LAS VEGAS -- Dejounte Murray coughed into a cupped hand over his mouth, reflecting back on the hoops crash course he has taken over the first two days of Las Vegas Summer League.
In connecting on only 3 of 11 shots for 18 points to go with an assist, 10 rebounds and 5 turnovers in San Antonio's 63-61 win Saturday against the Golden State Warriors, Murray finds himself in a situation that occurs fairly regularly for new Spurs. The No. 29 overall pick in the draft, Murray is toeing the fine line between maintaining his own basketball identity, while learning to play the San Antonio Spurs' way.
"They still tell me to be myself, [but] just play the right way. The Spurs way," Murray said. "I know what type of ball they play because I've watched them over the years starting with the NBA team, and this is the summer league team. Everybody here is trying to get on the floor in the regular season. So it's not hard. I'm just going out, [doing] whatever they tell me to do, and I'm learning the system practice by practice, and I'm going out and executing in the games."
Murray pieced together a brilliant summer league debut Thursday in Utah, and showcased all of the qualities that led many pundits to call the 19-year-old as the potential steal of the class. Murray cut through the defense, seemingly at will, on the way to scoring 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field to go with five rebounds.
Two days later, in Murray's Las Vegas Summer League debut, the rookie came back down to earth. Murray missed his first two attempts against the Warriors, and didn't nail his first basket until the 7-minute mark of the second quarter. By then, Murray had already pulled down three of his team-high 10 boards.
"He's got a lot of raw talent," Spurs assistant Becky Hammon said. "He's only 19. So we're trying to rein him in a little bit, but still give him freedom to be who he is as well as [him going] through the summer learning our system, and getting him in a good foundation to move forward so that he's ready to hit the ground running in November."
Rising second-year man Jonathon Simmons understands intimately what Murray is experiencing as the Spurs treated him similarly when he first came aboard. Simmons finished as the MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League championship game, and parlayed that into meaningful minutes off the Spurs' bench during the 2015-16 regular season.
"He's good. He's young. He's got a lot to learn just like all of us do at that age," Simmons said. "But I see some potential in him for sure. He's quick and athletic for sure. Everything else will come, especially within this system; learning how to play, positioning, and all that. There's definitely potential with the athleticism and the ballhandling."
Still, Simmons admits he hasn't offered much advice to Murray, joking that he'll "let [Spurs coach Gregg] Pop[ovich] do that." Simmons says he knows what Murray is experiencing, and admits that there "definitely has to be a fine line because of the way we play."
"We play with the pass, and we execute," Simmons further explained. "You definitely have to find a way to find shots within the offense because there's not a lot of one-on-one basketball here."
Was it a difficult adjustment for Simmons?
"It was a good adjustment," Simmons said. "Everybody looks good when you're winning. So if guys are willing to make sacrifices to win, then that makes the transition a lot easier."
That's why the Spurs' brass believes so strongly in Murray's potential transition, which ultimately could be fast-tracked to put him in a position to actually contribute as a rookie. Just days after the Spurs drafted Murray they brought him to San Antonio to work with shooting coach Chip Engelland, the man responsible for Kawhi Leonards ascent as a sharpshooter. Murray and Engelland spent the next week and a half working as the summer league approached with the rookie throwing up countless shots.
"He's an athletic guard," Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said. "Pretty good in transition. He needs help finishing, and this is a developmental piece. We'll know a lot more about him after this summer."
During Murray's short time with the Spurs, they've identified shooting and lack of strength as his main weaknesses to focus on improving.
"I'm a dude that loves to work. So me and him are gonna go right along with each together and get along well," Murray said. "I'm just ready to work. He told me to be ready to work. So I'm just looking forward to it."
Hammon is, too, because she says she expects the experience Murray will gain in the summer league to help him gain more confidence, while also boosting the coaching staff's belief in the rookie's ability to contribute in the most difficult moments.
"He's a tough kid," Hammon said. "I think he's a tough kid mentally. He wants to be coached. He wants to get better. So we're gonna do that for him."
In the meantime, don't expect Murray to walk around complaining about his head spinning from all the learning because that's simply not what's taking place.
"Absolutely, I'm learning a lot of things," he said. "I'm learning to play their system, learning to pace myself at the right pace, shooting the right shots, decision making. I'm just improving every single day starting with practice, shootarounds; just picking the coaches' brains, and trying to learn the system because the Spurs' system is a together system. But defense [is] first. [That] gets you on the floor. Other than that, it's a pass-first team. So I'm just trying to be a pro at the game, and get into the style of this team. It's not a lot to learn. I'm a basketball player. All it is is just listening, and going out and doing it. I'm just trying to take in whatever they say, and then go out on the court and do it."