San Antonio Spurs predictions: Small forward rotation for 2017-18 season
By Rob Wolkenbrod
A look at how the San Antonio Spurs’ small forward rotation might look for the 2017-18 season.
The San Antonio Spurs will return for the 2017-18 NBA season in October. It will be the chance to return to prominence in the Western Conference with a team that looks similar, but has a few different parts, for the upcoming slate of 82 games.
The Spurs’ small forward depth received a few changes in the offseason, including the team’s biggest signing of the summer. How will that piece pay dividends behind the starter at the three spot?
Three players are projected to man the small forward spot for San Antonio. Let’s look at how they could fare in the position’s rotation.
Kyle Anderson will enter his fourth season on the San Antonio Spurs and provide depth at the forward position. Given his on-court capabilities, look for him to play mostly at the three spot, with the occasional turn at power forward and shooting guard.
Anderson hasn’t broken out since being selected in the 2014 NBA Draft. This can be attributed to Kawhi Leonard’s ascension over the past few seasons, turning into one of the league’s best players. This sidelined the UCLA product to a bench role. He still played over 70 games in each of the past two seasons, but never averaged more than 16 minutes per. That number dropped to just over 14 in the 2016-17 season.
With the addition of Rudy Gay, it will be difficult for Anderson to gain a significant amount of minutes. He may get an uptick of one or two with Jonathon Simmons out of the picture, but those could be taken by Brandon Paul at shooting guard and in smaller lineups.
Anderson will have the chance to play more if Gay can’t stay healthy. Otherwise, it will be a tough task for him to gain ground in the fight for minutes behind Kawhi Leonard.
Next: Rudy Gay
Rudy Gay is the new addition to the San Antonio Spurs’ forward lineup. He signed a two-year, $17.2 million deal in the offseason, with a player option for the second season.
Gay’s cheaper price comes with baggage, however. He ruptured his Achilles in January, as a member of the Sacramento Kings. This put him out for the remainder of the 2016-17 season. Achilles injuries are difficult for NBA players to return from, at least getting back to original form, so look for the Spurs to work him in slowly.
For the start of the 2017-18 season, Gay should work as the sixth man. He’ll be the top player to come off the bench and provide a scoring punch, which can mask some of his defensive deficiencies. It’s essentially the role Patty Mills played, but at a different position.
With NBA lineups getting smaller, Gay should get to work as a stretch four, too. It allows him to play next to Leonard, while LaMarcus Aldridge or Pau Gasol man the center position. This will be one of the many lineup variations Gregg Popovich gets to tinker with in 2017-18.
Look for Gay to average some of the lowest minutes of his career, but on the best team he’s played for. That could come around 25 minutes per game.
Next: Kawhi Leonard
Well, this couldn’t be more obvious.
Kawhi Leonard will return to the starting small forward spot for a sixth full season. He started there in the 2012-13 season and worked his way up.
Leonard had his best season in 2016-17. He put up a career-high in points (25.5) and earned third place in the MVP voting, behind Russell Westbrook and James Harden. If a similar season is in store, along with another top-notch year for the San Antonio Spurs, then Klaw will be in line for another chance at premium hardware.
There’s nothing in Leonard’s way of averaging at least 30 minutes per game in the 2017-18 season. He put up just over 33.0 in each of the past two years and should continue to be the case, again. Popovich doesn’t usually overwork his stars, so something around 33.0 — maybe a minute more or fewer — could be what to expect out of the San Diego State product.
The Spurs have Rudy Gay to spell Leonard this year, which should be a useful play to not lose as much talent without the latter on the court. As noted, they can even work together, too, depending on the lineup Popovich deploys.
Either way, look for another MVP-caliber season out of Leonard. He’ll be at the forefront of the Spurs’ quest to knock off the Golden State Warriors.