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Hawks pursuit of a “second star” results in the acquisition of Dejounte Murray

What will the Young and Murray combo look like?

Atlanta Hawks v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

It was reported on Wednesday that a deal between the Atlanta Hawks and San Antonio Spurs to move All-Star guard Dejounte Murray to Atlanta in exchange for Danilo Gallinari and three future first-round picks (2023 via Charlotte, 2025, 2027) as well as a pick swap (2026). The 2025 and 2027 picks are unprotected.

It unquestionably a bold move as teams essentially don’t trade fully unprotected picks anymore. But Trae Young, continuing his ascension as a star in the league, is about to enter his fifth season and the first in which he will play on a max contract. Star players, these days, expect their teams to put the right players around them.

Whether one considers Murray to be an adequate “second star” for his new team is likely to depends on one’s definition of a star player. But he should reliably move the needle in a couple of key areas.

Despite functioning as the second most efficient offense in the league last season, the Hawks had to win two play-in games just to get into the playoffs. Their most consistently weak area of play was defending at the point of attack. And Murray will immediately become their best defender in that area.

He’s an incredibly disruptive defender using elite length, quickness, and intelligence to harass ball handlers. Additionally, he led the NBA in steals last season and helped San Antonio perform well in transition, despite playing as part of lineups full of young players.

Murray will provide further value as a rebounder, an area where the Hawks need more contribution from guards and wings, especially when Onyeka Okongwu is playing at center. Among guards in the league, only Luka Doncic grabbed more boards last season on a per game basis.

How Atlanta head coach Nate McMillan deploys Murray on defense will be a factor regarding exactly what of value he generates on that end of the court. The Hawks could use him to consistently defend the opposing team’s point guard when they play in a traditional man-to-man scheme. Given his immense versatility, he should also function well in their switching-based schemes. Their favorite, in recent seasons, being switching 1-4.

Depending on other roster decisions, next season the Hawks could consistently deploy an elite rim protector along with an elite on-ball defender.

It is plainly obvious, however, that no team makes a deal of this magnitude without expecting major contributions on both ends of the court. Where Murray should make the biggest impact as an offensive player is attacking seams on the weak side that are created because of all the attention Young demands at the point of attack.

Atlanta’s young wings in recent seasons have had success in a number of areas, but the one in which they collectively struggled the most is in driving the ball to the rim with aggression and confidence. There is likely to be much discussion in the coming days about Murray’s lack of perimeter shooting prowess (career 33% shooter from the three-point line). But he was top-10 in the league last year in drives per game and points scored on drives per game. And that performance came on a team that struggled to provide him adequate spacing. San Antonio was league average shooting from the three-point line while the Hawks had the second-best mark in the NBA.

It remains to be seen how much shooting they will bring back to the roster next season, especially with Gallinari on the move already. But if the Hawks put shooting at the power forward position, which will depend to a degree on whether they end up moving John Collins, Murray should have plenty of opportunities to attack the paint with his dribble.

Another important consideration regarding the acquisition of Murray is that the Hawks had the lowest turnover mark in the league last season. This is especially critical considering that its hard to build lineups, that include Young, that can hold up well in transition defense. A team generally needs size and athleticism to perform well getting back. Murray is an incredibly secure ball handler. This will benefit Atlanta in a number of ways, including reducing the ball handling workload of Young.

Young’s workload could additionally benefit because Murray can initiate the offense as the primary creator, both when Young is off of the court or playing off ball. He graded in the 60th percentile as a pick and roll ball handler last season and that was with average shooting and average, at best, finishing from his Spurs teammates.

Young is an exceptional shot maker in catch and shoot opportunities. And so long as he is willing to buy into more of that, Murray should help him generate more chances to create points in one of his most productive ways to score the ball.

Murray is on an attractive contract lined up to make roughly $34M over the next two seasons. With this kind of trade, of course, one would expect Atlanta to want to invest in him beyond that. And Murray, from his view, is likely eyeing a robust contract. He will play next season at age 26 (Young will be 24), so there is no obvious concern about his age, anticipated peak, and the like.

Murray will, of course, start next to Young in the backcourt. And that may have implications regarding what they might (or might now) do with Kevin Huerter and Bogdan Bogdanovic. Either could be moved for cap and/or tax relief purposes. But Murray should probably play at point guard every minute Young is off the court. As such, Atlanta needs to craft a second unit that has sufficient shooting. This could be a tough task depending on how they pursue other roster decisions.

From my view, the addition is excellent. The fit is attractive. It’s undoubtedly an upgrade the roster in general that, specifically, provides impact in areas of need. The process by which they acquired him, pointing at the unprotected picks, is unorthodox in this day and fair to question. Only time will tell if the organization’s calculation around that part of the deal will prove out.