The San Antonio Spurs have been snake-bitten.
On the same day that first-round draft pick Lonnie Walker IV was scheduled to undergo surgery on his right meniscus, the team received even worse news on top of it.
Dejounte Murray, a recently turned 22-year-old point guard primed to breakout with a huge opportunity ahead of him, has torn his right ACL—likely forcing him out of action for the season.
“I feel badly for the team because they were all so high on Dejounte, but mostly for him because he’s worked hard, he has improved and he’s had other injuries earlier that kept him out,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said at Monday’s practice.
“And he was just recovered from all that and really getting the flow of things. For this to happen to him is really a setback.”
Rudy Gay is a longtime veteran who has seen his fair share of bad injuries over a 12-year career. He understands the mental effect it can have on someone and doesn’t even know what exact advice he would offer. With that said, he knows the perseverance of Murray will get him through such a difficult time.
“I saw the strides he was taking this year and how much work he’s put in during the summer, and it just sucks to see somebody that was preparing for a great year [go down],” Gay said. “To think about what happens in the future, you’ve gotta take it one day at a time.
“But he loves the game, he’s a competitor and all that’s gonna be a factor in him getting back.
Despite the devastation, Murray showed up and contributed to practice like it was any other day. San Antonio’s group greeted him and showed support, a display of true unity within the locker room of a model organization.
“One thing about us—and one thing Pops make sure of—is that we’re a team,” Gay said. “We really care for each other. Even last year, going back to last year when I was out with an injury, I’d get text messages and phone calls. We really care about the kid and we’re hoping for the best.
“It’s emotional,” Gay said. “For him to come in [Monday] shows the type of person he is. I don’t think anybody, with that kind of news, expected him to come in. But he’s motivated, he’s a team guy. He has time. He has time to build and still get better.”
While the season-ending injury Murray is a huge blow, the Spurs will have to move on. You can’t dwell on misfortunes and sulk. Popovich knows that, the teams knows that and the NBA knows that.
Enter Derrick White, another player selected like Murray was in the 29th spot, but one year later. He’s played in 17 games and has logged a total of 139 minutes in the league. The majority of his experience has come via the G-League and NBA Summer League.
In one year with the Austin Spurs, the Colorado alum averaged over 20 points, five rebounds and three assists to go with more than a block and a steal per game. It’s a small sample size, but he started in all 24 games he played after starting the season with a fractured wrist.
Between five games in Utah and Las Vegas this offseason, White scored over 18 points along with five dimes and five boards in 25 minutes per game.
It’s not the constant high-end competition that the association brings to the table on a nightly basis, but White has done a solid job with the opportunities he has had. The three-point shooting consistency can most certainly improve, but the flashes are there.
The Spurs, though, need more than flashes if they’re going to make the playoffs in a crowded Western Conference.
“Derrick’s gonna have to grow up fast,” Gay said. “He’s a guy that has a lot of talent, extremely talented and I think is capable of leading this team. It just takes all of us to get him there faster.”
Popovich already had confidence in White even before the injury to Murray occurred. The second-year guard was going to get playing time because he had earned it and was in great shape.
The young man will have a heftier weight on his shoulders now, though.
“We know what his skills are, but we have to wait to see who works with who the best, what seems to fit spacing wise,” Popovich said. “But wherever we put Derrick, he’s gonna in the mix some place.”
This is why the G-League is so important to these organizations. You never know when somebody will need to get their number called.
It’s White’s time to shine now. Let’s see how he responds.
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