugly plays, but he also put up 12 points and pulled down nine boards.
Meanwhile, Bertans played just four minutes off the bench. Rudy Gay will cut into Bertans’ playing time, but you would have thought that he would play more minutes in a game without a key player in the frontcourt.
Things are even more bleak for Forbes, who is realistically the fifth or sixth guard on the roster when Parker gets back healthy. Bertans has the advantage of a possessing a unique skillset at his position, but Forbes is behind some well-established players that do what he does better.
San Antonio already has a short shooter that can add scoring pop from the bench. His name is Patty Mills, and he might just be the Sixth Man of the Year this season. It will be difficult for Forbes to play meaningful minutes, especially when Parker returns.
Earning playing time comes down to trust with Pop. This is not to say that he doesn’t trust Bertans and Forbes, but he definitely trusts the players ahead of them more. The flip side of this coin, of course, is Murray.
Dejounte is a physical specimen that showed incredible promise in college. Somehow he slipped to the 29th pick in the draft, and the rest of the league began to fear what the Spurs might develop him into.
After a year, he has developed into quite a weapon. He’s in a perfect situation, and all signs point to a productive, impactful season from Murray in San Antonio. He is the point guard of the future, and the future is now.