San Antonio Spurs: A centerfold, split in the rotation
By Rob Wolkenbrod
The San Antonio Spurs have two players capable of at least 20 minutes per game. How will a potential timeshare be divided up?
When the 2017 offseason closed, the San Antonio Spurs lacked depth behind LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol, as journeyman Joffrey Lauvergne stood as the only true big man to substitute at center or power forward. This continued through the season, as the Spurs did not add a new face to their roster.
July 2018 changed the situation, however, with the signing of Dante Cunningham to back up power forward and the trade of Jakob Poeltl, who plays center; but the question is how often during games will he take the court?
Poeltl had a seven-minute average difference between his 2016-17 and 2017-18 numbers, none of which resulted in a start in the latter season due to Jonas Valanciunas‘ presence. Though, that will potentially change in 2018-19, when the Austrian center pairs with Pau Gasol.
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At age 38, Gasol obviously sits at the downside of his career, and on the fast track to 40. His minutes have trended the opposite direction in each season since 2014-15, including career-lows in the past two campaigns (25.4 and 23.5), both of which happened with the Spurs.
If the trend continues, Poeltl should see a cut of that time, but how much? That’s dependant on how often coach Gregg Popovich plays the traditional two-big lineup, something that’s almost become rare in the modern-day NBA. He mostly played Aldridge and Gasol and sprinkled in Davis Bertans, a stretch four or tall three.
Poeltl, if anything, might find playing time similar to his days with the Toronto Raptors, but with an actual start or two thrown in; if Popovich wants to rest the older Gasol and put him into a limited role, the numbers of starts could rise higher than just a handful scattered through the season.
Gasol and Poeltl may see almost identical playing time, if the former’s decreases and the latter’s increases; something around 20 minutes per game to play next to Aldridge or act as San Antonio’s lone big man on the court.
How will the center minutes take shape this season? Will Poeltl overrule Gasol for a larger chunk of time as the year wanes?