San Antonio Spurs: Predicting the depth chart for the 2018-19 season
By Rob Wolkenbrod
How might the San Antonio Spurs depth chart look this season?
The San Antonio Spurs faced somewhat of a roster overhaul this summer, losing Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green via trade, Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker to free agency and watching Joffrey Lauvergne and Brandon Paul go.
However, the 2018-19 season will arrive in two months, and it’s the opportunity to move forward from an unusual offseason. That means a look at the new roster and what it could bring to the table across 82 games.
How does the depth chart look after a handful of roster moves, though? Who is the projected starter at each position? Let’s take a look:
Starter: Dejounte Murray
The clear-cut starter at point guard, Dejounte Murray will enter 2018-19 as the full-timer for the first time in his three seasons. He began the 2017-18 campaign in this spot, but as a placeholder for the injured Tony Parker who’s no longer with the team.
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Parker’s departure to the Charlotte Hornets allows free reign for Murray at point guard, to improve as a 22 year old (his age when the season starts) and become one of the youngest pieces in this roster-retooling. Patty Mills might take some minutes from him off the bench, but as nothing more than someone to spell or play next to him in certain situations.
In Murray’s first full NBA season, he showed glimpses of what’s to come, with 8.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.2 steals per game. It led to a spot on the NBA All-Defensive Second Team; especially in just 21.5 minutes per game, it was a standout accolade for the Washington product, who established himself as one of the premier perimeter defenders in the league.
In year three, Murray will look to follow up on this, potentially in a larger dose of minutes. How might he turn another corner as the starting point guard from beginning to end this year?
Next: Reserves: Point Guard
Behind Dejounte Murray, Patty Mills is the main backup at point guard, with little to no competition behind him. That’s as well as the three years and $35-plus million left on his contract, all of which is guaranteed.
Mills took on the biggest regular-season role of his career in 2017-18, due to Tony Parker’s injury and inconsistent play in Murray’s first go-around as the starter. So, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich used the Aussie as a starter 36 times — 28 more than his previous career-high of eight, which happened in the 2016-17 season.
Mills started the year poorly, finding difficulties shooting across the court. Though, he still averaged double-digit points per game for the first time since 2013-14 and had a solid 37.2 three-point percentage.
In fewer minutes, due to the logjam of guards on the roster, Mills should see his numbers drop off to around 7-9 points per game. As mostly a three-point specialist, it’s enough.
Derrick White has the size, scoring and playmaking abilities to be a point guard or shooting guard; he likely fits as the latter in the NBA, but there’s still an outside chance of him as a primary ball-handler in certain situations. It might not happen often, but he possesses the size that Mills does not have and the scoring ability Murray does not yet have.
Next: Starter: Shooting guard
Starter: DeMar DeRozan
DeMar DeRozan arrived to the San Antonio Spurs in the blockbuster trade of the offseason, which sent him, Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round pick to the Silver and Black for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Thus, DeRozan takes over Green’s starting spot and the scoring output Leonard put up, when healthy.
DeRozan will become the unquestioned man at shooting guard until further notice, taking 30-plus minutes per game and a top scoring spot in the pecking order. Sure, it might be two-pointers galore, but that’s better insurance for LaMarcus Aldridge than what the Spurs had behind him last season, when Leonard missed all but nine games with a mysterious quadriceps injury.
A potential question is will DeRozan grow into San Antonio’s first option? He and Aldridge are not three-point happy players and both control the mid-range area, so it’s possible they fall around the same 20-points-per-game range; maybe one or two apart.
If DeRozan hones his shot from behind the arc, it’s a game-changer for the Spurs. That’s hardly a given, with a career percentage of 28.9 in that regard. Either way, he’s the starter and should shoulder a chunk of the scoring load all season, barring a replication of the monsoon of injuries this roster faced.
Next: Reserves: Shooting guard
Unless otherwise said, Manu Ginobili is still part of the San Antonio Spurs, under contract for $2.5 million for the 2018-19 season. That means a spot as the eighth or ninth man off the bench, identical to his role of the past five seasons.
