The San Antonio Spurs have a handful of talent under age 25. How do rank amongst each other?
The look of the San Antonio Spurs roster has changed since the 2014 championship team; Tim Duncan and Tony Parker are no longer around, while Kawhi Leonard, the expected face of the franchise, left via trade to the Toronto Raptors.
During this two-year span, San Antonio has accumulated young players to shift an eye towards the future. Some of them may be with the team for one, two, five or even 10 years, as the next chapter in this franchise’s history takes shape.
Entering the 2018-19 season, the Spurs have four players under age 25; five if the unsigned Chimezie Metu, the 2018 second-round pick, receives a roster spot. How do these players rank as the next campaign nears?
4. Lonnie Walker IV (19 years old)
Lonnie Walker IV goes to the bottom of the under-25 players because no one has seen him in NBA action yet, not counting the Summer League. That does not mean low expectations exist, however, as the 2018-19 season approaches.
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There’s a case for Walker to start in the G League, due to the Dejounte Murray and Derrick White plans of the past two years, but the Spurs can buck their own mini-trend and make their 2018 first-round pick part of the main roster.
Walker brings perimeter defense to the table, something the roster lacks on paper, aside from Murray’s presence; losing Kyle Anderson and Danny Green hurts this, as well as Kawhi Leonard, even though he missed most of the past season. So, if just in a situational role, the Miami product can be leaned on as a stopper against opposing guards.
Outside shooting may determine Walker’s initial NBA value, as he averaged 34.6 percent from three-point range on 5.1 attempts in college; it also resulted in just 41.5 percent from the field. The Summer League pushed this narrative, with a 32.1 shooting percentage in six games for 11.2 points per game. Hardly anything to be excited about, so there’s an opportunity for growth, to become efficient, in Austin.
Walker still has high upside as a player of the future for San Antonio. It just might take some seasoning to get there.
Next: Derrick White
3. Derrick White (24 years old)
Derrick White only played in 17 games for the San Antonio Spurs, partially due to a fractured wrist suffered during the season. An extended opportunity at playing time in the G League, though, turned the corner for him at 20.1 points, 5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game on 45.2 percent shooting.
To follow this up, White dominated the Utah Summer League with 23 points per game. An injury cut his Vegas Summer time, but it was still a productive July for the 2017 first-round pick.
After most of the year away from the AT&T Center, White has the opportunity to follow in Dejounte Murray’s footsteps and take a larger role on the Spurs. His path might not be as clear, with Marco Belinelli, DeMar DeRozan, Bryn Forbes and Manu Ginobili around, but a spot should be available to work up from and learn.
White’s value may come as a shooting guard off Murray or Patty Mills and an alternate ball handler, given how he worked in Austin; maybe less of the latter than the former, but it’s an extra option for coach Gregg Popovich to utilize without Tony Parker around.
White’s game is still unknown in a full-time role, but the glimpses he provided over the past year should be enough to take note of. Will he capitalize on the chance?
Next: Jakob Poeltl
2. Jakob Poeltl (22 years old)
Jakob Poeltl may be an unknown commodity to San Antonio Spurs fans, but he’s a two-year man who gained 136 games of experience with the Toronto Raptors; he was a piece in the Kawhi Leonard trade that also brought DeMar DeRozan to the Silver and Black.
At 22, Poeltl already accomplished playing a role on two Toronto playoff teams, including an appearance in all 82 games of the 2017-18 season; it led to 6.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks (2.4 in Per 36 Minutes) per game in 18.6 minutes.
The Austrian center’s value comes from his shot-blocking ability, which the Spurs will look to capitalize on behind or in tandem with LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol. Though Poeltl’s offensive upside might not be as high, he’s still a potential defensive piece for the team to utilize when they often were not able to last season, with thin frontcourt depth.
Poeltl may never become an All-Star or win any accolades, but he’s proven enough to become a role player or an occasion starter in the 2018-19 season. With past reclamation or development projects from this coaching staff, who knows how far he can go, but there’s enough to see him as a piece of the San Antonio roster for potentially all 82 games again.
Next: Dejounte Murray
1. Dejounte Murray (21 years old)
Dejounte Murray is two years into his NBA career and still just 21 years old, but he may have the most expectations of any under-25 player on the San Antonio Spurs.
Murray already delivered on part of his upside; he became the team’s full-time starter at point guard after Tony Parker’s talk with Gregg Popovich; he delivered multiple double-double games from the points-rebounds standpoint; to top it off, he earned a spot on the All-NBA Defensive Second Team for the 2017-18 season. It’s quite an accolade for someone in their second season and as a No. 29 overall pick the year before.
After a line of 8.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.2 steals per game, eyes will be on the next step of Murray’s development from a guard with physical tools to a hands-down starter for the next 10 years. That starts with his ability to shoot, as he only took 34 three-pointers last season, but then went 4-for-6 in the postseason and put on a summer clinic.
If Murray flashes a clear-cut ability to shoot from distance, he’s the runaway under-25 player from this group. Granted, he’s already at the head of the pack, but Poeltl, Walker and White have plenty to show in their first go-arounds with the Spurs, and to make an impression.
As for the aforementioned defensive ability, Murray is the leader on the perimeter, especially without Kyle Anderson and Danny Green and the arrival of DeMar DeRozan. More pressure will be on the Washington product to guard the opponent’s best perimeter talent, but after what he did as a 21 year old, the belief is there for him to succeed in 25-30 minutes per game.