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Dejounte Murray Blossoming Into All-Star

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Basketball fans in the state of Texas have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season. Luka Doncic is playing at an MVP level once again for the Mavericks, who have Jason Kidd back in Dallas. The Rockets may be rebuilding but it appears that they have a superstar in the making in Jalen Green. Out in San Antonio, there is another guard that is having a career year who deserves more national attention.

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When Dejounte Murray was drafted 29th overall by the Spurs in 2016, Tony Parker was still the floor general. Kawhi Leonard was in his fifth season and Tim Duncan had just retired. You could sense that the end of an era was near and many people within the organization believed that Murray would be a major part of that.

Fast forward five years and a lot has changed. A number of players have come and gone since then, but Gregg Popovich is still on the sideline, molding the young talent around him. One of the best-kept secrets in the league has been Murray, who has improved every single year in a multitude of areas. Through 15 games this season he is averaging 18.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 7.8 assists, and 2 steals per game, which are all career-highs.

If the numbers themselves don’t jump off the page, then maybe this will resonate better: Murray is one of only four players (Westbrook, Harden, Doncic) in the entire league that is averaging at least 18 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists per game.

As a legitimate All-Star candidate, the 25-year-old has improved every year he has been in the league and is now posting career-highs virtually all across the board. Following the departure of DeMar DeRozan, Murray was expected to have a boost in scoring and playmaking. As the team’s primary ball-handler, he has thrived in this new role.

Despite his stellar production, the Spurs have not been able to do enough collectively to win a lot of games. They have had several games that have gone down to the wire. While they have not been able to finish on the good side of many of them, it has become clear that their go-to guy in crunch time is Murray. When they need a rebound, a bucket, or a defensive stop, Murray is usually the one to provide it.

San Antonio has had a variety of players that have stepped up in one or two moments, but they have had had the consistency of Murray. His shot creation has been crucial to San Antonio’s offensive success and has helped players like Jakob Poeltl, Derrick White, and Devin Vassell get easy baskets. His 19.78 PER ranks inside the top 45 of the league this season.

In addition to setting up the offense, Murray has also been a terror on the defensive end, averaging 2 steals and 3.7 deflections (8th in the league) per game. The scary thing is that he is still young and will only continue to improve as his career progresses.

Most of Murray’s numbers were even better until their game in Minnesota on Thursday. It was Murray’s worst game of the season and the Spurs got pounded by 25 points. Murray is still learning, but even as a young player, he leads by example and won’t hesitate to pull a teammate aside to talk through difficulties and plays. That is what you want to see from the leader of your team.

The Spurs only average 13.4 turnovers per game, which ranks top five in the league. They also have the 2nd best assist ratio in the league, behind only the Warriors. They continue to struggle with rebounding and free-throw shooting, where they rank 27th and 29th respectively.

The road ahead doesn’t get much easier for this team. They are on a four-game losing streak and have lost seven of their last nine games. The next ten games for San Antonio will be a good indication of the type of team that Popovich has.

This brutal stretch begins on Monday against Phoenix, who has won ten consecutive games. They will then host the Hawks, Celtics, and Wizards before hitting the road. They will travel to Portland, Golden State, Phoenix before returning home to face the Knicks and a pair of games against the Nuggets.

As good as Murray has been this season, making the All-Star team as a guard in this league is one of the most difficult things to do. Just ask Mike Conley about that. It makes it even less likely when your team is at the bottom of the standings, where the Spurs currently reside.

In order for Murray to have a legitimate shot at the All-Star team, the Spurs will have to turn things around in quick order. Murray has led the team in scoring, rebounding, or assists in 14 of their 15 games. On three occasions, he led them in all three categories. They need more consistency from the rest of the roster.

The return of Jakob Poeltl should provide a significant boost to their defense. Devin Vassell has emerged as a solid rotation player in the wake of shooting slumps from Derrick White and Bryn Forbes. They continue to wait on the debut of Zach Collins and Doug McDermott finally looks to be getting comfortable in his role. If Keldon Johnson plays up to his potential and Lonnie Walker finds some consistency, this team is fully capable of righting the ship.

From an individual standpoint, Murray is absolutely worthy of earning a spot on the All-Star roster. He has two triple-doubles already this season, trailing only James Harden and Russell Westbrook who each have three. He nearly had his third in Los Angeles when he finished with 26 points, 12 rebounds, and 9 assists against the Clippers. This is still a team sport though, and your record is a factor when the votes are tabulated.

Even if Murray isn’t awarded with an All-Star selection, he should have San Antonio fans smiling for many years to come.