San Antonio Spurs: Who will back up LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol?
By Rob Wolkenbrod
The San Antonio Spurs’ depth at power forward and center is somewhat of an unknown for the 2017-18 season.
The San Antonio Spurs let go of Dewayne Dedmon and David Lee in the offseason, two players that filled backup roles at center and power forward. They were behind Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge.
To replace them, the Spurs signed Joffrey Lauvergne and gave power forward Matt Costello a two-way deal. It means Costello will only be allowed on the NBA roster for a handful of time, limiting a role for him in the 2017-18 season.
This leaves San Antonio’s depth at the four and five in question. There are solutions on the roster, though, that can play these spots if the organization doesn’t make another move. Who does this include?
Davis Bertans will be back for a second season with the San Antonio Spurs. It’s one that will see him on a one-year deal, with the opportunity to be a restricted free agent after the 2017-18 campaign.
In Bertans’ first season, he displayed the knack for the 3-point shot he was known for overseas. He finished with a 39 percent mark from behind the arc, and made for a solid option as a stretch four. He was nothing more than that, however.
As a stretch four, Bertans backed up the power forward position. He doesn’t provide the physicality to battle and rebound, which could be an issue for the 2017-18 season, with David Lee no longer in the fold. The Spurs could expect Bertans to be more physical in his development as a player, so it will be interesting to see what happens.
Either way, this Latvian big man will be in the center and power forward rotation, due to the lack of bodies around him. He should see more than the 12.1 minutes per game he averaged last season, potentially nearing 17 or 18. It’s a steady increase for someone that’s still just 24-years-old. A bigger role will be there for him unless something changes.
Next: Joffrey Lauvergne
Joffrey Lauvernge is the only true center/power forward the San Antonio Spurs have to back up Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge. It’s a concern, not only due to the lack of depth but the three-year history of this NBA journeyman.
Lauvergne is hardly a rim protector, something that will be missed off the bench. Through 153 games, he has just 0.2 blocks per game. It’s a change from Dewayne Dedmon, who put up nearly one block per game in the 2016-17 season.
Is there anything to tap into with Lauvergne, though? In his rookie season playing just 24 games, he averaged 0.4 blocks per game in just 11.2 minutes. It’s a small sample size and maybe just an anomaly, but do the Spurs see something more in him?
Aside from this, Lauvergne’s shooting touch has developed over the past two seasons. He shot 33 percent from behind the arc this past spring, a career high. So, look for him to stretch the floor for the Spurs, with the ability to fight under the boards.
If this Frenchman becomes the primary backup at center, then his progress will be something to watch for this season. San Antonio found a hidden gem in Dedmon last year, so will they replicate this?
Next: Kyle Anderson
Out of the potential backups at power forward and center, Kyle Anderson has the most experience on the San Antonio Spurs at three years. He was drafted in 2014 and has played multiple positions for the team.
Anderson stands at 6-foot-9 but flashes the ability to distribute, shoot and rebound. He doesn’t do any of these at a high level, but good enough to be versatile. That lets the Spurs play him at guard, small forward and power forward.
Anderson isn’t the ideal power forward, but can be used in smaller lineups because of his height. It may not be often, either, with the 14.3 minutes per game for his career.
However, with a lack of big man depth, what if Gregg Popovich turns to the UCLA product more often, to be one of the on-court lineup’s biggest players? He wouldn’t be the stretch four Davis Bertans is or the big body of Joffrey Lauvergne’s, but someone that can do a little bit of everything to help the team in his brief in-game stint. That may prove to be valuable in an important season for Anderson.
So, Anderson may not play power forward all the time, but for a lineup that may get creative next season, look for him to become even more versatile.
Next: Rudy Gay
Rudy Gay isn’t a power forward. He’s not shooting guard, either. He’s the standard small forward that has athleticism but won’t overwhelm you with it, with the ability to shoot well and grab a few rebounds per game. That’s how almost every small forward looked about 11 years ago, when Gay entered the NBA.
In 2017, Gay profiles more as an undersized four in a lineup.
The NBA’s shift toward smaller lineups and positionless play didn’t have a big effect on Gay for the past few seasons, but it came on lowly Sacramento Kings teams. Now that he’s on the Spurs, projected to be one of the Western Conference’s top squads (as usual), that will change.
There’s a chance Gay won’t crack the starting lineup to open the season. More often than not, Patty Mills, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge should occupy these spots. With the recovery from an Achilles rupture, it should make the Spurs reluctant to use him heavily like this to open the fall.
With Leonard likely to see 30-35 minutes per game while a cast of players rotates through point and shooting guard, it leaves Gay to take those backup minutes at the three spot. He will come in for either Gasol or Aldridge when they first go to the bench and provide the stretch four ability the previously-noted backups at the four and five have.
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Look for Gregg Popovich to use Gay all over the place as the sixth man, with a potential emphasis as a backup power forward in a smaller lineup.