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How Dejounte Murray Can Tweak His Game To Be The Perfect Partner For Trae Young

During the first four years of Trae Young’s career, the slippery passing wizard played with only two players who owned All-Star appearances to their name: Vince Carter and Jeff Teague. Neither player had earned an All-Star berth within five years of joining Young on the Atlanta Hawks.

Needless to say, finding a fellow star to station alongside Young hadn’t yet materialized for Atlanta. That changed earlier this week when the Hawks sent Danilo Gallinari, three first-round picks, and a future first-round swap to the San Antonio Spurs for Dejounte Murray.

A season ago, the Murray enjoyed his finest campaign to date and garnered the first All-Star appearance of his career. He averaged 21.1 points, 9.2 rebounds, 8.3 assists, and two steals on 53.3 percent true shooting. The man stuffed the stat-sheet on a nightly basis en route to piloting San Antonio to the play-in tournament.

Now, his job changes. He was the primary initiator with the Spurs for a year. Young holds those cards in Atlanta. Some adaptation on that end awaits him to maximize this duo.

Murray’s prowess as a defensive playmaker and point-of-attack hound are abundantly clear. The Hawks ranked 26th in defensive rating last season and, specifically, their perimeter stoppers were among the league’s worst. Murray wasn’t at his All-Defensive tier of 2017-18 over the past couple seasons, but he remains impactful. His instincts and ground coverage will pair aptly with De’Andre Hunter and Clint Capela to form a rather good defensive trio, something the Hawks will welcome after their dearth of defensive-minded rotation players in recent years.

As an on-ball creator, he’s now the second Hawk who can initiate ball-screens from a standstill. Bogdan Bogdanovic is best flowing into pick-and-rolls against tilted defenses. Murray, per Synergy, was fifth in the NBA in pick-and-roll possessions last season and ranked in the 59th percentile in points per possession (0.875).

He grew as a pocket passer, opens windows for interior feeds with some ball-placement trickery, and backpacks off-the-dribble scoring volume fairly well. The finishing prowess of centers Capela and Onyeka Okongwu will enhance Murray’s pocket passing genes. An adept roller constantly flanking him will benefit his game. Whenever Young rests, Murray should be on the court and Atlanta can know a dependable initiator is supplanting its All-NBA creator. The organization has never had that since deciding to build around Young.

Where adaptation for Murray likely manifests is in the many minutes this pairing sees together. Staggering should be the norm, which would separate them often during the regular season. But a team does not give up what the Hawks give up with an eye on the regular season — this is the sort of move you make if you want to emulate or progress pass your Eastern Conference Finals cameo of 2021.

And in that sense, Young and Murray’s minutes will heighten in the playoffs, meaning the staggered periods will shorten. Figuring out how they best function as a star duo has relevant implications for the team’s ultimate ceiling. Murray will commandeer some pick-and-rolls while Young is on the hardwood, but he’ll overwhelmingly be the one sliding off the ball to capitalize on Young’s unceasing advantage creation and playmaking delights.

Ideally, Murray is a gangly release valve who slithers to the rim off the catch with elongated strides against a defense caught in motion. He was a very good driver last season, ranking fifth in total drives (1,219) and ninth in total points (625). Young was likewise among the top-10 in both categories. That trait will prove resourceful whenever he’s steering the on-ball ship.

Yet Murray is highly methodical when the rock swings his way. He prefers to survey the floor and assess his options before acting. According to Synergy, he only attacked the basket on 26 of 212 spot-up possessions last season. He also ranked in the 28th percentile around the basket in the half-court. His ability to maintain or extend advantages, generally the essential skill for complementary cogs in a Young-led offense, is precarious at the moment, both numbers-wise and on film.

Atlanta’s offense cratered against the Miami Heat because it couldn’t exploit Miami loading up help on Young and cheating off the wings. The acquisition of Murray was intended to remedy some of that issue and counter such a strategy. Murray’s on-ball creation will help, but he needs to be concise and snappy in his decision-making when any team prioritizes directing the action away from Young.

His development throughout his NBA is remarkable and commendable, so addressing this shortcoming is absolutely feasible. This will be a new setting for him, especially since he ascended to All-Star status. The hope for him and the Hawks alike will be for his steadfast development to translate in the form of decisiveness here, as he adjusts to a new set of tasks that allow less room for deliberation offensively.

He’s become more comfortable as a floor-spacer as well, taking far more triples last season against timely closeouts than he did in prior years (career-high .237 three-point rate). The next important step will be merging newfound confidence with results, seeing as though he’s connected on 34.4 percent of his 490 career catch-and-shoot long balls.

As a member of the Spurs, Murray blossomed into a tremendous floor-raising primary initiator, a position he admirably embodied and one not many players around the league could replicate. In Atlanta, the objective has evolved. He’s now expected to be a ceiling-raising secondary creator who maintains his stardom alongside one of the game’s 12 or so best players and five or so top offensive talents.

The requirements of those duties differ. Murray proved capable of the former. If he, Young, and Atlanta are to venture where they wish in the postseason, he must prove capable of the latter. He certainly might, and especially with a few tweaks offensively. Given all the progress he’s showcased since entering the league six years ago, expecting those tweaks might be prudent. The Hawks obviously determined so.

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