Atlanta Hawks shooting guard Dejounte Murray has never been one to lack self-confidence, and he reiterated this fact on Wednesday night with a post on his Instagram story predicting that the upcoming 2023-24 season will be the best of his career.
Murray was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in 2016 and thrown into the fire relatively early on in his NBA career, logging heavy minutes in the Spurs’ 2017 playoff run, including their conference finals tilt against the greatest team ever assembled, the Kevin Durant Warriors.
The next few years saw ups and downs for the former Washington Husky, as he battled through an ACL tear and seismic organizational shifts before earning his first NBA All-Star nod in 2022.
Murray was then traded to the Atlanta Hawks later that summer in the hopes that he could be a legitimate number two option for Trae Young, a need that was thoroughly exposed during Atlanta’s five-game defeat at the hands of the Miami Heat in 2022.
While Murray and Young had their moments of looking like the dynamic backcourt that fans had envisioned, the season was largely defined by frustratingly mediocre play and a lack of synergy between the two guards. Things picked up a bit after Atlanta moved on from head coach Nate McMillan in favor of Quin Snyder, but it still wasn’t enough to push the Boston Celtics further than six games in the first round.
What would Dejounte Murray’s best season look like?
The best version of Murray is a versatile guard who can play both ends of the floor and provide a stabilizing presence for an offense that was erratic throughout much of the last two seasons.
While Murray isn’t an elite perimeter shooter, he does have the capability to knock down the open shots that Young can create when given enough space, and he’s also one of the most lethal mid-range weapons in the NBA, using his nearly 7-foot wingspan to shoot over any guards that the opposition may throw at him.
Defensively, Murray left much to be desired a year ago, at least when compared to the lofty expectations fans had for a player who has made an All-Defensive team in his career. Still, he has the physical tools necessary to succeed within an organized defensive system, which is something the Hawks are (hopefully) working on establishing this offseason.
Still, the fit between Young and Murray will never be perfect. The ideal player to pair with Young would be an elite perimeter shooter, which Murray is not, who can put the ball on the floor and consistently punish opposing defenses when they decide to trap Young. While Murray can certainly create his own shot, a player like Anthony Edwards or Jaylen Brown would be a much more seamless fit, at least on paper, for the Atlanta point guard.
The reality is that teams whose best two players are ball-dominant guards rarely make it far in the playoffs. The Washington Wizards had one of the best backcourts of the 2010s in Bradley Beal and John Wall, and the furthest they ever got was Game 7 of the second round. The Toronto Raptors with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan also never sniffed championship-caliber success until Derozan was traded for Kawhi Leonard.
Yes, there are examples to the contrary, including most notably Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, as well as Chris Paul and James Harden, who many people insist would have won a championship had Paul’s hamstring not given out.
But these examples are the exception and not the rule. Young and Murray simply aren’t talented enough to play the your-turn, my-turn style offense that was displayed throughout much of last season, even if Murray does in fact have the best season of his career.
In order for Atlanta to have even a small chance of contending, the two guards will have to buy into a system that requires some sacrifice and allows them to play off of each other’s strengths. Whether or not such a system exists remains to be seen.