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Dejounte Murray begins Atlanta career brightly in win over Bucks in Abu Dhabi

Murray starred in the Hawks’ first preseason game.

2022-23 NBA Abu Dhabi Games - Milwaukee Bucks v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks made their long-awaited return to the court and returned with a 123-113 victory against the Milwaukee Bucks in Abu Dhabi on Thursday afternoon.

Dejounte Murray scored 25 points on his debut to go along with eight rebounds and nine assists on his Hawks debut. Trae Young added 22 points. For the Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 19 points, Jevon Carter added 17 points off the bench.

Preseason wins and losses really don’t matter and it’s not worth getting too carried away with anything after one preseason game. That said, we’ll touch on a few topics as a whole rather than why the Hawks won a preseason game and there’s no better place to start than Dejounte Murray.

The Hawks obviously made the big splash over the summer to acquire Murray, so naturally all eyes were going to be on him as he made his first start in the backcourt alongside Trae Young, so we’ll take a look at Murray and how he fit in his first game.

Looking at his shotchart from the game, you can see where a lot of Murray’s looks came from, which was from the mid-range; a shot Murray is very familiar with.

How Murray looked in pick-and-roll was going to be one of the more interesting aspects of his game in Atlanta (given their pick-and-roll options in Clint Capela and John Collins) to watch to see how he begins to acclimate himself to his pick-and-roll partners.

Murray played all of the second quarter and for half of that he was without Young and was given free rein to operate the offense. Murray fared well with Onyeka Okongwu in the second quarter in their time together, so let’s start there.

Here, Murray gets good separation after a really good screen from Okongwu and before the help defense can step any further to better contest this mid-range shot from Murray:

On the other side of the court this time, Murray comes off the Okongwu screen which creates some separation and while Grayson Allen does well to get back in front of Murray to contest, his push shot hits glass and home:

This play from the fourth quarter was interesting, as Murray rejects the Okongwu screen this time and even the slightest bit of daylight is enough for Murray to let the shot fly:

There is a confidence about Murray where even the slightest space in this zone of the court and he lets it fly: zero hesitation, and he made those shots.

On the other side, Murray connected with Okongwu from a playmaking point of view.

Here, Murray slips a pass through to Okongwu on the roll and a good gather from Okongwu, who finishes at the rim plus the foul:

In transition, Murray delivers a pass to Okongwu, who wisely waits for the defense to pass him by before scoring at the rim:

If Hawks head coach Nate McMillan chooses to stagger Young and Murray — and Young plays most of the first quarter, as he often does — it seems likely that Murray and Okongwu may share a lot of minutes together in the second unit, so their relationship on the court will be an important one and it looked as though it got to a good start.

We didn’t see a massive amount of Murray and John Collins together in the pick-and-roll (certainly not as much as Okongwu) but we did see them link up on a few occasions, with Collins being the main beneficiary.

A play as simple as this I think can be devastating given Collins’ ability to put pressure on the rim:

From plays like this, this can open up options for Murray and the Hawks on offense, and that’s before Trae Young is even involved off the ball as a lethal catch-and-shoot option.

Quick offense for the Hawks on this play as Collins establishes position inside and when he is found by Murray, Collins ensures to take advantage:

Again, hopefully we see more of Collins and Murray in the pick-and-roll but there’s enough I think to be optimistic about this partnership.

Moving on to more of Murray’s scoring from this game, it’s pretty evident even after his first outing that he will punish any big who decides to sag back/sag in the paint, as he does with Brook Lopez after the Clint Capela screen here:

Sticking with Capela in screens for Murray — and more evidence of Murray’s confidence — Murray takes advantage of a split-seconds space as soon as Capela creates the space:

And when Murray creates a switch, there’ll be opportunities for both the switch on the big and for Murray himself, lulling Bobby Portis on this possession and catching him sagging too deep before hitting the jumpshot:

Murray’s own quick burst will make it difficult for defenses to react and adjust to the threat of his jumpshot. After a quick rejection of the John Collins screen, Murray drives, stops on a dime and rises to hit a tough shot (which he hit a few of in this game):

On his own, Murray turbos to the rim and finishes at the rim, plus the foul:

This next play was an interesting standalone example of misdirection.

The Bucks are somewhat distracted by the potential Murray-Collins pick-and-roll and one screen off-ball from Okongwu in the corner frees up enough space for Justin Holiday to hoist a three after the find from Okongwu:

Just an interesting offensive look for the Hawks, one I think Holiday will benefit from but I think particularly Bogdan Bogdanovic when he’s healthy.

Murray also showcased some of his defense too, including this block on Giannis as the help defender:

And this block on Bobby Portis at the rim (and trash talk as the offensive rebound is gathered behind him):

You can also see Murray’s potential impact on this team in passing lanes, knocking this ball away here but sadly the Hawks’ defense doesn’t help him and it leads to a Holiday three:

Murray scored 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting and 7-of-8 from the free throw line in just over 30 minutes to go along with a near triple double. He was able to score, make tough shots, set others up, help out rebounding the ball from the guard position (something McMillan has been wanting from his guards) and throw in some blocks too? The Hawks couldn’t have asked for a lot more from Murray in his impressive first game.

Nate McMillan praised Murray’s IQ postgame as well as picking moments for both himself and his teammates.