Without Tony Parker around, Ginobili becomes the longest-tenured Spur and the player for a young group of guards to look up to. Otherwise, he’s there for the occasional ball-handling duties and to spread the floor, averaging around three attempts for three-point range per game over the past three seasons.
Bryn Forbes returns to the Spurs on a two-year deal to become bench depth and back up the veterans in front of him. It’s similar to his role from 2017-18, which featured 6.9 points on 39 percent three-point shooting.
Forbes settles in as a three-point specialist, again, in smaller lineups or when San Antonio needs an extra scoring option, on a team that struggled to shoot from long distance last season. This might not happen in more than 20 minutes per game (he averaged 19 in 2017-18), partially due to defensive limitations, but there’s a spot for him in a crowded backcourt.
Lonnie Walker IV
Lonnie Walker IV might take the Dejounte Murray/Derrick White path to the G League in year one. If not, San Antonio’s 2018 first-round pick has the chance to carve out a role, albeit a minor spot on the roster.
Behind DeRozan, Forbes and Ginobili, Walker might find it difficult to receive a steady role — something that provides minutes every game. If an injury opens a rotation spot, there’s a higher chance of him being able to make an impression, and the Spurs can keep him on the main roster in case of that. He’s better suited to start the year in Austin, otherwise.
Next: Starter: Small forward
Starter: Marco Belinelli
Small forward could actually become DeMar DeRozan’s spot, as he’s two inches taller than Marco Belinelli. Either player can fluctuate between positions, however, in certain lineups the San Antonio Spurs put on the floor.
Belinelli joined the Spurs on a two-year, $12 million deal, returning three years after a departure that took him to the Sacramento Kings, Charlotte Hornets, Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers. So the Italian sharpshooter has toured the NBA since his 2015 departure.
Near the bottom of the league in three-point shooting, Belinelli provides the attribute for just that, with a career 37.7 percent from behind the arc; he shot at an identical mark in the 2017-18 season.
Belinelli will spread the floor for the Spurs in all situations, whether it’s the classic two-big men look or if one of LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol or Jakob Poeltl are in the lineup and contain the low post. They entered the 2016-17 season with these kinds of players, but Leonard missed most of the season, Rudy Gay only shot 31 percent and Danny Green underwhelmed offensively at times.
Belinelli’s two years in San Antonio provided him with his career-highs in Defensive Ratings of 105 and 106; these numbers fell off in other trips around the NBA, so can Gregg Popovich and the coaching staff tap into his defensive ability a second time around?
Next: Reserves: Small forward
Rudy Gay falls into the hybrid small forward-power forward backup role off the bench. He’s still a candidate to start in place of Belinelli, but the San Antonio Spurs could use an extra scorer with size off the bench.
After a ruptured Achilles, Gay returned to the court and averaged 11.5 points on 47.1 percent shooting and 31.4 from three-point range. It came in just 57 games, though, due to a heel injury that took him out for two months, amongst other injury-list problems the team dealt with.
At this point of Gay’s career, because of these recurring ailments, he’s not someone to rely on in 30 minutes per game. A return to the bench makes the most sense, where he can thrive as a third or fourth option, especially with DeRozan in town; that should have been the case before Leonard’s quad injury.
Gay will be a usual three or a stretch four this season, so he can slot in as a backup at either forward spot, depending on the lineup. Improvement in the three-point shooting department can help this. He’s not locked into any position, so over one year after a career-altering injury, let’s see how he continues to shake off the rust, under a new contract.
Next: Starter: Power forward
Starter: LaMarcus Aldridge
LaMarcus Aldridge is the man at power forward for another season on the San Antonio Spurs, the most inevitable depth-chart spot of anyone on the roster. He will hold down another high-ranking spot in the pecking order for the fourth consecutive season.
