Fresh off of a USA-worst seventh-place finish in the FIBA World Cup, Gregg Popovich looks to get back to something he has figured out quite a bit better – the NBA. Year after year this man continues to get things done during the regular season. Whether he’s had all-timers like Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobli, or five associates from Home Depot, Popovich doesn’t miss the playoffs.
In fact, since Popovich took over the franchise in 1997-98, he’s yet to miss the postseason. That run, for what it’s worth, is unprecedented. Many thought that after Duncan retired and Kawhi Leonard demanded a trade that it was over, but still the streak remains alive.
Could this upcoming season quite possibly be one of the worst teams Popovich has ever coached? Certainly. But until he actually missed out on the playoffs it’d be smart to hold off on any criticisms. Let’s dive into the San Antonio Spurs and breakdown just what kind of team we have here.
FIVE GUYS THINK…
It’s funny looking back to see that people started to doubt the Spurs making the playoffs. We all make mistakes, but perhaps we shouldn’t make such a claim when Gregg Popovich is the head of the operation. While DeMar DeRozan had his ups and downs, he still was one of the top mid-range assassins in the league. Despite father time creeping up on him, LaMarcus Aldridge continues to stick to what he does best and delivers on a nightly basis. Mix in those wily veterans with an upstart Derrick White and a returning Dejounte Murray, and San Antonio has a shot to be quite a contender (or spoiler) in the Western Conference. That, plus Patty Mills played out of his mind for Australia in the World Cup!
2nd Place – Southwest Division
– Spencer Davies
The Spurs continued rebuild-on-the-fly will be judged more aggressively this season than it was last. Dejounte Murray is set to return following a knee injury that forced him out for the 2018-19 season. And Murray and Derrick White promise to be an exciting and explosive backcourt tandem for years to come – something the Spurs haven’t boasted in a while. Both 2019 first-round picks – Luka Samanic and Keldon Johnson –all project to be nice pros, and the return of their 2018 first-round pick, Lonnie Walker IV, from a 2018 preseason knee injury should also provide an infusion of youth and athleticism. Long story short, the Spurs are well-positioned for the future. But there’s also enough talent on their roster to make some noise in the present. Don’t expect the Spurs to tank or look too far ahead, not with Coach Gregg Popovich at the helm. The Spurs will overperform, per the usual. I expect them to end the season with somewhere around 45 wins, which will be enough to qualify for the playoffs – again.
2nd Place – Southwest Division
– Drew Maresca
The Spurs snuck into the playoffs last season as the eighth seed, one of their lowest finishes in the Gregg Popovich era. Even then, they still pushed the No. 1 seed Denver Nuggets to seven games and had a chance to win Game 7. Popovich is still one hell of a coach and can get the most out of whatever roster he’s given. Whatever player he plugs into the rotation becomes a valuable contributor whether that’s Derrick White, Bryn Forbes, or Davis Bertans. And to be honest, DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge isn’t a bad one-two punch. They added some quality free agents in Demarre Carroll and Trey Lyles, and have some interesting young players in Lonnie Walker IV, Dejounte Murray, and Keldon Johnson. With Pop at the helm, this team will always play bigger than the sum of their parts. There’s no reason why the Spurs shouldn’t continue the league’s longest active playoff streak (22 straight appearances).
2nd Place – Southwest Division
– David Yapkowitz
This is the year, right? This is the year the Spurs fall out of the playoff picture for the 5th time in almost five decades. Even in a loaded Western Conference it just seems implausible to count out the Spurs. They still have two bona fide stars in DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge; they have young guys that look like future stars in Lonnie Walker and Dejounte Murray, and despite being hammered for Team USA they still have Gregg Popovich, which has been enough for more years than anyone can count. This has to be the year, right? Maybe, but I am not willing to bet against them, the Spurs are simply better at this than everyone else.
4th Place – Southwest Division
– Steve Kyler
The Spurs did well to add DeMarre Carroll and Trey Lyles to the roster and re-sign Rudy Gay. With those players, along with DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldrige and hopefully a healthy season for Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Lonnie Walker, the Spurs could find themselves right back in the playoff mix – even in a stacked Western Conference. Others may count the Spurs out this season but I made the decision to stop counting the Spurs out a few years ago and that will not change until Gregg Popovich is no longer San Antonio’s head coach. The Spurs, as currently constructed, don’t have the firepower necessary to make it to the NBA Finals, but no one should be surprised if they are causing mayhem for a Western Conference rival in Round 1 of the 2019-20 postseason.
