San Antonio Spurs: The 8 most important players of 2017
By Dylan Carter
With the 2017 NBA Season rapidly approaching, the San Antonio Spurs continue to build their new-look roster. Who will have the biggest impact on this season?
General Manager R.C. Buford and Head Coach Gregg Popovich extended out of their respective comfort zones this offseason. The tandem sought talent in ways San Antonio has never done before.
First off, the team let many of their role players leave in Free Agency. Dewayne Dedmon and Jonathon Simmons found hefty contracts outside of San Antonio, which Buford was unwilling to pay. Instead, he found new talent on more favorable contracts in Rudy Gay and Joffrey Lauvergne.
Because of this, San Antonio’s roster has changed immensely. As new faces and old return for another exciting season of Spurs basketball, one may ask who the most important players of the season will be.
Whether it be a star like Kawhi Leonard or a role player like Kyle Anderson, everyone on the Spurs roster is vital to the team’s success. With that being said, here are the team’s top most important players of the 2017-2018 season.
Tony Parker: This 16-year San Antonio veteran is coming off of a critical leg injury which sidelined him for the playoffs. At the age of 35, Parker’s career has begun to slow down. His minutes have declined in each season since 2012 and will continue to trend downward.
As essential as Parker has been in the past, his importance this season will be limited.
Joffrey Lauvergne: Lauvergne will have a big role to fill following the departure of Dedmon this offseason. That is meant literally and figuratively. Popovich will implement Lauvergne into the lineup as a backup center, allowing him to roam the paint freely. His rebounding, defense, and size will all play an essential role in the lineup, but not quite as important as the rest of the squad.
If Lauvergne can prove himself, this role will change hastily. If his skill and physicality can shine, he’ll thrive in the Spurs’ system, but that’s entirely up to his play. As of now, his importance pales in comparison to others on the roster.
It's a reunion! #TBT pic.twitter.com/HtiOXRG324
— Eurohoops.net (@Eurohoopsnet) July 18, 2017
Davis Bertans: Bertans proved himself as a fantastic option for San Antonio’s bench in his first season with the team. His unanticipated athleticism stunned the basketball community but his Three-and-D play is what stuck out. He’ll likely play similar minutes this season, around 12 per game in a similar role.
Next: No. 7 and 8
8. Dejounte Murray
In June of 2016, Murray was considered one of the greatest steals of his draft falling 29th to San Antonio. His high praise rose steadily as his work ethic and Basketball IQ were exemplified. He’s proven himself to be a powerhouse of potential with great fundamentals. If he can continue his upward trend, Murray may become San Antonio’s next great floor general.
San Antonio Spurs promising rookie Dejounte Murray will work out with All-Star teammate Kawhi Leonard over summer in San Diego, I'm told.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) June 13, 2017
Murray will have to fill an extremely important position for San Antonio this season. Tony Parker is sidelined until the Winter, so Murray’s minutes will spike upward.
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If he can hone his shooting stroke and defensive versatility, Murray may find himself starting at point guard for Coach Popovich. He started eight games in his rookie year including an exceptional 24-point outing against Denver in January of 2017.
If his playing-time was guaranteed, he’d be much higher on this list. With Spurs veteran Patty Mills re-signing on a long-term contract, Murray will have to work harder for his minutes.
7. Danny Green
As one of the league’s premier Three-And-D players, fans know what to expect from Danny Green this season. His exceptional perimeter defense has caused great disruption for opposing guards throughout his career.
While his role will not change, his surroundings have. With the roster shifts in full effect, his three-point shooting will be heavily relied upon. As Kawhi Leonard’s defensive partner, Green is forced to defend the opposition’s best guards.
Green will have the option to opt-out of his $10 million annual contract after this season. In the pursuit of financial prosperity, Green may play his hardest to earn a larger contract. While this could cause trouble for San Antonio’s cap space next summer, it’d certainly help them to win games during the 2017-2018 season.
Next: No. 5 and 6
6. Manu Ginobili
Manu Ginobili has very little to prove, considering that he’s already one of the franchise’s greatest players to date. His fearlessness is well documented and his passion for the game is world-renowned.
Now, after mulling retirement in the offseason, Ginobili is back on the court for San Antonio. His playmaking and dynamic scoring will be huge for San Antonio off the bench. Manu’s leadership will allow the team to grow and could ease the transition at point guard.
Ginobili’s ball handling will be vital in San Antonio’s classic ball movement. Even at 40-years-old, Manu will have a huge impact on this team. If he can remain healthy and fight off Father Time, he’ll have another amazing season.
5. Pau Gasol
Now that he’s been signed to a $48 million contract, bigman Pau Gasol must live up to his potential. The 37-year old forward/center has highlighted the league’s elite for over a decade. His masterful footwork, overbearing strength and skillful passing make him a great fit for the Spurs.
