Trae Young, Dejounte Murray ready to lead Hawks to next level

Trae Young and Dejounte Murray pose during Hawks Media Day Oct. 2. The guards will be key for the team as it prepares to open the 2023-24 season Wednesday in Charlotte. (Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Trae Young and Dejounte Murray pose during Hawks Media Day Oct. 2. The guards will be key for the team as it prepares to open the 2023-24 season Wednesday in Charlotte. (Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com)

As the Hawks look to take a step forward during the 2023-24 season, they will count heavily on guards Trae Young and Dejounte Murray – who remain committed to taking their partnership to the next level as team leaders.

Many had high expectations after Murray arrived in Atlanta before the 2022-23 season after a blockbuster trade with the Spurs. He started 74 games for the Hawks last season, finishing second in scoring, at 20.5 points per game.

Combined with Young’s team-high 26.2 scoring average, the backcourt – at times – appeared to be truly dominant. They showed flashes during the season, including a combined 64 points in the first win for then-freshly hired coach Quin Snyder. They hit a bit of a groove in the postseason with big play after big play while pushing the Celtics – a team expected to sweep them – to six games in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

After a successful first year together, some still wondered if the two ball-dominant players could fit together. The Hawks remained confident that the partnership could work as intended and in July gave Murray a four-year contract extension.

Also in July, Murray attended Young’s wedding in the Bahamas – more personal time with his backcourt mate away from practice and games. They kept lines of communication open through texts and social media throughout the offseason – even when they could not get together for in person meetups.

“I think what I’ve loved seeing the most out of them this offseason is just how much they’ve been communicating with one another, and them sharing with each other, not just who they want to be in this league, but what they want to do together, and how that fits into the greater narrative of who we are,” general manager Landry Fields said of Young and Murray during media day.

Atlanta Hawks guard Dejounte Murray (5) passes to guard Trae Young (11) during the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers in a NBA preseason game at State Farm Arena, Tuesday, October 10, 2023, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

“So, they’ve had a ton of back and forth, had an opportunity to work out with one another, not just here in Atlanta, but you know, outside of Atlanta, as well. So those are all really good indicators for us that they are our leaders on the team, and so for them, they’re going to continue to evolve in their relationships, it’s only going to benefit everybody.”

Not only have Young and Murray worked on their communication this offseason, but they now have the benefit of a system implemented by Snyder, who’s beginning his first full season as head coach. Snyder looks to maximize the strengths of his personnel, and positive steps have been made during the exhibition season.

But both players realize it will be a continuous work in progress, and there’s a long way to go.

“To be honest, our offense hadn’t even been top-notch yet,” Young said. “Like, we’re still like trying to look for each other. We’re still trying to make that extra pass and we’re getting turnovers and we’re turning down good looks, and I think our offense is gonna continue to get better as the season goes on. But our defense was our main focus for the whole training camp, really.”

“We’re getting better as a team,” Murray said. “You just see the hunger from everybody, as individuals and then you bring all those great things together and put it in one pot and, you know, great things happening, and I feel like we’re leaning in the right direction.”

For veteran guard Wesley Matthews, his early takeaway from Young and Murray’s partnership has been their level of confidence even in navigating so many new things. Matthews, who played alongside seven-time NBA All-Star Damian Lillard early in his career, knows a thing or two about making backcourt partnerships work.

“I think that you can take away a lot from preseason because it’s still a game,” Matthews said. “There are still fouls, there’s still refs, there’s still all of that. So what I’m taking away the most is the fact that they’re willing to implement something that’s new and still trusting in the coach’s philosophy, to team philosophy, and giving confidence to everybody else along with trying to navigate themselves to be the All-Star level players that we need them to be.”

As the Hawks move through the regular season, which opens Wednesday, Snyder cautions not to be quick to judge the partnership of Young and Murray.

“Well, I think as much as it is a mistake in my mind to evaluate them or a team based on one year, it’s the same logic that would make you evaluate them on the second year,” Snyder said. “And although, like I mentioned, a reset of some sorts with the group, I think, for both those guys, their growth isn’t going to be linear. There’s gonna be all those moments where it’s harder, and those are the times that you get through it, whatever it is, and I think they’re both committed to doing that. I think our team is committed to doing that.”

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