With a well rounded roster set for the upcoming season, the San Antonio Spurs will need to balance their deep rotation of talented shooting guards.
Heading into the 2019-2020 season, the San Antonio Spurs arguably own the deepest backcourt rotation in the NBA. Let’s not overstate it – the Spurs’ starting guard duo won’t parallel the likes of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson or Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. However, the Spurs believe the depth and talent they possess is enough to launch themselves back into the battle atop the merciless Western Conference.
Fiery 22-year-old Dejounte Murray will return from injury this season to assuredly hold down the starting point guard duties. This leaves the door open for several players to ascend into the shooting guard role, begging the question: Who are the team’s shooting guards, what can we expect from them this year and what areas do they need to improve in?
First and foremost we have to start with DeMar DeRozan. With a 28 percent usage rate, DeRozan is the most featured player on the Spurs offense. Of San Antonio’s regular rotation guards, DeRozan led in points, rebounds, and assists. However, DeRozan logged roughly 75 percent of his minutes last season at the small forward spot – where he will likely play the bulk of his minutes this season as well.
A large part of DeRozan’s success during his 2018-19 campaign came from his newfound willingness to get to the paint. In his first season in San Antonio, DeRozan drove to the rim more than any other season since he joined the league. In turn, he had the second highest field goal percentage of his career. While DeRozan was efficient near the basket, he showed a lackluster ability to get to the charity line – an area he needs to improve on this season.
It’s no secret that Coach Popovich has an aversion to relying on the three ball. After shooting 15 percent from three-point land last season, it’s clear that DeRozan is not a reliable three-point threat and Popovich is perfectly alright with that. Instead of working on expanding his game to beyond the arc, he needs to keep his focus on getting to the basket and drawing fouls. This season, expect DeRozan to drive with a more ferocious demeanor and take a Harden-esque approach of getting to the free throw line (without the flopping).
Lastly, with Dejounte Murray returning from injury, DeRozan will be relieved of the pressure to create as high of volume on the offensive side of the ball. This will open up opportunities for DeRozan to assert himself in the areas where he thrives in the Spurs system. As Spurs Assistant Coach Will Hardy puts it, “That second year of being in a system is always great for a player.”
With DeRozan’s shift to small forward, Derrick White will likely step up as the Spurs’ starting shooting guard. White is having a busy offseason, competing for a spot on the Team USA roster for the FIBA cup while being coached by our very own Gregg Popovich.
Derrick White had a solid regular season, but saw his national popularity skyrocket this postseason. NBA Twitter nearly exploded after his monstrous, earth shaking dunk on Paul Millsap in Game 1 of the playoff matchup with the No. 2 seed Denver Nuggets. He followed up the viral jam with a 36 point gem in Game 3 of the series. This breakout helped strengthen his case for San Antonio’s starting rotation.
While White played nearly all of his minutes at point guard, he has the ability to guard multiple positions. It will be an adjustment for the third-year guard to play alongside a traditional point guard like Murray, but if White continues to craft his game, he will fit the role. Despite the Spurs league best 39.2 percent from behind the arc, the Spurs shot less three-pointers per game than any other team. White will need to blossom as a perimeter shooter in order to keep the offensive efficiency intact.
Derrick White is currently primed to fit in the starting lineup, but he is not the only guard vying for the role. Fourth-year guard Bryn Forbes made his case last year by finishing the season with prodigious shooting efficiency. Forbes finished 9th in the NBA in three-point percentage ahead of long ball specialists like Klay Thompson, J.J. Redick, and Kyle Korver.
Forbes shot 45.6 percent from the field, 42.6 percent from three-point land and 88.5 percent from the free throw line. Of players who took at least 300 shots last season, only four were better in each category than Forbes: Stephen Curry, Buddy Hield, Danilo Gallinari, and Malcolm Brogdon.
Clearly Bryn Forbes can drill from deep, but he needs to improve his defense if he hopes to contend for a starting role over Derrick White. At times, Forbes’ 6-foot-3 frame hinders his ability to guard bigger players – a challenge he will be forced to face when sharing the court with Murray and veteran Patty Mills.
DeRozan, White, and Forbes are the best three shooting guards on the Spurs roster, but that does not mean others don’t play crucial roles. Marco Belinelli has already won a ring with the Spurs and still provides a meaningful impact on the court. Of the Spurs regular rotation players last season, Belinelli had the fourth highest usage percentage.
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Belinelli is an exceptional shooter. He put up more three point attempts per game last season than at any other point in his 12 year career. On the flip side, Belinelli will turn 34-years-old this season and could see a reduction in minutes with several young guards competing for playing time.
One of the players battling for those minutes is 2018 first-round draft pick Lonnie Walker IV. Walker suffered a right meniscus tear that derailed a solid portion of his rookie campaign. Walker was able to get on the court for the Austin Spurs and still contributed in 17 games with San Antonio. Now, Walker is ready to compete with the Spurs and showcase his boundless potential.
In 4 games at the Las Vegas Summer League in July, Walker averaged 30 points per contest and was a clear standout among his peers. This is no small feat, however, he isn’t Michael Jordan yet. The Spurs have a track record of carrying Summer League play into the regular season for many of their young talents, but Walker will need to keep his confidence. Let’s not expect a breakout season this year, but if Walker can improve his defense, his ceiling as a player may be the highest of anyone on the roster.
On the whole, the Spurs shooting guard depth is deadly and their track record of player development is unrivaled. If the pieces jell and the potential continues materializing, the Spurs’ young backcourt can propel the organization back towards perennial contention among the Western Conference elites.