Free agent Pau Gasol has agreed on a three-year deal to return to the San Antonio Spurs, league sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 21, 2017
He has also expanded his range by becoming one of the league’s most proficient three-point shooters of 2017. On 1.6 attempts per game, Gasol shot 53.7% from behind the arc. Popovich will expect Gasol to continue his efficiency despite being most-known for his post play.
Gasol will be forced to fight for rebounds amongst the league’s best. Assertiveness will be key in his success this season, as many opponents will attempt to attack him in the paint. His ability as a rim protector is going to be tested this season.
For $48 million over three seasons, he must protect the paint for San Antonio.
Next: No. 3 and 4
4. Rudy Gay
The signing of Rudy Gay with the Spurs still shocks the basketball community. While Gay is extremely talented, his play style has never matched that of the San Antonio offense. This will be a massive test for the 11-year veteran.
His decision to sign with the Spurs for just $8 million was a testament to his mentality. Coming off of an 18.7 point per game season, he easily could’ve made more money elsewhere. This proves that Gay is willing and ready to win games.
Gay will accept the winning culture of San Antonio while bringing a flare mostly unseen within the organization. His athleticism and versatility will be welcomed by a team whose offense strives based on well-roundedness. He’s also exemplified a humble and hard-working attitude which will fit nicely with the Spurs.
His addition, whether it be off the bench or in a starting role, has the potential to put San Antonio above the league’s elite. If he can make an immediate impact, there’s no telling what the Spurs could achieve this year. Although there are concerns regarding his health, Gay is anticipated to fully recover from an Achilles injury suffered in January.
3. Patty Mills
This is the year that could make or break the career of Patty Mills. The dynamic Aussie will begin the season replacing the injured Parker and will likely absorb the brunt of his minutes.
Stepping into the role donned by Tony Parker for over a decade, Mills will take a massive responsibility. If he can shine, the Spurs will continue to dominate the competition. If he succumbs to the pressure, a plethora of guards including Murray and Summer League break out Bryn Forbes will jump at the opportunity to replace him.
San Antonio committed to Mills just minutes after free agency began, signing him to a four-year, $50 million contract. As a strong contender for last year’s Sixth Man of the Year Award, Mills has exemplified his ability as a scorer and playmaker.
Free agent Patty Mills has agreed to a 4-year, $50M deal to stay with San Antonio, league sources tell ESPN. https://t.co/K9ZzMOnDzR
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 1, 2017
The 29-year old is now in the prime of his career. If he steps up and becomes the playmaker that Popovich needs, he may steal the starting position from Parker upon return.
Next: No. 1 and 2
2. LaMarcus Aldridge
Between rumors surrounding Paul George and Kyrie Irving, LaMarcus Aldridge’s name has come up in many trade discussions this summer. Reports of unhappiness and discrepancy have plagued the power forward since his arrival in San Antonio.
Despite strong criticism, Aldridge performed relatively well last season. He averaged approximately 17 points and seven rebounds in 32 minutes per game. The five-time All Star also performed highly as a rim protector and interior defender.
As part of joining the team, Aldridge was asked to adjust his play style to line up with Popovich’s offense. Unfortunately for both parties, it’s been a struggle up to this point.
With that being said, Aldridge is a fantastic player. His post skill is some of the best in the NBA and his midrange jump shot follows suit.
For San Antonio to succeed, they’ll need a concerted effort by Aldridge on both sides of the floor. Considering his contract’s player option for next season, he’ll work toward the sums of money offered by the new CBA.
1. Kawhi Leonard
The MVP Candidate is without-a-doubt the most important player for San Antonio heading into the 2017-2018 season.
The Klaw has become San Antonio’s unquestioned leader despite his mellow demeanor. As the team’s top scorer at 25 points per game, he has become the offense’s focal point. It’s not very often that a player could finish top-three in Defensive Player of the Year voting while scoring at an elite level.
Kawhi is just the third player in @NBA history to receive two All-NBA First Team selections and two NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards. pic.twitter.com/oW5XzFXYb0
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) May 18, 2017
The most exceptional aspect of Leonard’s game is that he never stops working on himself. Leonard has added a new skill to his arsenal each year he’s been in the NBA. His constant need to improve is what makes him great.
San Antonio’s downfall in the Western Conference Finals was a testament to his importance for the team. After losing Leonard to injury, a 25-point lead in Game 1 turned into a horrific sweep by Golden State. Leonard is the glue that holds the San Antonio Spurs together, like Tim Duncan before him. There’s no telling what the new season will hold for the 25-year old phenomenon.
As previously mentioned, the entire roster is important to the game plan and strategies of Gregg Popovich. Every player has a chance at competing, which has allowed the Spurs to remain a top-tier team since 1999.
Next: Top 25 players in Spurs history
The 2017-2018 season will hold lots of challenges for San Antonio, but nothing that cannot be overcome. This well-rounded roster is primed for yet another great year in the Alamo City.