Whatever you think of Dejounte Murray being promoted to the starting point guard position for the San Antonio Spurs, there’s one big reason that Gregg Popovich thinks that he’s ready for his new role:
Murray is a monster rebounder.
In fact, only Russell Westbrook has a higher true rebound percentage among guards in the NBA this season.
As we talked about last season, though, rebounding isn’t just a numbers thing. The way a player can grab rebounds can have consequences, especially defensively. Last year, we pointed out how one of the reasons that Westbrook’s rebounding numbers were so high is that he would abandon defensive assignments in favor of trying to grab a rebound, often leading to wide open shots by the man he was guarding.
Dejounte Murray isn’t guilty of that kind of awful defense. He wouldn’t be seeing much playing time, let alone be appointed a starter, if he had that kind of hole in his game.
But what Murray does goes beyond crashing the boards. On the offensive glass, Murray will take advantage of big men who don’t box out because most Spurs prioritize defense after each shot and start getting back whenever a shot goes up.
This is a hole caused by the fact that, over the years, NBA strategy has shifted away from offensive rebounds in favor of getting back on defense as a better defensive strategy.
Check out this chart published in November of 2016:
Look at the offensive rebounding percentage part of the chart:
This trend has caused some teams to be lazy while making defensive rebounds and Murray has found a way to exploit that, juice his stats, make history as a Spurs guard, and load up on second-chance opportunities.
This was most evident against the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier this week. Watch this sequence where, on a fast break, Murray simply goes around a few defenders to set himself up right under the basket for the putback. Then, on the next possession, he does the same thing.
The shot went down on the second possession but he was in position to grab another offensive rebound.
The next example is a much better one because it’s a set play so the defense doesn’t have the excuse of being confused about matchups on a fast break. JR Smith, a guy averaging about three rebounds a game for his career, doesn’t mark Murray and Dejounte easily swoops in for another rebound and another basket.
Later on, Isaiah Thomas (averaging less than three rebounds a game for his career) isn’t ready for Murray to roll to the basket after Green’s shot goes up. As a result, no one boxes Dejounte out and he gets another easy putback.
Murray isn’t having this kind of game against every team. Teams that feature bigger lineups and more versatile big men can keep him from getting to double digits on the boards. But the NBA trend is to play small and run.
And now the Spurs have a weapon that allows them to play small without sacrificing rebounds and second-chance opportunities on the offensive glass.