With Terry Rozier reportedly traded from the Hornets to the Heat, that’s one less option for the Lakers, making Dejounte Murray the best player available given that the Zach LaVine trade is viewed as having a ‘zero percent chance’ of happening.
It’s been reported the Lakers have discussed a trade with the Hawks centered around D’Angelo Russell and the 2029 first-round pick for Murray, but that trade has yet to occur given the Hawks’ reluctance to take on Russell and his player option for next season.
If the two sides agree and the Lakers pull off the deal for Murray, how would he fit with the Lakers and more importantly, does it get them closer to a title?
Let’s take a closer look.
Offensively, by the numbers, Murray has a slight edge over Russell, averaging 21.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 5.0 assists compared to the Laker guard’s 16.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists.
As a ball handler, Murray is a magician. He works phenomenally on the pick-and-roll actions, understanding when to drive to the rim and can execute passes to the rolling big as a lob, pocket pass, or bounce. He shoots 48.9% from the mid-range, adding another weapon to his arsenal many modern players have all but abandoned.
Dejounte Murray pick and roll pick your poison to start the game— Tom Petrini (@RealTomPetrini) February 26, 2022
Murray’s biggest weakness on the offensive side of the ball has to be his off-ball play. He tends to stand around a lot and struggles with catch-and-shoot attempts. Per NBA.com’s track data, Murray shoots 38.3% on catch-and-shoot opportunities compared to Russell, who converts on 46.4% of those shots.
That’s a problem on a James-led team because he still likes to bring the ball upcourt often, especially in playoff settings and Austin Reaves also works as a ball-handler occasionally.
If Murray is going to be a net positive for the Lakers compared to Russell being on the team, these numbers will have to improve, or his time off-ball will have to decrease. The idea might be for Murray to be a more traditional point guard for the Lakers, but even if that assumption is true, being good off-ball will matter.
Dennis Schröder dealt with this during his Lakers tenure and improved throughout his time in Los Angeles. One of his biggest plays as a Laker was a catch-and-shoot three versus the Minnesota Timberwolves to help the Lakers win their play-in matchup.
Defensively, there’s no debate Murray is an upgrade from Russell. He’s a faster defender, fights well over screens and is one of the best thieves in the league, averaging 1.3 steals per game.
His help defense is stellar and his communication with teammates will hopefully translate to the West Coast as the Lakers tend to fall apart defensively, which is one of the main reasons Los Angeles gives up the fifth most 3-point attempts in the league.
With Murray taking on those guard assignments, the Lakers can do more switching on defense and no team will be targeting Murray defensively, as he’s unlikely ever to be the weakest defender on the floor for the purple and gold.
That matters in a conference with plenty of elite guards and wings. We saw how that could negatively impact the Lakers last season when Russell was being picked by the Nuggets so much that they had to bench him for Game 4 in an attempt to avoid elimination.
Now, I’m not saying with Murray, the Lakers would’ve won that series, but it takes one of the Lakers’ problems off the table and gives them a backcourt with at least one solid defender compared to now, where they have two weak defenders starting in Reaves and Russell.
Dejounte Murray's defense on this possession is very impressive pic.twitter.com/FpjwxXovBO— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) September 17, 2019
While Murray solves the defensive issue, Russell is elite offensively. He fits perfectly with Anthony Davis in the pick-and-roll and is one of the reasons Davis has had such a stellar consistent season for the Lakers.
Murray will struggle to match Russell’s passing ability and the monster games he can have like the 34-point performance he recently had against the Trail Blazers.
At best, Murray gives the Lakers a better guard on both ends of the floor and a player with a much higher defensive floor. At worst, it’s a marginal improvement that may not move the needle enough to warrant giving up a 2029 first-rounder.
An even worse scenario is if the Lakers give up Rui Hachimura and Austin Reaves in a deal. That’s too many quality rotation players and if they execute a deal like that, it cancels out Murray’s positives with what’s lost in the deal. So far, the Lakers consider Reaves untouchable, so fans shouldn’t worry too much about the Lakers selling the farm for a bigger hog.
Murray’s talent is undeniable and if he pans out, it will give the Lakers stability in a position they’ve struggled to solidify. There’s enough good for fans to be excited about him joining the team and helping the Lakers go on another playoff push for a title.
The devil is in the details and vice president and general manager Rob Pelinka will have to work his magic to make sure he gets the upgrade he desires without jeopardizing the future or damaging the positive aspects of the present.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.