The upcoming iteration of the San Antonio Spurs are anticipated to boast some exceptional depth, but where exactly does everyone slot into the rotation?
For an organization that prides itself on a team-first mentality, depth is hugely important. The San Antonio Spurs are world-renowned for their consistent track record of drafting, signing or simply discovering talent to develop under the expertise of their training staff.
Basketball mastermind Gregg Popovich constructed this team so that the bench mob and subsequent rotation players are prepared to step into the game in any moment and fulfill their assigned role. Last season’s bench unit averaged 38.2 points per game, making San Antonio the 11th ranked team in terms of bench scoring, while making the highest percentage of their threes at 39.2 percent just ahead of Golden State at 37.9.
The Spurs carry their storied “beautiful basketball” through their depth, defacing opposing bench units with furious ball movement and player spacing tendencies. The second unit had the lowest turnover percentage of any bench at 12.2 percent with a top-10 finish in Offensive Rating, Assist-to-Turnover ratio, true shooting percentage and defensive rebounding percentages.
For this team to accelerate its retooling and return to home court advantage in the playoffs, the bench mob needs to step up to the plate and bring the same intensity they did last season. In his final stretch as general manager before his promotion, Spurs CEO R.C. Buford did an excellent job of filling out this roster with some improved depth to ensure his team’s versatility.
Next: Backup Point Guard
Backup Point Guard: Patty Mills
Heading into his ninth season in the silver and black, Australian point guard Patty Mills remains a fan favorite for his unwavering dedication to the organization’s values and structure. Although his excessive contract restricted the team’s financial freedom in free agency over the past few years, fans have come to the conclusion that paying Mills through the duration of his contract is in the team’s best interest from a culture standpoint.
At 31 years old, Mills remains one of the most coveted international performers and the face of the Aussie Boomers, who most recently snuck a 98-94 victory out over Team USA in preparation for the FIBA Basketball World Cup. Not only did he finish with a game-high 30 points, but the 6-footer scored the Boomers’ final 10 points to close out the outing.
Hopefully this energy and intensity will carry over to next season when Mills is slotted as the third point guard in the rotation behind Dejounte Murray and Derrick White; even though White is projected to start at the shooting guard slot.
Mills hasn’t missed a step as a scorer and shooter – he made 39.4 percent of his triples last season and developed influential chemistry with DeMar DeRozan over the course of their first year together. With that said, Mills was not efficient elsewhere and is without a doubt a minus on the defensive end. He had the second-lowest Defensive Box Plus/Minus on the team last season at -2.0 and fell apart in the playoffs because of his deficiencies on that end.
Minutes distribution will be tricky this season and will certainly be determined on a game-by-game basis, but it’s safe to say Patty will be back as floor general of the bench mob once more.
Next: Backup Shooting Guard
Backup shooting guard: Bryn Forbes
I’ll be the first to admit my misconceptions – I wasn’t sold on Bryn Forbes early into his career. His exceptional shot creating ability early on was a strong indicator of his potential for the future, but he seemed to lack the physicality and toughness required to play in the NBA.
Slowly but surely, Bryn eradicated the concerns regarding his development for this team by improving in those categories and more – especially between his second and third seasons. As a starter through 81 games under Popovich last season, Forbes proved to the league that he’s an exceptional talent and he’s here to stay.
There’s a solid argument to be made for Bryn regaining his starting spot between Murray and DeRozan next season with White returning to the bench, but Forbes is best suited as the team’s allotted sixth man slot for his rapid-fire offense and quick trigger – something that’s exponentially helpful coming off the pine.
In his third season in the big leagues, Forbes averaged 11.8 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists on exceptional shooting splits: 45.6 percent from the field, 42.6 percent from three and 88.5 percent from the charity stripe for a true shooting percentage of 58.6 percent. Each of these percentages was a career-best for the 26-year-old who’s entering a contract-year with the Spurs.
Forbes is one of the most integral members of this team’s budding young core. He’s earned his spot within the rotation and should receive the most playing time of any member of the Spurs’ bench mob heading into next season. For as effective as he was throughout the regular season, Forbes was even more vital to the team’s success in the postseason – he nearly carried the team back to victory in that fateful Game Seven in the Mile-High City.
Rumor has it that Bryn has put on some extra muscle in preparation for the forthcoming season, so he seems to be addressing my previous concerns about physicality. Maybe he hasn’t been built like it in the past, but Forbes is a tough player who doesn’t shy away from a dogfight.
