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  • Writer's pictureCarmineCoppola

Where Do The Hawks Stand After The Dejounte Murray Trade ?

Updated: Jul 24, 2022

Following the severe first-round exit against Miami in which Atlanta never really had a chance to fight, capitulating on a simply disappointing year, coach Nate McMillan said in his season-exit press conference that the organization will logically look to address the team’s need “because that’s what everybody does”. Even though the Hawks’ planned growth was altered by other factors, it was clear that with the roster standing like that, lacking defense at the point of attack, playmaking outside of Trae’s heliocentrism, the Georgia-based team wouldn’t be able to compete with the East’s mastodonts anytime soon, making their Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 2021 looking like an unrepeatable one-year wonder. That’s why on the 29th of June, the Hawks front office now led by Landry Fields “pulled the trigger”, sending the still valuable but old Danilo Gallinari along with 3 first-round picks and a future pick swap to the Spurs in exchange of Dejounte Murray.

At first, 3 first round pick seemed a surprising lot to give up for the freshly new all-star, but those type of draft packages tends to be more and more common, highlighted by the Timberwolves sending 4 first-round picks to acquire Rudy Gobert from Utah a few days later. This democratization of the openness to deal such an important draft capital comes from a global tendency to privilege the present over the future. Without question, not every franchise leans towards this philosophy but multiple factors, including the eager and expectations of some owners, push teams to maximize their win-now chances over future prosperity, even more since the recent introduction of the play-in tournament and the modification in the draft lottery system. Is this the right call? Probably not if you’re not making a move that will bring you into contention or that will clearly consolidate your chance. And even so, we all have in mind what is currently happening with the Nets, who might be entering a rebuild for the second time in 10 years without the majority of their picks. But frankly, it is pleasant to see teams commit and go all-in with their core like the Blazers, Wolves, Kings and now Hawks are doing currently instead of blowing it up as soon as they think they don’t have a big enough window. It firmly increases the competitivity level in the league and after the last decade where a few teams dominated, having this lot of uncertainties and will to compete is refreshing. That said, doing so could still be costly and inevitably, some –probably most— teams will come to regret it because there only are few successful stories every season.

This is where we ask ourselves if for the Hawks, it was worth making themselves vulnerable to any out-of-their-control factors that could send the franchise in a really complex situation for a fringe All-star that don’t make them contender at the moment. Knowing the exact answer to the question would require being able to time travel, but we can at least say that this trade takes place when there is a huge disparity in how teams value first-round picks, and rightfully so. If the Hawks’ organization consider that they’ll be able to find complementary players later in the draft now that their core is settled or that the opportunity to bring a motivated star in a small market is more valuable than 3 future first-round picks where the odds are that they’ll only get average bench players, than maybe the swing they made is not so foolish. Reckless? Most likely, but everyone loves a bit of audacity...right? The biggest downside about this package for them is if better players became available, and recently sure they do *waves at Kevin and Donovan*, Atlanta wouldn’t be in list to trade for them. But regardless, with players cherry picking their destination, nothing guarantees that the Hawks would attract one even if they had the better package.

Some considered this move driven by ownership and the desire to maintain star player Trae Young happy rather than to perfectly complement him, much more like a desperation or precipitated move than a team trading for the perfect fit. But this move still makes some indisputable sense on different aspects.

To decide if this gamble is worth it or not, we should first look at the player they got in return and how he addresses the team’s needs: Murray will be 26 when the season starts entering his seventh year in the league and he just had his best campaign: averaging 21.1 points, 8.3 rebounds and 9.2 assists along with a league-best 2 steals. The former Husky has always got better through the years and his efforts on both sides of the ball earned him the trust of Popovich and a deserved all-star spot this year.

He isn’t a particularly good scorer overall, always shooting below league-average efficiency, especially because he isn’t a great outside shooter: 32.7% from three this year on 4.3 attempts. Murray makes most of his damages from the mid-range, where he is proficient, and attacking the rim with his long arms, strides and upgraded handle (that still could be tightened a little). He has also some improvements to do finishing through contacts despite his impressive build but he has shown promise.

