NBA trade grades – What the Dejounte Murray deal means for Trae Young, the Atlanta Hawks and the San Antonio Spurs’ rebuild

NBA trade grades – What the Dejounte Murray deal means for Trae Young, the Atlanta Hawks and the San Antonio Spurs’ rebuild post thumbnail image

How will Dejounte Murray fit alongside Trae Young with the Atlanta Hawks?

The Hawks made the biggest addition of the NBA offseason to date on Wednesday, sending three first-round picks — two of them unprotected, per ESPN’s Zach Lowe — and a pick swap to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for Murray, chosen as an NBA All-Star for the first time last season at age 25.

Having played point guard in San Antonio, Murray will be an interesting fit next to Young in the Atlanta backcourt. An All-Defensive second-team pick in 2017-18, Murray will undoubtedly be an upgrade at that end of the court for a Hawks team that ranked 26th in defensive rating last season — worst of anyone to make the playoffs.

On the other side, the Spurs are dealing Murray at the peak of his value with two years remaining on his inexpensive contract. San Antonio’s roster is now built around six first-round picks from the past three drafts, including three this year, with more on the way.

Let’s break down what this trade means for both teams.


Hawks get:
Dejounte Murray

Spurs get:
Danilo Gallinari
2023 first-round pick (via Charlotte Hornets)
2025 first-round pick
2027 first-round pick
Future pick swap with Atlanta


Atlanta Hawks: C

Adding Murray will surely revive the age-old question of how the Hawks can utilize Young’s shooting without constantly having the ball in his hands. Young’s 8.7 minutes per game time of possession ranked third highest in the NBA, per Second Spectrum tracking on NBA Advanced Stats; and the 3,730 pick-and-rolls he ran, according to Second Spectrum, were 11% more than the next-highest player (Luka Doncic).

Building a heliocentric offense around Young has produced great regular-season results for Atlanta, which ranked second behind the Utah Jazz in offensive rating in 2021-22. Come playoff time, however, Young struggled as the primary option against the aggressive defense of the Miami Heat, averaging just 15.4 points per game on 32% shooting with more turnovers (31) than assists (30).

Given Young powered the Hawks’ surprising run to the Eastern Conference finals in 2020-21, the question isn’t whether he can succeed in the playoffs. It’s whether putting so much offensive responsibility in his hands maximizes his value to Atlanta against the best defenses. Enter Murray, another high-volume ball handler who ranked sixth overall in pick-and-rolls (2,608) and seventh in time of possession (7.4 MPG).

When pairings like this have succeeded, it’s typically because both players are also off-ball threats. Think Chris Paul with either James Harden in Houston (at least the first season) or Devin Booker in Phoenix. That doesn’t describe Murray, a 33% career 3-point shooter who is better in catch-and-shoot situations (36% last season, per Second Spectrum) but still below average.

It also hasn’t described Young, who has the shooting chops to succeed in that role (he hit a sizzling 45% of his catch-and-shoot 3s in 2021-22, 11th among players with at least 50 such attempts) but rarely plays it. He took just 86 catch-and-shoot 3s all season. The 83% of Young’s field goals that were unassisted last season was fourth highest among players who made at least 250, per NBA Advanced Stats. Murray again wasn’t far behind at 73% (11th in that group).

The obvious comparison when we talk about Young being more of an off-ball threat is Stephen Curry, the deep-shooting, undersized guard who has always been a reference point for Young. As Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr recently pointed out on the Lowe Post, that’s possible partly because Curry played shooting guard his first two years at Davidson, requiring him to work on the movement necessary to get open without the ball. Unlike Curry, Young has always had the ball in his hands as he developed.

Ultimately, the comparison is unfair because Curry’s combination of ballhandling and ability to wreck a defense with off-ball movement is unparalleled throughout NBA history. The Hawks don’t need Young to be Curry. They just need Young to be active enough to keep defenses engaged and allow Murray room to operate with the ball in his hands.

There are two clear wins from this deal for Atlanta.

The first is defensively. Although Murray hasn’t quite reached his All-Defensive peak since returning from an ACL tear in the 2018 preseason, he generates steals at a high rate and is an excellent defensive rebounder for a guard. Murray is capable of taking on the tougher defensive assignment in the backcourt, allowing Young to hide on less threatening opponents.

