Hawks look for leaders in crunch time, Dejounte Murray may be emerging as one

With seven games under their belt, the Hawks still are in search of that guy who can be that voice in the huddle when things get tough. So far, two players have emerged in that role, and one of them may be someone new to the team.

Hawks coach Nate McMillan would not name names when asked who those players are. But Dejounte Murray has been vocal about his willingness to hold his teammates accountable until everyone is on the same page.

Following Monday night’s 139-109 loss to the Raptors, Murray said that he’s not one to shy away from addressing it. He spoke up in the locker room following the game. In addition to that, he’ll be the first to listen to the criticism that the coaches provide.

“I’m always taking it on the chin, taking accountability, because that will just make, you know, my teammates understand that they will hold me accountable, and that’s really what it is,” Murray said following the game. “It’s a long season, and you never get too high, you never get too low and you stick together no matter what.”

Murray’s teammates have noticed that he’s willing to take as much as he can dish, and that’s the sort of leadership that has gained the 26-year-old guard respect in the locker room.

“Holding yourself accountable shows you’re a good leader,” Hawks forward Justin Holiday said. “You know, not pointing the finger at others and showing, ‘(I) make mistakes. And I’m, I can be wrong, too. But then this is the right way to do it,’ shows a good leader, you know, so having that is, I think, very, very important. And, again, like I said, it’s refreshing because, you know, me being the person that does and will speak up and tries to do things the right way is good when you have those guys in that position to do that as well.”

In addition to that, the Hawks as a whole have made sure that they keep the dialogue totally open so that everyone’s voices are heard.

The Hawks have fallen to a 4-3 record and have lost two consecutive games, and following Monday’s loss, they have the sixth-worst defensive rating in the NBA. Now, they look to finish their road trip above .500 when they take on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.

More than anything, with a couple of vocal leaders emerging among the team, the Hawks look to continue to solidify their defensive identity. The Hawks, of course, acquired Murray from the Spurs in an effort to beef up their defensive presence.

So far, Murray has played as advertised on defense. He currently ranks tied for ninth in the league in steals per game, averaging two takeaways per contest. He averages roughly four deflections per game, and when his defense doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, he still has made a noticeable impact.

Now, the Hawks want that effort on defense to trickle down to the rest of the roster on a consistent basis. As the team continues to play together, the Hawks expect their chemistry on both ends of the floor to solidify.

“It should get better,” McMillan said. “We expect it to get better. But you know, it’s also a commitment to making it better, you know, so and not, you know, having moments where we’re doing it right, and doing it together, that we are consistent.”

So after playing with little urgency Monday night, the Hawks will try to make sure the energy isn’t lacking when they face the Knicks on Wednesday. They also will look to remain in front of the ball, as well as challenge the Knicks, which rank second in the NBA in rebounding, on the glass.

“Well, just I mean, we’ve been saying this from day one,” McMillan said. “In order for us to have success, our defense must improve and get better. And, we’re showing that we can put the ball in the basket. But defensively we have to be better on that defensive end of the floor and more consistent on the defensive end of the floor to really take that next step.”