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Bucks Trade Candidate: Dejounte Murray

The biggest name available at the deadline would be difficult—though not impossible—to acquire

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NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Milwaukee Bucks Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

We’re back with another entry in our 2024 trade candidate series with the NBA’s trade deadline one week away, and the Bucks have a pretty good second-round pick burning a hole in their pocket if they want to bring some reinforcements to Milwaukee. We’ve gone over names of varying degrees of fame from Kris Dunn to Bruce Brown, but these might not be the splashiest names. But boy, if the Bucks want to make a splash in the market, there’s no better target than former All-Star Dejounte Murray of the Atlanta Hawks. Sure enough, two weeks ago TNT’s Chris Haynes reported that the Bucks were sniffing around Murray, so some real interest exists from the team. It may seem like a pie in the sky, but GM Jon Horst has certainly pulled rabbits out of hats before when he goes to the trade machine, so is there a way he could make this one happen? And if so, should it even happen?

The Player

Dejounte Murray, 27, 6’5” 180 lb., guard

Season averages: 21.4 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 5.1 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.3 BPG, .469/.388/.830

Let’s make something clear from the start: Murray’s All-Defense and All-Star days are now several years in the past. In fact, his lone Second Team All-Defensive Team appearance was way back in 2018 in his second year as a Spur, before tearing his right ACL in that fall’s preseason and keeping him off the court a calendar year. He did rebound to lead the association in steals two seasons ago, but as he’s popped up in trade rumors this winter, some have questioned his current impact on defense. A few advanced stats say it’s lessened over the past several years and is currently at its lowest point. His on-off numbers don’t look any better, and since teaming up with Trae Young, the Hawks’ defensive rating has actually been slightly better when Murray sits and Young is on the floor.

How much of the backslide is because he’s playing on a pretty terrible defense in Atlanta, next to Young? And would there be any improvement in that part of his game coming to a sketchy Milwaukee defense (at least before the Adrian Griffin firing), pairing with a similarly bad defender in the backcourt? This is the main risk in the deal, in terms of how he’d fit and the cost it would take to acquire him.

Murray is, however, putting together perhaps his finest offensive season as a pro. His percentages from the floor are all career highs, as is his scoring average. Though his per-36 rebounding and assist numbers dropped upon coming to Atlanta the fall after his lone All-Star appearance in 2022 with San Antonio, they’re still great for a backcourt player and his efficiency is way up, comparatively speaking. His 53.7% effective field goal percentage is only slightly above average for guards, but he’d never been above 51.4% before this season. Similarly, while his 56.7% true shooting isn’t anything sexy, it’s league-average for a point guard and a huge jump from last year’s 54%.

As the Hawks’ second-leading scorer, you might think his usage would be correspondingly high, but at 24.9% it’s only slightly above last year’s figure, and 2.4% below his All-Star campaign. He’s taking a similar share of the offensive load as Bogdan Bogdanovic, and he’s south in the rankings of other second fiddles elsewhere like Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Brandon Ingram. While he seems like someone who needs the ball a lot to be effective or miscast as a second option, the numbers could suggest that he’s not so ball-dominant as to tank his efficiency: if he can put up the stats as a secondary ball-handler next to a super ball-dominant player, he has plenty of offensive skill in his own right.

The Trade

This is not easy to accomplish and looks pretty unwieldy, but there is a logic behind everything for each party here, I promise.

Atlanta reportedly seeks two first-round picks in return for Murray, which is reasonable considering they gave up two of them plus a swap to acquire him just nineteen months ago. They’re also likely accepting the fact that they’re not getting a similar return to what they gave up in sending him out. So the firsts they get are potentially both out of the lottery: the Knicks’ unprotected 2026 pick could be anywhere, and the one they receive this year is the worst of four teams’ (the Thunder, Rockets, Clippers, or Jazz), so it will almost certainly come in the late twenties. They do, however, get an expiring salary (Fournier has a team option for next year, a lock to be declined) and two young players: promising young guard Quentin Grimes, who Atlanta is said to be intrigued by (we profiled him as Bucks target last week too) plus human lottery ticket Chris Livingston. All in all, a pretty solid return.

New York is on a roll lately while weathering key injuries in their front court. Julius Randle is slated to miss a couple weeks at least with a dislocated shoulder and Mitchell Robinson might only return late this season. Isaiah Hartenstein has been very solid in the middle, but even with Randle back, the Knicks lack scoring punch among their other bigs. Former Knick Bobby Portis—who the Bucks would essentially have to send out to make salaries match— would make up for that, but the bigger piece here is Bogdanovic. It’s been reported that New York wants another ballhandler behind Jalen Brunson after dealing away Immanuel Quickley, and while Bogdanovic might not seem to fit that bill, he’s a quality secondary ballhandler who regularly posted assist percentages in the high teens in Sacramento. Such a figure would rank third on the current Knicks, so if they entrust him with some initiation, he could deliver.

