The Atlanta Hawks’ backcourt pairing of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray has not turned out to be the success story the front office envisioned. Atlanta currently sits 12th in the Eastern Conference with a record of 14-21: 6.5 games out of a guaranteed playoff spot. With the Feb. 8 trade deadline a month away, the Hawks might decide to retool the roster around Young. According to Yahoo Sports Senior NBA Reporter Jake Fischer, Murray draws interest from multiple teams, such as the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks. This article examines why Atlanta could trade Murray and reap the returns from organizations interested in the star guard.
A Questionable Defensive Fit
Fans must look beyond the stat sheet to examine Murray’s defensive impact. It is no secret the star guard is one of the league’s best in intercepting passes to create an easy transition offense for his squad. He ranks 11th in the NBA with 1.5 steals per game. However, when General Manager Landry Fields traded for Murray, Hawks fans believed they received an excellent point-of-attack (POA) defender next to Young. Unfortunately, this failed to materialize.
Murray struggles to keep smaller, quicker guards in front of him on the perimeter, as do many players on the Hawks’ roster. Trent Forrest is the best POA defensive option on the squad, and he is on a two-way contract due to his offensive limitations. Combined with Young, Atlanta’s starting backcourt has not put up enough resistance to contain the ball and keep opponents from driving into the paint. Murray’s steals provide significant value to the Hawks’ high-octane offense, but that should not be the priority when he has poor defenders around him.
Fitting the System
Murray is having a solid year offensively, averaging over 20 points per game with five assists. He is shooting a career-high in three-point attempts and volume at 38%, taking over six shots from deep per game. Murray’s increased three-point threat stems from Head Coach Quin Snyder emphasizing the importance of spacing and three-point volume. This is not his natural strength, which lies in snaking pick-and-roll and taking advantage of his elite mid-range shooting.
When Murray first arrived in Atlanta, Nate McMillan was the head coach. Murray matched McMillan’s playstyle with his mid-range ability and slower pace. However, Snyder’s offensive system is a polar opposite of McMillan’s. Murray has adjusted well, but it does not allow him to play to his greatest strengths. He plays the majority of his minutes as a shooting guard next to Young, forcing him off the ball. If Murray asked to be traded behind the scenes, it could be due to his inability to maximize his strengths with the current roster and coach.
Murray to the Bright Lights of Los Angeles
Reports surfaced about the Lakers showing interest in acquiring Murray since D’Angelo Russell is not performing up to their expectations. Murray could serve as a connector between LeBron James and Anthony Davis, providing a steady offensive organization when James is off the floor. Many rumored trade packages include Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura returning to Atlanta, even though Los Angeles said they were hesitant to include Reaves in a trade package earlier this season. While Reaves provides great floor spacing, shooting, and playmaking, Murray also excels in those areas. Reaves fits better offensively than Murray, but the Hawks rank sixth in offensive rating and 28th in defensive rating. Murray is still the better defender compared to Reaves. Hachimura’s size and toughness could help the Hawks’ small backline issues without De’Andre Hunter, but it does not address the lack of perimeter defense.
Young guard Max Christie has a promising defensive upside. He blocks shots well for a guard, and his 6-foot-6-inch frame, combined with lateral quickness, could help Atlanta solve some of the issues at the POA in the future. However, unlike other returns, this deal does not include any draft capital or provide an immediate remedy to the Hawks’ defensive problems. Since Fischer reported Atlanta might be sellers at the deadline to retool around Jalen Johnson and Young, they might want younger players who are ready to contribute and draft capital to have flexibility moving forward.
Murray Heads to New York
The Knicks traded for OG Anunoby to spotlight their buying efforts to compete. Pairing Murray with Jalen Brunson allows Murray to play his natural point guard position, shifting Brunson off the ball. Brunson flourished in this role with Luka Dončić on the Dallas Mavericks, and the Knicks desperately need perimeter weapons off the bench without Immanuel Quickley.
Deals have included Quentin Grimes, Evan Fournier, and two first-round picks heading to Atlanta for the star guard. Grimes is especially intriguing for the Hawks due to his size, screen navigation, great defense, and perimeter offensive threat. He fits seamlessly next to Young with this strong POA defense and 6-foot-5-inch frame.
Hawks fans can I interest you in Quentin Grimes pic.twitter.com/zGwHpcuTWM
— joe schmidt (@Joe_Schmidt07) January 10, 2024
Grimes defended Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell well on the way to a 4-1 series victory for New York last postseason. He attacks closeouts, punishing defenders who over-commit to his three-point shot. While Fournier serves as contract filler, the two first-round picks are valuable for Atlanta, recuperating some of the assets they gave up for Murray two off-seasons ago. This deal trumps the Lakers package due to the draft capital and the young, NBA-ready Grimes.
The Hawks Are Ready For a Change
Fischer made it clear that Johnson and Young are the only two “untouchables” as the NBA nears the Feb. 8 trade deadline. He also reported the Hawks are considering “taking a step back” and reloading for next season. If that is the case, this team may look a lot different after the deadline. This next month promises to be a wild ride for Hawks fans as the trade buzz surrounding Murray and others grows larger by the day.
Michael Kobrinsky is a writer for Back Sports Page. He studied communication and journalism at North Carolina State University and graduated in May of 2023. Michael lives in Atlanta, GA, and primarily writes basketball content for Back Sports Page. Outside of a career in writing, you can find him playing golf, basketball, and video games. Follow Michael on Twitter: https://twitter.com/pinwizard300.
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