Tuesday, June 02, 2009

2008-09 Season Review: Ronald "Flip" Murray

Previously: Rick Sund, Mike Woodson, Joe Johnson, Mike Bibby, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Marvin Williams

It seemed like a horrible idea at the time, but signing Flip Murray to a 1-year, $1.5 million contract proved to be one of the most cost-effective free agent signings of the season. Credit for that goes to Murray, to Rick Sund, and to Mike Woodson. Murray's successful season provides a rare example of Mike Woodson making an adjustment to accommodate a player's strengths and limit the potential damage of his weaknesses.

After a hot start to the season, Murray struggled from mid-November to the end of 2008 his game marked most prominently by futile forays into the lane that would culminate with him losing possession of the ball in such a manner as to invariably open a debate over whether his final act of the possession had a been a hopeless shot attempt or a terrible pass. Then, as 2009 dawned Murray stopped trying to play a traditional point guard role in relief of Mike Bibby, eliminated the shoot/pass dilemma from his mind, and focused on scoring.

Murray's assist rate dropped but his turnover rate dropped far more precipitously as he pulled off the tremendously valuable feat of simultaneously increasing his shot attempts and field goal percentage. Murray isn't a point guard. Once he stopped trying to be something he's not, he flourished being himself, backing down then shooting over smaller defenders and capitalizing in transition.

Now, it must be said, especially as thoughts turn from Flip Murray, commendable 2008-09 Atlanta Hawks sixth man, to Flip Murray, unrestricted free agent, that Murray flourished in no small part by being something he is not, or at least, had not been before his age-29 season: a high percentage shooter.


Murray augmented a typical two-point shooting season by shooting a lot of three-pointers (28.2% of his career total), making an unprecedented percentage of those shots, and shooting a career-high percentage from the free throw line.

Can he come close to doing this again?

I think it's perfectly reasonable to expect Murray to make just under 45% of his two-point field goals and a bit over 70% of his free throws. His future three-point percentage, though, has to be considered a wild and vitally important variable about which we must consider the following:
  1. The limited evidence of 858 three-point attempts over seven seasons.
  2. Consecutive seasons posting a career-high three-point percentage (31.7% in 2007-08, 35.1% over the last two seasons).
  3. Assuming he made a higher percentage of his three-point shots last season for some tangible reason was it because he's improved as a shooter or because he got higher percentage looks, and, if it's the latter how much of that credit should go to Murray and how much to Mike Bibby and/or Joe Johnson?
  4. Murray set career high shooting marks in the playoffs.
  5. Those career highs were as such: 38.3 2PTFG%, 28.0 3PTFG%.
It's folly to pay a role player coming off a career year as if the career year represents his true talent level. This is even more true if the role player is turning 30 and has been deemed expendable by four teams in the three preceding years. Perhaps, the Hawks have figured out how to get the best out of Flip Murray. That's great in and of itself but should not blind the Hawks to Murray's presumably lesser value to other teams and the contract offer (if any) should reflect that circumstance.

And, if 2008-09 was simply a case of everything falling into place for six magical months, the Hawks surely don't want to postpone further the development of a long-term solution for the point guard position by waiting for a player who will never be a starting point guard in the NBA to recapture that magic. For the right price and with a strong backup plan in place Flip Murray could again be a useful bench player for the Hawks. Counting on him to anchor the bench as well as he did in 2008-09 through 2010 or beyond strikes me as a risky proposition.

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