Toronto is involved for one reason only: to send Atlanta the aforementioned 2024 first-round pick, which seems likely to be Oklahoma City’s. Milwaukee sends them Portland’s 2024 second in return, which is currently pegged at 35th. If the draft were held today, that’s an eight-spot drop into the second round, so they need to be compensated accordingly. Given the high cost of acquiring a player like Murray, MarJon Beauchamp pretty much has to be in the Bucks’ outgoing package, so the Raptors land him for being willing to fall in the draft. Cam Payne heads north to make the salaries work too.

In addition to Murray, Milwaukee also acquires deep-bench point guard Ryan Arciadiacono from New York, who also needs to send out money to make the deal legal. And since the Raptors need to clear a roster spot to accommodate the two players headed their way, little-used veteran Garrett Temple also heads to the Bucks to chase a ring and form an old guy victory cigar duo with Robin Lopez.

The Fit

With Payne being shipped out and a proven NBA point guard coming in, Milwaukee can start Murray over Malik Beasley, line him up off-ball alongside Damian Lillard and turn over the keys to him on the second unit, much like has happened in Atlanta. While yes, that setup hasn’t worked out for the Hawks, Murray won’t be playing alongside Trae Young anymore. Lillard is a more willing passer than Young, who racks up plenty of dimes but dials his own number far too often. Dame was for many years a part of a similar backcourt in Portland with another high-scoring, light-defending guard who needed the ball in his hands: C.J. McCollum. McCollum— who was such a good secondary ballhandler there that he’s now the primary one in New Orleans—enjoyed his best scoring seasons alongside Lillard, who set him up on 629 of his makes. That accounts for 32.5% of all McCollum’s buckets that were assisted by a Blazer teammate. Compare that to Murray’s time with Young, who assisted Murray on 42.6% of his assisted baskets, but 76% of Young’s field goals were unassisted since the two teamed up. Meanwhile, 66.7% of Dame’s career field goals were unassisted.

That’s all well and good, but we know why Murray would be coming to Milwaukee. He would instantly become the best perimeter defender on the Bucks by default, and though he may not be what he once was on that end, his current state is still good enough to significantly improve their point-of-attack defense. We don’t know exactly how Doc Rivers’ scheme will look for the remainder of this season, but with such limited practice time, he’s not going to overhaul anything. The simplicity of throwing a talented on-ball defender at any opposing scoring guard/wing is probably the Bucks’ best bet at present, and Murray fits that bill.

While he’s not very playoff-tested with just five postseason games since 2018, Murray did work his way into the rotation as a 20-year-old rookie with the Spurs, who made the West Finals back in 2017. With his skill set, I think most would be comfortable relying on him for heavy postseason minutes, especially in closing lineups. That’s not the case with Beasley, whose suspect perimeter defense makes him a liability in late-game situations when switched onto or assigned to scoring guards, like Jamal Murray the other night.

In losing Portis, his production off the bench goes with him. Moving Beasley to the second unit ameliorates that to some extent, and while bench scoring is far less important in the postseason, the deal creates a big hole in the frontcourt. Relying on Robin Lopez to be the primary backup at the five is obviously not ideal, so with the two roster spots this deal will create, the Bucks would have to find a backup center. Even with losing Portis’ offense, it might make sense to go with someone more defensively-oriented for that role. With the assets they have left over—Pat Connaughton and their own 2027 second-round pick—they could swing another trade or hope for a big to pop up on the buyout market. Nerlens Noel might be the best name available on the current free agent market.

Let’s close by talking about Murray’s contract. Atlanta inked him to a five-year, $114m extension last offseason last July, including some benefits and a player option for the final season. It takes effect beginning next season, and his salary will range from $24.8m at that point to $30.8m in his option year. That sounds like a lot now, but with the salary cap increasing up to 10% each season as some anticipate, it will not look so bad as a portion of total team salary in a few years. Salaries in the twenties are also eminently tradeable, should the Bucks want to move off him at any point. This deal will take him through the prime of his career, with the ability to opt-out and hit free agency again at age 30.

With the deadline under a week away, we’ll wrap up our Bucks trade candidates early next week with another name or two. Until then, let us know what you think of this possibility. Is it too much for Milwaukee to give up? Do you think one team balks at this offer? How do you feel about Murray?