2nd Place – Southwest Division
FROM THE CAP GUY
The Spurs are one of many hard-capped teams this season. San Antonio triggered the hard $138.9 million spending limit by acquiring DeMarre Carroll in a sign and trade with the Brooklyn Nets. At roughly $123.8 million in guaranteed salary, the team shouldn’t have any issues, given they’re still below the league’s $132.6 million luxury tax threshold.
San Antonio still has $3.8 million of its Mid-Level Exception available, although the roster already has 15 guaranteed players.
Before November, the team needs to decide on Derrick White and Lonnie Walker’s rookie-scale options. Dejounte Murray and Jakob Poeltl are eligible for extensions until the start of the season. The Spurs could have significant cap room next summer, over $60 million, but that number drops considerably if DeMar DeRozan opts in and the franchise holds onto LaMarcus Aldridge, whose $24 million for 2020-21 is only $7 million guaranteed.
– Eric Pincus
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: DeMar DeRozan
Does he still struggle from three? Yes. In today’s NBA, that’s the last thing you want from your biggest offensive threat. Despite his lack of range, DeMar still gets buckets. He has one of the better mid-range games in the league. He’s also solid at finishing at the rim. And speaking on his lack of range, he is very self-aware and won’t take shots he isn’t confident in. In fact, last year he took just 0.6 three-pointers per game, the lowest mark since his rookie season.
He finished last season shooting 67.4 percent within five feet of the hoop, a higher mark than the team’s center LaMarcus Aldridge. This was his first season away from Toronto, but his scoring didn’t really slip too much despite him playing in a completely different system.
Obviously, offense is as much about passing as it is about shooting. DeRozan led the team with 6.2 assists per game, over two assists greater than the next guy. He has great handles, runs the offense fluidly, and has gotten much better at involving the rest of the team. His 6.2 assists per night are a career-high.
DeMar entering his year 30 season isn’t quite yet on the decline, but it feels as if his prime has passed. Regardless of what we’ve seen on the court, DeRozan could be in for a pretty big season. He now has an entire year under his belt with the Spurs and could use that comfort to put up some big numbers under Popovich’s system.
Top Defensive Player: Dejounte Murray
Murray missed all of the 2018-19 season with a knee injury. In his last full season with the Spurs, he had a 98.7 defensive rating, good for fourth on the team. Now, that is normally a stat that is heavily dependent on the team, but Murray was much of the reason that the Spurs had such a good defensive team that season – and largely why they slipped to 20th in the league this past season with his absence.
Dejounte has great length for a guard and is incredibly quick. His lateral speed allows him to stay in front of just about every guard in the NBA. And above all, he has high-level defensive instincts, especially for such a young player.
In his last full season, he averaged 1.2 steals per game on just over 21 minutes of action per night.
It’s true, there isn’t too much tape to go off of for Murray, and it’s definitely up in the air how he’ll return after an ACL tear. But if he returns to the form he had before he hurt his knee, the sky is the limit for his defensive abilities.
Top Playmaker: DeMar DeRozan
Not only will DeMar be San Antonio’s premier scorer this upcoming season, but he will also be their top playmaker. This was touched on during the top offensive player segment, but DeRozan led the team in assists last season and there is zero indication that he won’t do it again. And maybe by even a larger margin.
DeMar led the team in assist percentage last year at 27.7 percent. He also led the team in usage percentage, at 27.7 percent. These statistics show that the offense essentially ran through DeRozan and that any success they have can be pointed back to him.
Top Clutch Player: LaMarcus Aldridge
Aldridge is the de-facto vet on this Spurs roster and with that comes the responsibility of taking late-game shots. Last season, he led the team in games played in clutch situations and had a shooting percentage of 51.7 percent.
Aldridge is incredibly smooth around the rim and his height coupled with his fade-away makes his mid-range shots almost unguardable. This comes in handy when the clock is winding down and San Antonio needs a bucket. DeRozan is the go-to scorer but other teams know this and often put their best defender on him or even double him up at times. This makes Aldridge the next logical choice, as all you need to do is give him the ball and let him go to work.
The Unheralded Player: Patty Mills
This recognition could go to a handful of different players, but no one embodies the traditional Spurs’ mentality quite like Patty Mills.
He checks all the traditional Popovich Spurs’ boxes. International player? Check. Relentless on defense? Check. Does what he’s asked? Check. Ultimate team player? Check.
But in all seriousness, Mills is a great player that often doesn’t get enough credit. He plays at full-throttle every time he is on the court, acting as a menace on defense and a sharpshooter on offense. He took 4.9 three-point attempts per game last year and knocked down 39.4 percent of them.