Aldridge was supposed to continue as the 1B to Kawhi Leonard’s 1A, but after the season-long saga with the latter, it changed everything. No longer was the Texas product considered a disappointment in San Antonio, but someone who revitalized his game and arguably carried the team to the 2018 postseason with 23.1 points and 8.5 rebounds.
Without Leonard’s lingering presence, this should be Aldridge’s team. He has help this time, though, with DeMar DeRozan’s arrival in the summer’s blockbuster trade. That takes some of the scoring pressure off the 12-year veteran, as the team faced scoring droughts without him for most of the 2017-18 season.
This time, Aldridge can be the 1A to DeRozan’s 1B, as they handle the offensive load for the season and try to navigate the Spurs through a crowded Western Conference. Last season, they barely squeezed in, but in an improved set of teams that now features LeBron James, will the 21-year streak of postseason appearances end, whether or not they have quality seasons?
Next: Reserves: Power forward
Davis Bertans returns on a two-year, $14 million contract to retake a position on the bench. He started 10 games for Pau Gasol last season, and that might be his upside for the 2018-19 season.
Bertans, through two years, showcased his three-point shooting skills, with 39.9 percent in 2016-17 and 37.3 in 2017-18. He almost exclusively became an outside scorer, as 252 of his 366 shot attempts last season were from behind the arc. There’s no sign of this changing, so look for him to fill an identical role for the San Antonio Spurs.
Like Gay, Bertans provides shooting with size. He’s a matchup problem in certain situations for the opposition, but the lack of an offensive game outside of this limits his upside.
Dante Cunningham joined the Spurs on a one-year, $2.5 million contract to become depth at either forward position. With some ability to shoot from the outside and defend, he provides versatility in a limited role, potentially between 15 and 20 minutes per game.
Cunningham found his three-point stroke over the past two seasons, averaging 37 percent for the New Orleans Pelicans and Brooklyn Nets. The Spurs will look for something similar as a depth presence.
Next: Starter: Center
Starter: Pau Gasol
For the third season, Pau Gasol returns to the San Antonio Spurs as the starting center. It will be the case as long as the team pays him $16 million per year, pending from the contract extension signed in 2016.
Gasol appeared in 77 games in the 2017-18 season and started 63 of them (10 were lost to Davis Bertans), despite the reduction in minutes from 25.4 to 23.5 per game. This led to a decline in points and he had a career-low field goal percentage of 45.8, partially due to a significantly lower mark on outside shots from 53.8 to 35.8 percent.
At age 38, it will be interesting to see how the Spurs use Gasol. He’s never going to play over 30 minutes per game again, and as the NBA continues to go small and fast, it does not benefit the Spanish star. That takes him out against the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets and even the Los Angeles Lakers this season.
Gasol still has a role as a veteran presence that does a little bit of everything on the offensive end. Otherwise, Spurs fans might watch for another decline in skills as he nears 40. Then, the organization may have a decision to make on his partially-guaranteed contract for 2019-20 and work from there.
Next: Reserve: Center
Jakob Poeltl rounds out the center depth as someone to potentially split time with Gasol. He rose to just over 18 minutes per game as a second-year man in Toronto, cutting into Jonas Valanciunas‘ playing time. Something similar should happen in 2018-19, as long as the Austrian big man takes another step forward.
Poeltl brings the rim protection that San Antonio lacks. Gasol and Aldridge are capable, but both hardly own elite skills in this point. If the Spurs find this in Poeltl, it can only help their defense fill in holes left by departed players.
As of Aug. 9, Chimezie Metu has yet to sign a rookie contract with the San Antonio Spurs, who selected him in the second round of the 2018 NBA Draft. This might never happen, either, similar to Jaron Blossomgame, the 2017 second-rounder that spent the year in the G League.
With an open roster spot, Metu can join Poeltl as the other backup at center, further giving San Antonio another young piece to work with. This could happen sparingly, though, and with multiple trips to Austin, for significant playing time. So, even if the Spurs sign him, do not expect much in year one.