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Firsthand look at a Sixers trade target: Dejounte Murray

Yeah, he’s good.

San Antonio Spurs v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

Everyone has ideas on who the Philadelphia 76ers should acquire in a Ben Simmons trade. As the Sixers play teams who have been rumored as destinations for Simmons, Liberty Ballers will take a hard look at who might be the main piece in a return package. Some might not be enough for Simmons, others might be too much. Friday night was San Antonio’s Dejounte Murray.

If the Sixers wanted Dejounte Murray back in a Ben Simmons swap, they would have been prudent to make the call prior to the season. Now, the 25-year-old Murray is in the midst of his breakout campaign, averaging 18.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, and 2.1 steals for the rebuilding Spurs. At 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, Murray’s original calling card was on the defensive end, even making NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 2018, just his second season in the league. Now, though, after taking the step this season as the do-everything lead ball-handler on the offensive end as well, his stock is through the roof.

Although Philadelphia easily handled San Antonio Friday night, 119-100, Murray was one of the few bright spots for the Spurs. He scored 27 points, shooting 10-of-23 from the field, 3-of-6 from behind the arc, and 4-of-5 from the foul line, while tallying five rebounds, nine assists, three steals, and one block, against six turnovers. With the slightly below average shooting night and the turnovers, this wasn’t one of Murray’s best games of the season, and plenty of credit should go to Matisse Thybulle and the rim protection of Joel Embiid. Still, the Spurs point guard flashed plenty of exemplary skills during the game, so let’s take a look.

Passing

In watching Murray as a passer Friday night, it’s easy to see why he has six triple-doubles already this season. He looked to have a distributor’s mentality, as even when he would drive into the painted area, his first instinct appeared to be to find an open teammate. Murray would easily assume the mantle from Ben Simmons as the team leader in three-point assists, given his penetrate-and-kick ability. He also possesses an advanced knowledge of operating in tight spaces, with ball-on-a-string handling skills with either hand. Murray had multiple passes to big men from just a couple feet away near the basket, leading to buckets.

Scoring

Murray easily led the Spurs in shot attempts Friday night, so it obviously wasn’t all passing from him. We’ll start with his outside shooting, which should be considered an area for improvement for him, at just 34.3 percent from downtown this season. However, it didn’t look to be a weakness against the Sixers. Murray shot 3-of-6 on threes, with all three of his makes representing tough, contested pull-up shots off the dribble. He fires them with confidence and the form looks fine. Murray has significantly raised his volume this season, and looks to be improving in this area. I’m sure getting much easier shots playing off someone like Joel Embiid could only help.

Dejounte’s scoring around the rim is where he really shines, though. As stated above, he is generally able to get into the paint when he wants to, and the combination of his length and what I would term Tyrese Maxey-like ability to finish near the basket makes for a dangerous weapon. Murray can slither through tight creases in the defense, is fearless in going right at big men protecting the rim, and can score with either hand while contorting himself at any number of angles. On this play, Murray is sandwiched between Matisse Thybulle and Andre Drummond and lays it in high off the glass with his left hand for the and-one.

How about against Embiid? Watch Dejounte use a gather dribble to plow by Joel and use his body as a shield to finish with a quasi-reverse lay-in.

Defense

Murray has all the measurables you would want in a perimeter defender, and he also clearly works his tail off on that end of the court. My favorite defensive play from Murray on Friday actually came off a mistake of his. He turned it over around the arc with a bad pass, but hustled back in transition defense to block Charlie Brown Jr. on his way up for the lay-in (a Danny Green special). He can hound his man as an on-ball defender, sticking right on him and then deflecting the ball away on any attempt to get rid of it. Murray also has terrific instincts as an off-ball defender, knowing when to come over on the gamble and slap the ball away for the steal. It’s no accident he’s averaging over two steals per game.

Weaknesses

First, we’ll start with the turnovers. A couple were natural for a guy with sky-high usage, and one was Matisse being Matisse, but the main thing I saw was Murray’s tendency to get up in the air before he had a clear idea what he wanted to do with it. On multiple occasions, he just hung up there above the ground, hoping a teammate would suddenly cut and create a passing lane for him. It led to a couple really bad passes and even one travel when he landed before getting rid of it. He simply has to learn to stay on his feet unless he knows exactly where he’s going with the ball.

The other main concern would be the mid-range part of his game offensively. Murray can do a great job getting into the paint, but if the rim was walled off, there was no floater game to speak of, no confident pull-up jumper from the elbow. Maybe this was a one-off game where Murray was worried about Thybulle blocking from behind and Embiid there in front of him, but that’s not how it appeared to me. The handful of mid-range jumpers Dejounte attempted looked bad, one even connecting with nothing but the backboard. His lone make from that area was a shot that rattled in, but looked far from pretty. He has a long way to go to ever be considered a three-level scorer.

Consensus

Murray has some areas for improvement and it wouldn’t be the cleanest fit on the Sixers given the work he still needs to do with his shot, but if he were to become available in a Simmons deal, the Sixers should jump at the opportunity. Murray provides maybe 85 to 90 percent of what Ben did as a passer and on the defensive end, while Murray is night and day better as a scorer near the basket, and at least willing to shoot from the perimeter with a desire to continue improving in that area. Imagine two Washington products with All-Defensive team honors in Murray and Thybulle terrorizing opposing ball handlers on the perimeter. Picture Embiid getting easy buckets created for him for a change by a point guard able to navigate a crowd in the painted area. Sadly, I think the Sixers missed the boat by not getting ahead of the growth curve and pursuing Murray last offseason, but I’d be thrilled if Daryl Morey was somehow able to make him a Sixer.