When Dejounte Murray helped carry an injured Tony Parker off the floor in Game 2 of the Western Conference semis, it’s anyone’s guess what was going through Murray’s mind. San Antonio’s rookie point guard had played only sparingly up to that point, occasionally spelling Parker and sixth man Patty Mills.
But with Parker out for the Playoffs with a torn quadricep, it was only a matter of time before Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich would call upon Murray to step up. And since that moment, he’s been ready.
Following one standout year at the University of Washington, Murray declared for the 2016 NBA Draft. While some analysts had pegged him as a Lottery pick, he ended up falling to the Spurs, who selected him with the 29th pick. Some prospects would have been disappointed or deterred. Murray instead chose to view his situation from a positive perspective, he said.
“Anywhere would have been a blessing,” Murray said. “But if you look into it, this is a great fit for me.”
Murray’s introduction to the league came on a team full of savvy veterans, a legendary head coach and nearly two decades of dominance.
“[It was great] coming into a winning culture because it could have been rough coming in with a losing team and being frustrated,” he said. “I’m a guy that just loves winning. It’s been really great; I’ve been learning from everyone in the organization and just getting better every single day.”
He spent the year bouncing between San Antonio and Austin, appearing in 38 NBA games and averaging just 8.5 minutes. Throughout the season, however, when the Spurs assigned Murray to play with their D-League affiliate the Austin Spurs, he remained focused and continued developing his game. In 15 D-League games, Murray averaged about 17 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. Through it all, Murray has trusted the guiding hand of his head coach, Gregg Popovich.
“I’ve been learning from Pop the whole time,” Murray said. “He’s been really great to me.”
But in the days since Parker’s injury, the pressure on Murray’s season has quickly intensified as he has been thrust into the national spotlight.
Murray started in Game 3 against the Rockets following Parker’s injury. In a Game 4 start, he chipped in eight points and three assists in 20 minutest. In the Spurs’ big Game 6 victory to clinch the series, Murray came off the bench but played 24 minutes, scoring a Playoff career-high 10 points while also grabbing six rebounds, dishing two assists, grabbing two steals and blocking two shots.
Now, for the Spurs to take down the two-time defending Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors, they’ll need Murray to develop faster and produce more than ever. For his part, Murray is confident that he’s up to the task.
“Strengths, weaknesses, I work on everything,” Murray said. “It’s all up to me. Am I willing to put the work in, am I going to get better every day? I feel like it is up to me to dictate my future.”
Whether the Spurs win or lose, Murray has already made remarkable strides. He will have his good moments and bad, as all rookies do. One thing is certain though; Murray is dictating his own future.