The most interesting part of his offensive game is his passing and playmaking, ranking in the 98nd percentile in assist % and fourth in assist points created with 23,3 points (Trae is 3rd), he’s good at finding angles and hitting cutters. He uses the pick and roll a lot (top 12 in freq.), and he showed good reading skills even if efficiency-wise he is an average ball handler in that type of play. Last year, you could make the case that he was comfortably a top 10 playmaker in the league. He’s a fast-paced player, always looking to push the ball and do the early pass in transition which sometimes leads to turnover. San Antonio ranked sixth in pace with him last year and he will certainly bring some of that quick hit-ahead mentality with him in Atlanta who were last in fast break points scored per game last year.

Defensively, we tend to perhaps overvalue the 6’4 point guard’s impact because of his fantastic steals numbers, but he lacks awareness or concentration at times, tends to get beat on close-out and can get moved in the post. His best tool on defense is obviously his intimidating 6’10 wingspan, he uses it well to contest shots, disrupt passing lanes (2nd in deflections per game last year) and to steal the ball. He has some rim-protection upside for his position because of the length and verticality he possesses and his great rebounding will make the Hawks a true fortress in the rebounding department where they are already solid. He has the agility and feel to fight well through screens but his effort there is inconstant. All of that, plus his incredible instincts, makes him a positive defender but I wouldn’t consider him a game-changer just yet. That said, he is a combination of agility, length and instincts truly amazing to watch when he locks-in.

Advanced stats also recognized him as a top player last season, ranked him as the 16th most impactful player and 8th in wins added, per's EPM metric he is the 26th most impactful player and fivethirtyeight’s RAPTOR views him as the 22nd most impactful player on offense. Defensively they all view him as having an above-average impact.

Coming into the off-season, the holes that the roster had were clear: the 2nd rated offensive team during the regular season just had been contained to an awful 104.1 ORTG in the playoffs because Miami’s sharpened defense could neutralize Atlanta’s offense by trapping Young on pick and roll, closing the gaps on driving lane and deny entry pass to the post which made Atlanta’s offense completely empty of solutions. They weren’t able to adjust as they lacked smart cutters, penetrators, playmakers and it was clear that outside of Trae nobody was capable of constantly producing something.

Miami went beyond that as they not only showed the supporting cast’s flaws but also how much Trae’s size and frame was still a limitation hard to overcome when a team can throw so much size and physicality at him. His personal production and numbers were underwhelming during that serie and despite that not being entirely his fault, it raised some questioning about the ceiling of an offense entirely built around his offensive brilliance alone. All of that led to the Georgian front office determining the clear need to add at least another playmaker.

By trading for Murray, the Hawks formed arguably a top-4 backcourt in the league talent-wise and they got that second playmaker. At the guards’ spots, nobody in the league tops their combined scoring (49.5 ppg) and assisting (18.9 apg) since James Harden and Chris Paul in Houston. But whether the two talented guards can perfectly cohabit and live up to those impressive numbers or not is still a big question mark.

Despite their visible good chemistry off the court, on the court they both are used to have the ball in their hands as both are top 8 in time of possession(a stat that determinate the time a precise player has the control of the ball every offensive possession) they consume a lot of picks and roll and have virtually never been asked to play or have any movements off-ball. If Dejounte struggles to hit his open threes, teams could be tempted to sag off him, damaging Young’s powerplays such as the pick and roll. Moreover, I doubt it will happen considering Murray shot a passable 34.5% on catch and shoot threes last year.

If he succeeds at being a correct spacer, his addition becomes interesting now that it will enable to free up Trae of some of the on-ball duty to allow him to uses his incredible shooting and quick release to be a factor off the ball. Last year, shots off screens and spot up only accounted for respectively 1.2% and 6.9% of Trae’s shot even though he was really efficient on those. These numbers enlarged a bit during the playoffs, showing that the coaching staff recognized that as a good alternative to get Trae involved but they couldn’t explore that further because of the lack of secondary ball-handling. We should expect those numbers to grow again next year, this is where they have a chance to be a deadly duo as Murray has a really good vision to feed shooters(approximately 53% of his assists were to 3 pointers) and I don’t need to remind anyone of Young’s tremendous shooting. It will be some sort of challenge for him, since he is nearly only used as a ball-handler since college, but he has shown that he’s capable of doing so and this could unlock a new, even more efficient and reliable version of him.

