The San Antonio Spurs enter the new season with back-to-back records of 32-39 and 33-39. After decades of superstars and championships and playoff appearances, the Spurs find themselves in a new era of forging an identity out of newer building blocks. Watching Gregg Popovich now is eerily similar to watching Bill Belichick coach the Patriots without Tom Brady. What Pop and Bill don’t know about their respective sports could be collectively stuffed in a gnat’s ear.
This year’s Spurs team will also be reminiscent of a college team with a couple of solid seniors and a majority of somewhat talented sophomores. There’s plenty of talent to be competitive, but not yet enough developed talent to be transcendent. So, while the Spurs may not dominate, it should be a lot of fun watching the players develop while Popovich applies his considerable knowledge. Here is this year’s featured cast.
With DeMar DeRozan gone, this year’s version of the San Antonio Spurs will be wide open with opportunities for points and assists. Actually, desperately hoping people step up might be the more apt description. Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Keldon Johnson seem poised to do just exactly that. All three players are young, improving, and balanced. All three could easily have career seasons in points, assists, and rebounds. Murray, 25 years old for most of the season, should be the primary point guard. White, at 27 years of age, will play the shooting guard roll. Keldon Johnson, youngest of the trio at 22, picks up the primary small forward duties. The continued drive and development of this trio will be one of the 2 or 3 biggest factors in the Spurs push toward .500 and beyond.
The next tier of players for the San Antonio Spurs begins with Lonnie Walker. Whether he starts or not is hardly relevant. Pitching in 11.2 PPG last year, his continued role as 6th man/quasi starter will be significant. At the big man spot, aka center, Jakob Poeltl returns with size, rebounding, and 8.6 PPG. Thaddeus Young and Doug McDermott are the new veterans. Playing the wings, whether they start or not, both are sturdy and productive. Both have frequently averaged double digits in points for most of their careers. Young will add an extra layer of defense while McDermott has been a career 3point specialist.
Rookies Joe Wiskop from Iowa and Joshua Primo from Alabama will be fighting for a spot in a rotation that is deep and balanced, but not overwhelmingly talented. Quasi-rookie Jock Landale might make the more immediate splash with size (6-11) and 3pt ability (39% last year), with most of his playing time coming in Australia.
And . . . still more
Players the San Antonio Spurs have drafted in past seasons who will also be looking to increase their playing time include Devin Vassel, Drew Eubanks, and Luka Semanic. Vassel and Eubanks, when they played at all last year, averaged 17.0 and 14.0 minutes per game. Even if their major contribution is in the second night of back-to-backs, the minutes could be significant over the cours of the year.
Gone are the aforementioned DeRozan with his considerable points and assists contribution; Patty Mills, excellent bench player for a decade; LaMarcus Aldridge, with his size, points, and rebounding; Rudy Gay, with his experience and points. The San Antonio Spurs can probably replace most of the production, but can the new mix be cohesive enough to increase the win total?
The Spurs don’t have much standout individual defensive talent, but, as a group last year, they were still middle of the pack. They don’t have anyone who would register for sure in the NBA’s top ten in 3pt percentage, but at least 7 of the players would easily register in the top 30% in the NBA in 3pt percentage. While the roster lacks star talent, there is balance everywhere, in almost every category. Vegas and most analysts do not project this year’s team to be in the playoffs, but there’s enough talent and character and coaching expertise to make it fun watching them try.
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