NBA trade reaction: Analyzing Dejounte Murray's fit with the Hawks

NBA trade reaction: Analyzing Dejounte Murray's fit with the Hawks

We have fireworks, folks!

Our first star trade of the offseason cycle is here, with All-Star guard Dejounte Murray joining fellow stud Trae Young in Atlanta. The Hawks will be sending Danilo Gallinari in the deal but, with all due respect, that isn't the important portion for the San Antonio Spurs. They wanted pick equity and got it. The Hawks are sending three first-round picks — a protected 2023 pick via the Charlotte Hornets and their own unprotected first-rounders in 2025 and 2027 — as well as swapping firsts in 2026.

The Spurs' thinking is obvious, even if you disagree with their conclusion.

They want to reset, and moving Murray now was convenient for them. It helps them drop their win total next season ahead of a heralded draft class. On the financial side, moving Murray while he's on a bargain deal — he's owed roughly $34 million total over the next two seasons — and ahead of extension talks (technically eligible later this summer) allowed them to flip him at peak value.

As ESPN's Zach Lowe notes, teams are pretty hesitant to flip deep-in-the-future firsts with no protections at all. It was a compromise the Hawks had to make considering Murray's talent, his contract and their desire to keep pieces like John Collins (bless his heart), De'Andre Hunter or even new draftee AJ Griffin out of the deal.


It's hard not to think about what this deal means for the Hawks' defense, first and foremost.

At his best, Murray is one of the NBA's premier options at the point of attack. His quick hands and limitless wingspan allow him to envelop opposing guards. He's even more of a menace off the ball, as his cornerback-like instincts work in tandem with his physical tools to create turnovers. Lazy passes and loose handles aren't safe when Murray's around.

Last season, Murray wasn't at his best often — a natural trade-off to the offensive burden he carried — and he still managed to lead the NBA in steals (2.0, 138 total) and deflections (4.0, 278 total). It's a testament to the kind of havoc he can cause. In theory, we should see a more consistent version of Demon Dejounte with less responsibility on offense (more on that later).

The beauty of the Hawks' maintaining their core roster pieces in the deal is that Murray is truly an additive. Hunter is still on the roster to pick up tough wing assignments. Now, instead of Kevin Huerter taking on the guard assignments — and he was mostly fine last year for a guy punching above his weight — Murray can do it.

Offensively, Murray gives Atlanta some much needed juice as a secondary creator. He did a ton for the Spurs last season, posting career-highs in points (21.1, 20th in the NBA), assists (9.2, fourth), usage rate (27.3) and touches per game (87.5, fourth). His 53.3% True Shooting percentage was also the highest of his career, but it was well below league average (56.6). Murray did his best as The Guy, but he isn't quite on that level.

Playing alongside Young means he doesn't have to be. And for Young, he finally has a teammate who can take some of the creation burden off his plate.

The drop-off between Young and the rest of his teammates last season was stark. Young wasn't just the only player on the roster who could create for himself and others at a high level, he was the only guy who could get two feet in the paint on a consistent basis — or even tried to. 

Consider this: Young led the Hawks, and ranked fourth in the NBA among qualified players, with 17.3 drives per game. Bogdan Bogdanovic was second on the team at 6.5. Young took 300 shots at the rim during the regular season; Hunter (146), Bogdanovic (105) and Huerter (101) took 352 combined.

Murray attacked the basket (17.9 drives) and took more shots at the rim (306) than Young did last season. His ability to do that should make life easier on Young, and allow him to play off the ball.

When I say that, or when anyone says that, don't assume Young will start flying off of staggers or setting screens like he's Stephen Curry. It would be a welcome change, and Young has the skill set to do it, but that shouldn't be the expectation. Think smaller than that.

The Hawks didn't get much as you'd think out of Young being used as a spacer. Part of that is Young not doing the whole relocating thing — that's on him, and it's something he needs to commit to. But the other part is on the roster context, and that brings us back to the rim pressure issue. Who, among the Hawks' cast, could get into the paint and force rotations and create catch-and-shoot opportunities for Young?

Murray should help with that.


Murray should help the Hawks on offense, but that doesn't mean the fit will be seamless. 

He shouldn't have the ball in his hands all the time, but the off-ball reps could get iffy. Murray has gotten more comfortable firing from deep, but he isn't particularly good at it. He shot just 32.7% from deep last season, including a 34.5% clip on catch-and-shoot opportunities. 

Teams will help off of Murray when he doesn't have it. He'll have to prove that he can take advantage of the gaps he'll see, either by cashing home more jumpers or by chewing up that space with drives.

It wasn't pretty last season. Murray generated 0.96 points per possession when facing a closeout, 128th among 142 players to face at least 350 closeouts, per Second Spectrum. Some of that is the shaky jumper, but there's also a level of conservation in his game. It explains his sterling assist-to-turnover ratio for a guy with his usage, but the lack of decisiveness can stall out possessions.

He can't be a shaky shooter and a hold-and-scan guy, especially alongside Young. Having a true No. 1 option to knock Murray down in the hierarchy should be a good thing, but only if he's able to capitalize on those openings.

Even on the ball, I'd argue there's room for him to turn up the aggression. It's telling that a guy who had that many touches, ran as many ball-screens as he did and racked up as many assists as he did only logged 99 skip passes all year long, per Second Spectrum. That ranked 37th in the league. And of 62 players to throw at least 75 skips, only four players have a shorter average pass distance than Murray.

In less nerdy terms: Stashing Young on the weak side will only have as much juice as Murray allows it to. Dial it up, young man!

Overall, it's hard not to like this for the Hawks. They went into the summer hoping to get a second star alongside Young, and they did it. It's not the perfect fit, but you can't always choose the star you want. Luckily, time is on their side. Young and Murray will be 24 and 26 respectively when the season starts. There's room for them to grow into one of the most dynamic pairings in the league.

I'd argue they're starting from a good place already.

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