Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker IV are what’s next for the Spurs

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 5: Dejounte Murray
SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 5: Dejounte Murray /

I love watching Dejounte Murray play defense. As a 6-foot-5 point guard, his length is obviously one of his biggest assets but he moves with such sinuous fluidity — like a chilled-out Paul George, if such a thing could be imagined. His limbs just float, mirroring his opponent. He moves like a lava lamp, devoid of twitch.

Except his hands.

Those mitts seem to be chronologically detached from the rest of his body, like going for a jog while listening to a podcast at 2x. Smooth limbs and twitchy hands made Murray an absolute steal-machine last season. He finished the year 10th in steal percentage, sandwiched between George and Jimmy Butler.

When it comes to the steal game, Murray has the full package — the “I move faster than you pass,” the “no-look deflection,” the “don’t mind if do,” the “Charles Woodson jumping a quick out pattern,” the “chasedown,” the “don’t show me the ball in traffic,” the “swiper stay swiping,” and, of course, the “lol, nice try lao che.”

Murray will turn 22 next month but already has 56 career starts under his belt and, with Tony Parker departing for Charlotte, seems firmly entrenched as San Antonio’s point guard of the future. Framed by Murray and the cartoonish silhouette of Lonnie Walker IV, you can see the next generation of the Spurs began to take shape.

Walker, taken by the Spurs with the No. 18 pick in the 2018, is also listed at 6-foot-5, albeit slightly more filled out. He has some of Murray’s glide but puts a bit more power behind it. If you caught him during his one season at Miami, you probably saw an athletic guard with immense potential who struggled to figure out how to consistently translate his physical advantages into production as he worked to come back from an offseason meniscus surgery. If you caught Walker at Summer League, you probably saw a bit of the same — less hesitancy, more explosion, some smooth 3-pointers, a few confident pull-up jumpers in traffic, a highlight dunk or two, the beginnings of some playmaking potential and eight steals in six games.

It may be a struggle for Walker to find minutes this year, behind DeMar DeRozan and Marco Belinelli on the wing and maybe even having to work through Bryn Forbes in the backcourt rotation. Still, DeRozan has just three years left on his deal and at some point the Spurs starting backcourt will almost certainly be Walker and Murray (or at least that’s the plan).

Both players are raw enough that it’s hard to know exactly what this pairing is going to look like. Murray still doesn’t have anything close to a reliable jumper. Walker’s is a question mark as well and it’s hard to tell exactly what his primary offensive contributions will be — is he more than a complimentary cutter/scorer/shooter and if so, is he someone he can really create for others off the dribble or is he more of a DeRozan-type isolation scorer?

Still, you can see this pairing being ferocious defensively, swallowing opposing ball-handlers with kinetic pressure and sliding back unexpectedly to pick off those not-quite-hard-enough swing passes. Murray is a fantastic rebounder for his position and between those grab-and-gos and his live-ball turnovers these Spurs are going to be out in transition plenty, with Walker lurking on the wing looking for the lob and some poster dunk fodder in the lane.

Over their two-decade run of excellence, we’ve watched the Spurs evolve and morph several times — from physical post-up monsters to a whirling, cutting, perpetual motion machine and then back into something approaching their grind-it-out genesis. Walker and Murray would be an evolution in a new direction. Obviously whoever succeeds Popovich in San Antonio and the rest of the roster will have a say in how this team looks, but the natural energy of Murray and Walker can only be shaped into so many forms.

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Spurs fans may find themselves sitting in a strange position, rooting for a competitive but flawed team and knowing that big changes are on the horizon. This season is undoubtedly a bridge to something else, an unknown future. But, at some point this year, an opposing ball-handler will challenge Dejounte Murray just over the halfcourt line. He’ll poke the ball away and scramble off-balance towards the sideline. As Murray wins the race to the loose ball, Lonnie Walker will be sprinting ahead of his defender on the other side of the court, left hand raised high, pointing towards the rim.

I think the Spurs are going to be just fine.