Now if we look at the rest of the roster, Dejounte won’t find the same types of players than the movement shooters, incisive cutters he was surrounded with in San Antonio. Although Atlanta’s stationary shooters starring Bogdanovic, Hunter, recent acquisition Justin Holiday will reproduce the same spaced environment he knew and Hunter’s verticality and strength could make him a good cutter, it’s probably Poeltl’s good hands and touch that he will misses the most. After the pick, Dejounte liked to get in the mid-range and either take a shot or drop the ball to the roller who could take a simple push-shot. Jakob Poeltl excelled at it and like that their connection generated 105 assists for Murray and 210 points overall. All of this won’t be possible with Capela who’s more of a lob threat so Murray will have to adjust a part of his pick and roll game. Collins will be an intriguing pick and roll, and especially pick and pop partner : something he never had that should help him be an even more advanced driver and pick and roll user.

Overall, I’m sure he will end up being solid in the offense because of how multifaceted and polished he is. His penetrations will again be a big contribution as they clearly lacked another rim-aggressor and he was sixth in drives per game last year.

On the defensive side, I said earlier that he wasn’t a game-changer but he certainly will improve the 26th rated defense by bolstering their perimeter and on-ball defense where Atlanta doesn’t have any specialist or even any real positive defender. As said earlier, Murray is an hell of a playmaker on defense and last year the Hawks only harvested 7.2 steals per game (22nd in league), a number that will certainly increase next season. On paper, the Hawks have now the potential to be an at least above average defensive team with Capela’s rim protection, Collins’ versatility, the length and instincts they now have on the wings and perimeter with Dejounte and Hunter. Being solid defensively is, without a doubt, the next jump they need to make to change status and adding Murray is a serious step in that direction. Dejounte’s wingspan additionally gives him an interesting versatility which allows him to guard bigger players at times. This in particular will also be interesting as McMIllan liked to try 3 guard line-ups to bring more scoring and playmaking next to Trae.

In conclusion, it’s still questionable if the Seattle native will have an utterly positive impact on the offense because of his negligible 3pts shooting, but it was clear that they needed a secondary ball-handler and penetrator to support Trae in the creation sector and Murray will dwell pretty well in this role. Despite some minor flaws, his defensive abilities will give the Hawks answers to contain the top ball-handler they’ll have to face and the rhythm he instils on the game will bring a new fun to Atlanta’s business.

the Hawks organization reached their goal of putting themselves in a better position to succeed with this core because they surely got better, they already got one first-round pick back in the recent Huerter’s trade and they gave the fans in Georgia something to be excited about by trading for a player who plays hard and wants to be here. So even if some questions, maybe the biggest, have still to be answered and the Hawks may not be ready to compete yet, this deal looks promising to me. Still and all, Dejounte is under a reasonable contract until the 2024-2025 off-season but after that, the Hawks might be forced to overpay him as they can’t afford to lose him for nothing after what they gave up.

As Trae Young politely said it, things just got real in Atlanta. How real? That’s up to them, but it’s certain the new duo will make the Hawks one of the most Intriguing, potentially surprising team in the league.

Could we see them quickly evolve into contention after completing a big move, just like the Suns did? Next season seems a pretty (and I mean PRETTY) long shot but in the future, with Hunter’s development, Trae’s progress in his remodelled role, their identity growing as well as the improvements on the margin that Landry Fields’ front office will make, it’s not unwarranted to think that soon the Hawks’ appetite will lead them to pretender, or even contender status.

This is it for my analysis regarding the Hawks getting Dejounte Murray. Thank you for reading it and if you have any comments and recommandations, I’ll be glad to discuss it with you! Until next time, have a great week !

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