He’s the ideal bench guy, brings quite a few different tools onto the second unit, and has the ability to go on a heater from three better than about any player in the NBA. He’s embodied everything you’d want in a Popovich player since joining the Spurs eight seasons ago and will continue to leave his mark on the court for at least the foreseeable future.
Best New Addition: DeMarre Carroll
The only man that obviously fits this designation, Carroll will be a huge help for San Antonio this year. Coming off a season where he scored 11.1 points and notched 5.2 rebounds per game, DeMarre brings multiple skills to the table.
He’s a career 36 percent from three, so that should help San Antonio’s three-point game which is very efficient, but super low volume.
Carroll brings quite a bit of size and versatility to San Antonio’s roster and is quite the workhorse on defense. Popovich will be able to plug him into multiple positions and his tenacity on D will certainly bolster the Spurs unit that struggled on that end last season.
Look for Carroll to make an immediate impact on both offense and defense. He’s the ideal type of player for the Spurs’ system and should fit in quite nicely.
– Jordan Hicks
WHO WE LIKE
1. Gregg Popovich
He’s still one of the best coaches in today’s NBA and when it comes down to it might be considered one of the greatest of all time. He hasn’t quite adapted to the modern era, but so far it hasn’t seemed to matter. If you would have given their roster last year to any other coach in the NBA it’s unlikely they even make the playoffs.
Popovich year-after-year churns out wins at an incredible rate and this year shouldn’t be any different. The West as a whole got better, but so did the Spurs. They didn’t lose anyone important and should be much better with Murray back, Carroll on the roster, and a more assimilated DeMar.
2. The Backcourt
While DeMar is the only name that flashes, the Spurs have a really nice backcourt.
Bryn Forbes, Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Patty Mills round out a stellar group of guards that all contain unique skills. And outside of DeMar, they’re all high-level defenders.
DeMar will likely be the biggest threat on offense this upcoming season, barring a surprising rise from White or Murray, but each of these guys will help the Spurs win. Every one of these players would get significant minutes on almost every roster in the league. Look for this group to be a force in the West this season.
3. Rudy Gay
Bringing back Gay will prove to be a huge plus for the Spurs this season. Outside of DeRozan and Aldridge, he was the next biggest threat on offense. Against certain teams, he was often San Antonio’s best bet to get points when needed. He’s big, he has the ability to create his own shot, and he’s actually fit quite nicely into the Spurs’ system.
A major bright spot from last season? Gay knocked down a career-best 40.2 percent of his threes. Another surprising stat? He pulled down a career-best 6.8 rebounds. These alone show that Rudy isn’t necessarily slowing down, so while he’s getting older and less athletic than he once was, he’s clearly finding ways to still bring value to the court.
4. Lonnie Walker IV
The Spurs’ first-round selection from last season has looked really strong this offseason. He’s long, super athletic, and still rocks a PR-worthy haircut. He is really young, so he has lots to learn, but he looks ready to make an impact this season.
– Jordan Hicks
The biggest thing the Spurs have had going for them all these years is the fact that they play team basketball. No one in the league does it better. With the roster they’re bringing into the upcoming season, we have little reason to believe they won’t keep playing in the system.
Led by Gregg Popovich himself, the Spurs employ a system that is hyper-fluid on offense, and incredibly tenacious on defense. They move the ball really well, usually get the shot they want, and always give their best effort.
– Jordan Hicks
Like mentioned earlier, they still haven’t adapted to the modern NBA era. They shot the least amount of three-pointers per game last season, but oddly enough had the highest percentage. It seemed to work out just fine, but eventually, the game will catch up to them.
There’s a reason more-and-more teams keep increasing the number of threes they get up per game because the more you shoot, the more your chances you have of making them. It seems elementary, but threes are worth more than twos, so the more you make, the more points you’ll score. Not to mention, you can draw up so many different types of plays to get open looks from beyond-the-arc. The Spurs have survived thus far, but need to modernize their offense if they want to find championship-level success.
– Jordan Hicks
THE BURNING QUESTION
Do the Spurs still have what it takes to make the playoffs in the somehow-better-than-last-year West?
Honestly, until someone takes their spot, there’s little reason to believe they won’t be back. They’ve now made the playoffs 22 years in a row and have continued to do so even though their original core is now gone.
Popovich is absolutely up for the G.O.A.T. debate and there’s a reason for it. Until the Spurs don’t make the playoffs, it’s safe to assume that they will.
– Jordan Hicks
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