“Good, better, best. Never let it rest. ‘Till your good is better and your better is best.”
– Tim Duncan’s Mom
Before I go down this rabbit hole, I should provide full disclosure: I’m an unabashed Spurs fan. I was born and raised in San Antonio for the majority of my life, and my first fond sports memory is Avery Johnson’s game-sealing baseline jumper to clinch the franchise’s first championship in ’99.
Over the course of my Spurs fandom, I have never been able to correctly predict who they’ll draft – same goes for most draft pundits to be honest. The team’s reputation for drafting-and-stashing little-known international prospects towards the end of either round, then developing them into cohesive pieces of their puzzle is well-noted, which makes pre-draft rumors all that much more compelling.
The San Antonio Spurs have explored moving up in the first round of the draft, per sources. They currently have the No. 29 pick.
— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) June 9, 2016
Reports indicated that the team was looking to move up in the draft for the first time in five years—you know, that time they traded Pop-fave George Hill to Indiana for the 15th pick, which they used to pick up some guy who ended up winning a Finals MVP and back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards?
So, yeah. Clearly, the Spurs saw through the hitch in Kawhi Leonard’s jumpshot coming out of college and had full confidence in both their player development personnel and Kawhi’s dedication and ability to absorb that coaching and improve with patience. Who in the Almighty Baller Heaven Above was in this class that caught the eyes of Pop & co. to the extent that they were reportedly willing to go with another aggressive trading approach in the draft?
Well, no one – the Spurs didn’t budge.
Cause, somehow, they didn’t have to.
RC Buford said there was a limited group of players Spurs would have traded up to try and snag. Murray was one.
— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) June 24, 2016
San Antonio drafted their guy with the 29th pick, despite being fully locked, loaded, and prepared to pull the trigger on a draft day trade. The 19 year-old Washington freshman Dejounte Murray was widely projected to go anywhere from 13th (CBS’ Sam Vecenie) to 21st (Sports Illustrated):
I don’t know how they do it.
After getting destroyed on the boards by Oklahoma City and watching Russell Westbrook do whatever he wanted in the playoffs, I assumed that the Spurs ideally would grab either a big man who can rebound, or a point guard who can defend. Personally, I was hoping they had Vanderbilt sophomore Wade Baldwin IV on their radar.
The way I saw it, Baldwin’s athletic profile – a legitimate 6’4 frame with a condor-like 6’11 wingspan – along with strong shooting numbers in college, made him the ideal fit to step into a backup point guard role. I envisioned Pop deploying him as a defensive rover for a couple of minutes at a time, using the same strategy he did with Hill and Leonard as rookies. Perhaps Baldwin was on Buford’s short list of prospects he was willing to move up for, but it doesn’t matter though, since the Memphis Grizzlies took a shit on my dreams like it was the first round of the 2011 playoffs. They took him with the 17th pick.
But from the ashes of steamy bear scat, a new hope arose. Same wingspan and all.
A lanky, but athletic, 6’5″ guard, Murray possesses similar defensive potential as Wade, but with off-the-ball chops, as demonstrated by his 1.8 steals per game, good for second best in the Pac-12. Baldwin’s biggest weakness – creating offense off the dribble – happens to be Murray’s strength. He used his natural ball-handling instincts to dance his way to an impressive 16.5 points per game while promoting the same brand of on-the-ball juice seen in fellow Seattle products like Clippers OG Jamal Crawford, and Boston Celtic dynamo Isaiah Thomas. He went after boards at a ridiculous rate for a kid with a skinny 170-pound frame, averaging six per game.
And, yes, this dude can pass.
This was probably the game Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley had in mind when he texted The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski on draft night:
Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley texted me: “Dejounte Murray has All-Star potential.”
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) June 24, 2016
While this game was Murray’s highest scoring output of the season, peep the six assists. A smart pass to an open corner three. A calm entry pass over a double-team to the left block. A slick drive and kick out to an open corner three. A bounce pass to set up fellow freshman phenom and first-round draftee Marquese Chriss for a jumper near the free-throw line. A quick pass to a cutting Chriss to beat the incoming double-team on the baseline. A tough bounce entry pass to Chriss.
Replace Chriss with LaMarcus Aldridge – these are the passes I see Murray making at the next level. They’re definitely the passes he has to make if he wants to gain Pop’s trust and be eventually trusted with the keys to the offense.
Even in a video that showcases his scoring ability, you can see that Tasmanian devil-esque wildness that Pop will certainly bench him for multiple times early in his career. Several of his forays to the hoop saw him lose control, only to regain it in time to put up a shot that went in. In the NBA, missteps like those would become turnovers; but, much like Manu Ginobili, I can envision Murray becoming one of those “no-no-no-n…oh you made it – good” type of guys. Of course, as is tradition at this point, he’ll have to get with the Spurs’ resident shot doctor Chip Engelland so he can hone his jump-shot mechanics.
That’s the thing: once Murray steps foot in San Antonio, whatever weaknesses he came in with will slowly get buffered through the assembly line of phenomenal coaching and infectious work ethic of the Spurs’ organization. If his biggest knocks are that he’s turnover prone and his jumpshot is a bit broken, both flaws that most teenage point guards need to work on, I’m okay with the selection. It’s not like the Spurs need my signature like Murray is a UPS package or something; I’m just glad the Spurs have yet another promising piece to add to their puzzle who’ll more than likely shatter his draft-slot expectations and lazy comparisons (Shaun Livingston – because he’s a big point guard). Shit, during pre-draft, one of Leonard’s comps was a combination of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Gerald Wallace, since he was widely regarded as a defensive-minded rebounding small forward with no jump-shot.
Safe to say he skewered those expectations.