The Spurs arguably have the best coach in the NBA, but not even Gregg Popovich can get this team to the playoffs without Dejounte Murray.
Dejounte Murray is one of the most talented players on the Spurs roster. Unfortunately, his torn ACL is going to keep him out of action for the entire 2018-19 season. His absence is also going to send the Spurs into the lottery for the first time in 20 years.
In the long-term interest of the franchise, missing the playoffs won’t be a disaster. It will still be a shock for Spurs fans. They haven’t missed out on the postseason since before Tim Duncan first appeared on the floor in San Antonio. Things are going to be very different this season.
That was going to be the case even before Murray’s unfortunate injury. Kawhi Leonard’s high-profile exit dominated the team’s headlines in the offseason. Losing a top-five NBA player will always drastically change a franchise.
Leonard missed the majority of last season due to injury, but his presence would still palpable around the team.
Leonard wasn’t the only offseason departure. Manu Ginobili elected to retire, which leaves the team with a massive hole at shooting guard off the bench. Danny Green also left for Toronto in the Leonard deal.
Finally, the Spurs allowed Kyle Anderson to leave via restricted free agency. Even Tony Parker left for Charlotte in free agency.
Those departures clearly opened the door for new Spurs players to emerge as potential stars. The organization had more hope in Murray than any of their other young players. He played quality minutes for the team last season and flashed All-Star potential.
Murray has elite length and athleticism. That allows him to be one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, as evidenced by his All-Defensive first team selection last season.
His offensive game was clearly holding back. Murray has the quickness to get to the rim at will, but his lack of a perimeter jump shot holds him back from becoming a dominant offensive force.
There were, however, strong reports that he’d improved his shooting stroke in the offseason. Those talks will have to be shelved after his serious injury.
Unfortunately for Popovich, this is an injury his team cannot survive. Without Murray in the lineup, the lion’s share of point guard minutes will go to Patty Mills. He’s a quality backup, but he lacks the size or athleticism to compete against the best lead guards in the NBA.
Murray’s injury will also give opportunities to Derrick White and Bryn Forbes to carve out meaningful roles in Popovich’s rotation. The Spurs hope one or both can emerge as quality backups, but expecting them to become anything close to a starter is simply not realistic.
Looking at the point guard position overall, it’s obvious San Antonio can’t hope for anything other than adequate production on the whole. In today’s murderous Western Conference, that won’t be good enough to make the postseason.
Having a quality backcourt isn’t a luxury in today’s NBA, it’s a requirement. The removal of Murray from the Spurs rotation means San Antonio won’t meet that requirement. That’s why they will drop out of the playoffs for the first time in 20 years this season.