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The X-Factors: San Antonio

Spencer Davies continues Basketball Insiders’ X-Factor series by taking a dive into a San Antonio Spurs team with more questions than answers.

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We should always read the fine print.

Approximately a month from now, the NBA is planning to resume its season in Orlando. Whether those visions come to fruition is unknown. With a pandemic and racial injustices sweeping the nation (and the world), members of the NBPA have been making their voices heard. There are ongoing negotiations concerning how the league and its players can use such a global platform to speak up and show solidarity with the Black community without compromising such a crucial period to create real change.

Some players are opposed to coming back to playing since sports is such a trivial aspect, while others are on board to harness its ability to unify. All things considered, the power is in their hands regarding how this is all handled. At the same time, there are long-term financial concerns that could stem from a cancelation as well. It’s not an easy situation to navigate, so we’ll see how things turn out in the coming weeks.

Granted the Association does go ahead with its Disney bubble scenario, we at Basketball Insiders are continuing our X-Factor series by looking at the field of 22 who could participate. We’ve done a good chunk of them thus far, so make sure you check those out. Today, we’re going to look at the San Antonio Spurs, one of the Western Conference teams that has to really make noise in order to break into the postseason for the 23rd consecutive year.

Unfortunately for them, it will be without LaMarcus Aldridge. The veteran big man underwent successful surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, leaving him out for the rest of the way. Aldridge made up one half of San Antonio’s top-scoring duo with DeMar DeRozan. His field goal percentage slightly took a hit, but his 38.9 three-point percentage was a career-best. There’s no good in taking away the value of a seasoned veteran in a hunt for the playoffs. Already facing an uphill battle in the race for the eighth seed, the Spurs are going to have to adjust to playing without their seven-time All-Star.

Jakob Poeltl is the only other listed center on the roster. Will he be equipped to handle such a load? Almost certainly not — at least not the way Aldridge plays. Poeltl is more of your traditional big that does the dirty work. He’s got a great frame to set screens and crash the glass. However, his skill set at this time is rather limited to be depended on, especially since he’s only played a hair over 16 minutes per game. We’ll probably see Chimizie Metu pick up some floor time, as well as rookie Luka Samanic, given the situation.

There is a good chance that San Antonio elects to go the small-ball route more often than not. Multi-guard sets won’t necessarily be a bad thing. Derrick White and Dejounte Murray are used to playing together as it is, and that’s one hell of a backcourt combination defensively (if Bryn Forbes doesn’t start). Maybe Trey Lyles will see the floor as a five since his play closest mirrors Aldridge. Even Rudy Gay in the right rotation could be a nice change of pace to speed things up at that position. Whatever way the Spurs mitigate the loss of Aldridge, it’s going to have to be creative.

Perhaps the most obvious X-Factor is DeRozan. We all know that he’s the proverbial head of the snake when it comes to scoring; can he continue to elevate his teammates and play-make the way he has when the opposition keys in on him? He is, after all, a man that loves to rise to the occasion in the biggest moments. Look at the way he’s bounced back from his first season in San Antonio — it’s an impressive line, statistically speaking. He’ll have to keep trusting his teammates to ensure that production carries on. DeRozan is going to be the man again for the first time in a few years, and that’s not an easy task to put on one’s shoulders.

The Spurs’ bench is a key component in their chase. NBA mainstay Patty Mills is a pro’s pro that can erupt for 25 points on any night that he gets hot from deep. Pending on who’s in the first five, Forbes is almost the same way with his jump shot. Veteran swingman Marco Belinelli is always lurking on the perimeter as well.

Do you know who’s capable of a breakout, though? Lonnie Walker. The sophomore wing has displayed plenty of flashes when an opportunity presents itself. As the playing time increases, so do his numbers. He is fearless in attack mode and confident in hoisting triples when he has chances. Let’s not forget about that jaw-dropping athleticism, either. Orlando could be a perfect place for Walker to cap his second season with a bang.

Finally, there’s the leader of the Spurs. We all know him as Gregg Popovich — a five-time NBA champion and three-time Coach of the Year. The question here is whether or not he’ll be on the sidelines to guide his players. Along with Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni and New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry, he is in the advanced age group of coaches who could be considered more high-risk in contracting the coronavirus. If he participates, what ways will he have to adjust his strategy? Will he advise from afar and give the opportunity to his assistants such as Becky Hammon and Tim Duncan? Will he take a chance and be hands-on?

These are questions that we don’t know the answer to yet. You don’t want to halt the development of your rising upstarts, nor do you want to mail it in and finish on a sour note. And yet, you don’t want to cause any kind of harm to yourself or others. It’s not an easy conundrum to fix.

San Antonio does not have an easy road ahead. The team is stuck in a position of uncertainty in more ways than one, and it will have to answer questions on the fly if the organization wants to extend that untouchable playoff streak.

Spencer Davies is a Deputy Editor and a Senior NBA Writer based in Cleveland in his third year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past five seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.

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