“He’s been really good,” said McMillan of Murray. “His basketball IQ, he has a great feel for the game. He can certainly play with the ball but he understands getting teammates involved, when to get teammates involved. He was initiating most of the offense tonight, getting the ball to Trae and De’Andre and John, as well as taking his opportunity when he felt he had the matchup. I think it’s going to get better because of his basketball IQ.”

McMillan said that Murray was somewhat bothered by the Hawks’ defense but outlined how important Murray is to establishing a better defense this season to the one that ranked 26th in defensive rating last season.

“The thing he was a little bothered by tonight was the defensive effort by our guys,” said McMillan. “He knows we can play better D, we’re going to need to play better defense, and he will be the guy that establishes that for us. As I told him, we just have to continue to work and condition ourselves to be able to play that style of play. He will be the guy that establishes that tempo for us.”

Briefly on the game as a whole, the defense was something that concerned McMillan and that Giannis had picked apart the Hawks’ defense and exploited their gaps.

“We’ve got to do a better job of stopping the ball, keeping the ball in front of us,” said McMillan. “We’ve been working on our ‘no paint’ drill and I thought tonight Giannis did a good job of splitting our defense. We weren’t tight enough in our gaps and allowed him to play in the paint. We have to do a better job of keeping our body in front of the basketball. That’s all of us. That’ll come, we’ll get better at that.

McMillan wasn’t too pleased with the Bucks’ 17 offensive rebounds on the game — leading to 25 second chance points — and that his guards needing to do a better job rebounding the basketball (something he stated often last season) and reaffirmed their need to chip in on the boards.

“The other thing is rebounding the basketball because we had breakdowns on the perimeter,” McMillan went on to say. “They were shooting shots and those long rebounds, they had 17 offensive boards. We can’t give up that many offensive boards and 10 of those boards came from the guards. Our guards know they have to be better this season helping our bigs rebound the basketball.

That said, McMillan was pleased with the Hawks tempo on both sides of the ball, scoring 123 points on 54% shooting from the field (despite shooting 7-of-22 from three) and getting to the free throw line, making 22 of their 28 attempts.

“I like the fact we were still able to get out and establish a tempo, getting the ball up and down the floor,” said McMillan. “Offensively I thought we had some pretty good ball movement. We didn’t shoot the three well but we did a good job getting to the free throw line and taking care of the basketball, only eight turnovers tonight for us. We had 28 free throws, that tells me that we were pretty aggressive tonight attacking the basket.”

The addition of Murray adds another ball-handler to the equation in addition to Trae Young but he wasn’t the only addition in this regard. The Hawks ran some plays through the hands of Aaron Holiday, giving the Hawks multiple options when it comes to ball-handlers, which was put to McMillan postgame to discuss.

“We wanted to try take advantage of the defense,” said McMillan of the Hawks’ different pick-and-roll handling options. “I thought they did a good job of getting the ball in the hands of a defender that we felt we could take advantage of. Playing with the ball, playing off the ball, I thought it was a really good flow from our guards. With the number of guys we had handling the basketball tonight to only have eight turnovers, that’s a good sign. I like that. We weren’t taking chances, we were keeping the game simple, doing a good job of attacking the basket and getting to the free throw line. I like the fact we have multiple guys that can handle the ball and we were able to play DJ (Dejounte Murray) and Trae off the basketball tonight.”

One of the main issues the Hawks ran into last preseason was their conditioning, having not had a healthy offseason. McMillan — while acknowledging that the Hawks aren’t where they need to be just yet — is satisfied that the Hawks are in a good place with their conditioning.

“It’s pretty good,” said McMillan on his thoughts of his team’s conditioning. “What I saw tonight I pretty much expected. I think we’re in decent shape. We’re not close to where we need to be or where we want to be but we’re certainly in good shape. We needed this game tonight. We’ve been scrimmaging against each other and it’s difficult to gauge where you are as a team, where you are as a player, when you’re not playing live games. The only live game that we had was the two quarter scrimmage that we had before we left. I saw then that after three, four minutes our guys were pretty gassed. We needed this game to see where we were as far as conditioning and see what type of conditioning we’re going to need to be able play this style of basketball. We’re going to be a team that plays two ways, we’re going to play both sides of the floor. You’ve got to be in really good shape to be able to do that.”

Looking very briefly at other players that weren’t Dejounte Murray, most of the Hawks that played looked good out on the floor in their first contest of the season.

Trae Young put up 22 points while shooting 8-of-19 from the field and seemed to take a bit of a back seat at times compared to a regular season game as Murray handled the ball likely more than perhaps can be expected when the regular season kicks into gear.

John Collins scored 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting and I thought looked very good on the court in his movement, plays such as the one below:

De’Andre Hunter looked good out on the floor, as did Onyeka Okongwu who even attempted a three-pointer to end the game. Aaron Holiday looked good off the bench, Tyrese Martin came in and hit a shot in his limited time on the floor. The only Hawk I would say really struggled was Frank Kaminsky, with Nate McMillan alluding postgame that those minutes likely would have gone to Jalen Johnson (who did not travel to Abu Dhabi).

McMillan also said after the game that he expected the starters to play a little less on Saturday and more of the camp invites/end of the bench players would see more run on Saturday, so expect to see more action from the likes of AJ Griffin, who only got a minute of action on Thursday.

All-in-all, I think the Hawks can come away from their first preseason games pleased with how the majority of their players played and that’s all you can really ask for at this stage of preseason without getting far too far ahead of matters.

The Hawks (1-0) are back in action in Abu Dhabi on Saturday afternoon.

Until next time...