The San Antonio Spurs may be 59 games into the 2017-18 season, but still have questions to consider before the playoffs.
After 59 games, the San Antonio Spurs sit at 35-24 in the Western Conference. It’s good for one of the best records in the NBA, a remarkable feat for a team that faced adversity since the preseason, mostly due to injuries. There’s even an All-Star Game representative, too, with LaMarcus Aldridge set for an appearance in Los Angeles, CA on Sunday.
Even with the positive record and adversity this team already faced, questions still remain for the team’s status. 23 games will happen after the All-Star Break, all of which may evaluate where the roster stands and showcase future implications. Let’s look at four of them and how they potentially will shake up the pre-playoff scene:
Will Davis Bertans hold his starting spot?
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Point guard was not the only spot head coach Gregg Popovich made a change at; he removed Pau Gasol as a starter and replaced him with Davis Bertans. Whether it’s as a five or a stretch four can vary, but it’s a noticeable change of the past five games to close the first half of the season.
Bertans was red-hot to start 2018, with a six double-digit point performances in the first eight games. Something clicked when he received extra time in place of the injured Rudy Gay, who remains out with right heel bursitis. This allowed the Latvian big man to take extended minutes and run with them, which eventually led to the starting role and an increase in minutes to 25-30 per game; it’s a far cry from the end-of-the-bench spot he held to start the season.
Popovich loved what he saw from the second-year pro, according to the San Antonio Express-News, which contributed to the move:
“He’s done well,” Popovich said. “He spreads the court for us. He’s been aggressive. His defense is improving. He’s done well.”
Will Bertans keep this spot, though? It’s a worthwhile look at this young player, yes, but when the playoffs arrive, will Popovich opt for the norm? Or will this change stick? These 23 games will be crucial towards the 25 year old’s standing for not just the present but the future of Spurs basketball, with someone needed to play next to LaMarcus Aldridge in the frontcourt.
Next: Will the Spurs sign a buyout player?
Will the Spurs sign a buyout player?
It’s rare to see the San Antonio Spurs make a midseason move to shake up the roster. Nothing happened at this year’s NBA Trade Deadline, the usual story of the past three decades. It’s mostly the same for the Spurs at the buyout market, too, when veterans from noncontenders get bought out of their contracts and hit free agency, with the idea that they will sign with a playoff team.
The buyout market already lost Joe Johnson, Brandan Wright and Marco Belinelli to the Houston Rockets (both Johnson and Wright) and Philadelphia 76ers, respectively. Players still remain, however, like Andrew Bogut, Derrick Rose and Tony Allen. With injuries factored in for Bogut and Rose, it may make Allen the most desirable of the three.
Even though the trade deadline passed, players can still be bought out. As long as it’s before Mar. 1 and they get signed by another organization before this date to be on a playoff roster, it’s possible for any NBA team.
Will this apply to the Spurs? With a full roster, the only player that makes sense to drop for a free agent is Brandon Paul, who gets garbage-time minutes. Would any acquisition see meaningful time? Which rotation player may suffer as a result?
Next: Injury bug
Will the injury bug subside?
The injury bug plagued the San Antonio Spurs for all 59 games of the first half. Nearly every player fell to some type of ailment, whether it was a quad, a heel, thigh, knee or back. This never allowed the Spurs to play at full strength, despite the 35-24 record and top four spot in the Western Conference that may show otherwise.
It’s impossible to predict if the injury bug will “subside.” Players can get hurt at any point of a game in unpredictable instances. Whether it’s a drive to the basket, a collision with an opposing player or a non-contact injury, these randomly appear.
Heading into the All-Star Break, the Spurs still have Kawhi Leonard and Rudy Gay out. Neither have official timetables for return, although the latter recently warmed up before Saturday’s game vs. the Golden State Warriors:
— Jabari Young (@JabariJYoung) February 11, 2018
It’s only speculation, but if the above video means anything, will it mean Gay returns before the end of February? If so, he’s a much-needed offensive boost off the bench that can provide a different look, rather than the abundance of guards Popovich has played in smaller lineups.
As for Leonard, well, that’s a different story.
Next: Kawhi Leonard's impact
Will Kawhi Leonard even make an impact this season?
Kawhi Leonard played like an MVP candidate in the 2016-17 season, and was treated as such. He placed third in the MVP voting, with James Harden and Russell Westbrook ahead at No. 2 and 1, respectively. It was indicative of just how good Leonard performed, as he helped the Spurs claim one of the league’s best records.
However, since that dreaded closeout from Zaza Pachulia in the 2017 Western Conference Finals, the “Klaw” has played in just nine games. He missed the first two months of the 2017-18 season with a quad injury, before a return for three weeks that was also plagued by a shoulder ailment. When the Spurs were not content with his progress from the quad, the organization shut down its star player indefinitely. That was in the middle of January.
Well, one month later, there’s nothing official on Leonard’s status. No one knows if he will return after the All-Star Break, in March, in April or in the playoffs. If anything, Spurs fans may not see him until the 2018-19 season because it’s difficult to speculate on the status of a player that the team does not seem sure of, either.
If Leonard returns at full strength, it’s a playoff-changing boost for the Spurs, who can utilize him to defend some of the NBA’s elite, including James Harden, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, a player that burned them six days ago. The offensive side goes without saying, too, with problems to back up LaMarcus Aldridge’s All-Star scoring output.
Everything with Leonard’s 2017-18 status surrounds “if.” There are no guarantees here, which means San Antonio must proceed as if he will not come back.