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Film Study: Dejounte Murray brings disruptive defense to Atlanta

The dynamic, All-Star guard adds a new level of defensive intensity to Atlanta's backcourt.

All-Star guard Dejounte Murray has high expectations with Atlanta this season.

Over the four seasons that Trae Young has been in the NBA, only three teams — the Portland Trail Blazers, Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards — have been worse defensively than Young’s Atlanta Hawks, who ranked 26th on defense last season.

Young, of course, has led the Hawks to top-10 finishes on offense in each of the last two seasons. In fact, only Utah’s offense was more efficient than Atlanta’s last season.

Young isn’t the sole reason the Hawks have been so bad defensively. But in each of his four seasons, Atlanta has allowed far more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor than they have with him off. The 7.1 more that they allowed with him on the floor last season (114.9 vs. 107.8) was the eighth-biggest differential among 261 players who played at least 1,000 minutes for a single team. No other Hawk who played at least 1,000 minutes had nearly as big a differential (Clint Capela was next at 2.1).

While Young remains the franchise cornerstone and one of the best offensive players in the league, you can understand why the Hawks would look to upgrade their perimeter defense. And they did just that by trading for Dejounte Murray in late June.

Here are some notes, numbers and film regarding Murray’s defense and how it can help his new team:

1. Takeaways

Atlanta was not a disruptive defensive team last season. There are four factors to efficiency on both ends of the floor and the one in which the Hawks’ defense ranked lowest was opponent turnover rate. Only Washington and Utah forced fewer turnovers per 100 possessions than the Hawks (12.9).

Murray will change that, having led the league in both steals (2.0) and deflections (4.0) per game. Opponents will need to be more careful with the ball with him in the Hawks’ backcourt.

Murray can read passes …

Dejounte Murray steal

… and pick pockets …

Dejounte Murray steal

He also has the long arms to intercept dribble-handoffs …

Dejounte Murray steal

More steals can obviously lead to more transition opportunities. According to Synergy tracking, the Hawks ranked fifth in transition points per possession (1.17), but just 26th in the percentage of their possessions that were in transition (13.9%) last season.

2. Glass work

Murray also uses his length on the glass. The 6-foot-4 guard grabbed 19.6% of available defensive rebounds while he was on the floor last season. That was the second-highest rate (behind only Draymond Green) among 198 players 6-foot-6 and shorter who averaged at least 10 minutes per game.

Murray wasn’t rebounding in a crowd much of the time, though. Only 17.6% of his defensive boards, the second-lowest rate among 54 players who averaged at least five defensive boards per game, were contested. But among the eight Spurs who played at least 1,000 minutes, the team’s defensive rebounding percentage was highest (71.8%) with him on the floor.

When a shot goes up, he quickly and consistently gets back to the glass to help his bigs …

Dejounte Murray rebound

Of course, his habit of quickly going for the rebound can sometimes leave his man untouched as he crashes the glass …

Grizzlies offensive rebound

Still, Murray should help the Hawks on the defensive boards. While Capela ranked third among individuals who played at least 20 minutes per game, Atlanta ranked 12th in defensive rebounding percentage (73.1%) last season — meaning there’s room for improvement.

3. Not quite DPOY material

Murray is not the best one-on-one defender. Among 207 players who’ve defended at least 250 isolations over the last three seasons, he ranks just 168th in points per chance allowed (1.02), according to Second Spectrum tracking.

He’ll bite on pump fakes and sometimes get caught standing up …

Jordan Poole drive past Dejounte Murray

Murray can also be a little too thirsty for steals, and his gambles can put his team’s defense at a disadvantage …

Dejounte Murray gamble

Murray will help the Hawks defensively, but he probably can’t make them a better-than-average defensive team by himself. There will also need to be some improvement from within.

4. The other end of the floor

Murray is a lot more than a defender. Here are some quick notes on what he brings to what was the league’s second-ranked offense last season …

• In Young and Murray, the Hawks now have two of the three guys (James Harden was the third) who averaged at least 20 points and nine assists last season. Having the ball in your hands a lot helps in regard to accumulating those assists. Young and Murray ranked third (8.7 minutes per game) and seventh (7.4), respectively, in time of possession.

• But Murray is also an attacker. He ranked fifth with 17.9 drives per game, and only Luka Doncic (188) had more total assists on drives than Murray (171). He sees the entire floor and isn’t afraid to drop dimes in tight spaces.

• He can also read defenses beyond the basics. Late in the first quarter of a March game in San Antonio, Kings rookie Davion Mitchell left Devin Vassell in the corner so that he could switch a screen that Zach Collins was setting from Murray. But before the screen was set and before Damian Jones could switch out to Vassell, Murray quickly got the ball to the abandoned shooter for a corner 3-pointer …

Dejounte Murray assist

• When he’s not passing, Murray is a mid-range guy. He was one of 11 players who took at least 200 shots from outside the paint last season (217 players total) with more of those shots coming from mid-range than from 3-point range. Only DeMar DeRozan, Devin Booker and Kevin Durant attempted more pull-up 2-pointers than Murray (454).

• All three shot much better than Murray on those pull-up 2-pointers, but he still averaged more points per attempt on pull-up 2s (0.89) than he did on pull-up 3-pointers (0.84). His 44.7% on pull-up 2s vs. just 28.0% on pull-up 3s was the fourth biggest differential among 61 players who attempted at least 100 of each. While his pull-up from 18 feet and in looks pretty smooth (and will be a weapon against drop defenses), he has looked a little uncomfortable from beyond the arc …

Dejounte Murray pull-up 3-point attempt

• Playing alongside Young will allow Murray to attack seams from the second side, and he’s got some stuff in his bag when he gets downhill …

Dejounte Murray drive past Joel Embiid

• But Murray has shot just 113-for-347 (32.6%) on catch-and-shoot 3s over the last two seasons (a big drop-off from Kevin Huerter’s 39.5%). While he’s certainly an upgrade for the Hawks, he’s not a perfect fit alongside Young, and they’ll both (Murray more so) need to be more comfortable playing off the ball.

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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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