Additionally, the Hawks should have more hope of surviving the minutes Young spends on the bench, allowing him to get more rest. After finding a successful formula for the second unit built around Bogdan Bogdanovic in the second half of the 2020-21 season, Atlanta again struggled to score without Young last season. The team’s offensive rating dropped by 10 points per 100 possessions with Young on the bench.

To some extent, I think those issues are inevitable with an offense built so much around a single player, but the Hawks will have an All-Star point guard on the court at all times now and (hopefully) won’t be as reliant on Young.

Despite Murray having one of the league’s better contracts — paying him like a midtier starting point guard ($16.6 million this season and $17.7 million in 2023-24) — adding him will still be costly because Atlanta used Danilo Gallinari‘s partially guaranteed salary to match it rather than that of one of the team’s core players, such as forward John Collins.

By waiving Gallinari today, the Hawks could have ducked the luxury tax this season. Instead, they’ll start free agency over the projected tax line before filling out their roster. Atlanta will be hard-pressed to get out by the deadline because there’s so little fat to trim. All eight players making more than $3.5 million this season will be part of the Hawks’ rotation.

Although adding Murray is an upgrade for Atlanta, I’m not sure it puts the Hawks in the projected top half of the East playoff standings. I’d still have them behind the Boston Celtics, Heat, Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers, pending additional moves this offseason. And that’s where you start to wonder about the price.

As Lowe argued, giving up three first-round picks for a player on a value contract makes sense if that player gets a team to a crucial new level. The Bucks surely don’t regret shelling out even more swaps and picks for Jrue Holiday after Holiday immediately helped them win a championship. But there’s more room here for the Hawks to second-guess this deal.

Giving up two unprotected picks has the benefit of providing Atlanta a little flexibility to trade additional first-rounders. The Hawks can, at the moment, trade their own picks in 2023 and 2029. The downside is there’s no parachute if the Hawks’ future goes worse than planned. (Say, by Murray leaving as an unrestricted free agent in 2024 because his low salary makes an extension unrealistic.) Even the pick swap in 2026 in between the two first-rounders is unprotected, per ESPN’s Tim Bontemps.

Atlanta is betting big on Murray fitting with Young. For the team’s future, that bet better be correct.


San Antonio Spurs: A

I understand if Spurs fans are disappointed about trading an All-Star who won’t turn 26 until September and has two years left on his contract. However, the value San Antonio got in return would have been difficult to turn down. As Murray moved toward unrestricted free agency and either bumping up his salary near the max or heading elsewhere, his trade value would have diminished rapidly.

By pushing the two picks from the Hawks three years into the future, the Spurs both increased the chances of those having lottery upside and timed them to land just as San Antonio’s remaining young core should start paying dividends. In addition, the Spurs will get an extra first-round pick as early as next year from the Hornets that Atlanta got in the Cam Reddish deal.

For now, San Antonio’s best pick is probably the team’s own in 2023. It’s worth remembering that the Spurs’ decades of success started when a gap season due to injuries (primarily star center David Robinson) was rewarded by winning the Tim Duncan sweepstakes. I don’t think it’s fair to say at this point that French center Victor Wembanyama or G League Ignite guard Scoot Henderson (the projected top two picks in the recent 2023 mock draft from ESPN’s Jonathan Givony) are at that level, but San Antonio can hope for a similar outcome.

There is still young talent on hand, led by the duo of Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell. Those young players will likely struggle with the increased offensive responsibility created by Murray’s departure, but those growing pains could pay off in the long term. The Spurs also should be able to find minutes for all three of this year’s first-round picks: guards Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley and forward Jeremy Sochan.

Pending a possible buyout for Gallinari, San Antonio could still create more than $25 million in cap space. That wouldn’t be enough at the moment to make a max offer sheet to Suns center Deandre Ayton, but the Spurs could surely get there if they want to envision Ayton as the centerpiece of their rebuild. Alternatively, San Antonio could continue the slow build by using the room to take unwanted contracts from other teams.




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