Despite record loss, San Antonio Spurs’ young talents have reason to be optimistic
Entering a third straight missed playoffs, the San Antonio Spurs are 1-4 in the first five games of an 82-game marathon campaign, with minimal expectations to start, including the absence of a star player in the lineup when LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan had assumed that role in the post-Big Three era.
Still, there are plenty of reasons for optimism this early on, with the promise of who have stepped up and stood out as notable players in this lineup.
It starts with the unlikely beneficiary, Jakob Poeltl. Averaging more than 15 points, 10 rebounds and three assists, head coach Gregg Popovich has San Antonio’s offense running through the Austrian big man, which he’s doing better at than anything he’s done in the during his first five NBA seasons.
Is it sustainable? Poeltl never averaged more than nine points, eight rebounds and two assists in a season, but that played a much smaller role. Perhaps Popovich exploited the advantages of another young talent, or simply adjusted his composition to best match what he has in place. Considering the lack of playmakers on the roster, the latter at least partially seems the case.
Dejounte Murray and Derrick White are two of those main Spurs figures, with a combined average of 15.4 assists per game. However, there are also no dynamic scoring threats to further legitimize themselves as multi-faceted playmakers. However, Murray still fills the stat sheet in rebounds (9.2), assists (8.8), steals (2.0) and points (16.8). He only shoots .411/.316/.571, which leaves a lot to be desired, but that’s made up for by a keen sense of defense that stands up to the best in the league. White, too, is shooting a meager line of .421/.280/.778 for 12.4 points that, if sustained, could push him to the bench in favor of Lonnie Walker’s surging power.
The Miami product played with energy and took on a bigger role, despite being one of the first players to come off the bench. 15 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists all mark jumps from his third-year numbers, and 45.8 percent from the field and 36.4 percent on 3-point range are effective numbers. Those stats should all go up as Doug McDermott runs out of time through injury.
The intriguing background to this story is Walker’s restricted free agent status for next summer. No contract extension was agreed before the mid-October deadline, leaving his future up to the organization in question. Hot starts like this at least help his case toward a solid salary, staying in San Antonio or some other organization. If he continues to play well, however, and potentially succeeds in a starting role, it’s easier for Spurs to pay him off and make the young guard a mainstay for another four or five years.
The forwards are perhaps the most telling. Keldon Johnson’s game was expected, with 16.6 points per game, although well behind the arc at 8.3%, which is surprisingly low. Otherwise, two 20-point games are already on his resume, and he should soon find his way to long range and maintain steady production.
Devin Vassell’s step forward has been harder to project, as the Florida State product has doubled his points-per-game average since his rookie season so far, with two 19-point outings. The other nights haven’t been effective enough offensively, but he takes it to the other end of the field. That alone should keep him high on Popovich’s bench rotation, with the possibility of the occasional start. Vassell will continue to grow both ways, and his position at the end of the season will be one of San Antonio’s most interesting storylines.
There are reasons to look ahead with this Spurs side so far. With 77 games remaining, more plot devices will develop to showcase the future of the organization, with the chance to see who leads this roster throughout this decade.