If everything clicks and Forbes can influence winning from off the bench, he’ll be in serious consideration for Sixth Man of the Year in 2020.
Next: Backup Small Forward
Backup Small Forward: Lonnie Walker IV
Although sophomore Lonnie Walker IV is naturally a shooting guard, the athletic phenomenon possesses the length, physical tools and defensive versatility to earn minutes at the backup small forward slot if Rudy Gay and new addition DeMarre Carroll slot down at the four-spot. After a full year of development and a hugely successful Summer League run, Walker is set to break his way into Pop’s rotation and earn his playing time in the pros.
The 20-year-old appeared in only 17 regular season games for the Spurs in the 2018-19 season for a grand total of 118 minutes. This wasn’t nearly enough time to evaluate Walker, who utilized this offseason to fill out his frame and put his refined skills to test against some of the best rising talent in professional basketball.
Despite appearing in only two games in Las Vegas, Walker was named to the 2019 NBA Summer League Second Team. In those two outings, he averaged 30.0 points, four rebounds and 1.5 steals in 27.3 minutes per game after posting 19.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in the Salt Lake City Summer League.
Walker is a three-level scorer with tremendous downhill explosiveness and a soft yet poised touch on his jumper. His acrobatics as a finisher are uniquely elusive, resulting in made baskets both through and around contact from the opposition. As a three-point shooter, Walker has shown the capability to catch-and-shoot or create a triple for himself.
That lethal shot creation, combined with his staggering potential as a secondary playmaker and initiator, makes Lonnie an exceptional fit alongside the rest of the bench unit. Walker was the go-to scorer for Austin and the Summer League team – that won’t be the case at the next level. Luckily for San Antonio, he’s a willing passer with a team-first mentality who just so happens to be an exceptional individual scorer.
For as much as Spurs fans want to fantasize about Walker breaking out to start the season, he’s not a lock to enter the top-10 in Pop’s rotation to start the year. Lonnie has a bright future with this team, but he’ll need to earn his keep under Pop’s regime.
Next: Backup Power Forward
Backup Power Forward: DeMarre Carroll
As the only new addition of the bunch, there’s some pressure on DeMarre Carroll to acclimate to the Spurs’ system and find his way in the Alamo City. On paper, he’s a perfect fit for this team – a versatile forward with defensive grittiness and floor spacing capabilities. Already, Carroll is a defensive upgrade over the previous backup-four in Davis Bertans, whose size assisted in defending others at his position but ultimately failed to lock up on that end of the floor.
Carroll, on the other hand, is anticipated to boost the defensive intensity of this second unit with his physically imposing playstyle and switchability as a defender. The 33-year-old imposes his will against the opposition and will surely give headaches to the second-string forwards that he’ll match up with.
In his final season with the Brooklyn Nets, Carroll accepted a smaller role with the understanding that his team was ushering in a newer generation of homegrown talent. He has a track record as an excellent vet with strong locker room presence and an emphasis on team culture. The fit with Carroll in San Antonio makes perfect sense from a basketball standpoint and his character matches with the Spurs as well.
Through 25.4 minutes per game, Carroll averaged 11.1 points, 5.2 boards and 1.2 assists on 39.5 percent shooting from the field and 34.2 percent shooting from deep last year. Those averages are sure to go up under Popovich because of the legendary coach’s tendency to put his players in position to take advantage of their strengths.
Don’t be surprised to see Carroll take advantage of smaller matchups by muscling his way to the cup or backing down opposition. He’s the type of player to have something for everyone he guards, whether it be floor spacing, perimeter passing or inside scoring. His skill set pairs up well with the 2014-esque playstyle initiated by this second unit.
Maybe it’ll take some time for Carroll to adjust to San Antonio’s system entirely, but his previous experience under former Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer should make his transition to Popovich-ball relatively seamless – as long as he’s prepared to put in the work required to don the silver and black.
Next: Backup Center
Backup Center: Jakob Poeltl
Even though he earned his spot within the Spurs’ starting rotation during the team’s seven-game series against the Denver Nuggets, roster construction may force Poeltl back to a bench role in the 2019-20 season. With LaMarcus Aldridge projecting to start a the five-spot, Poeltl will be the primary source of rebounding and rim protection for this second unit à la Tiago Splitter in 2014.
Regardless of where he ends up on the depth chart, opportunity will be plentiful for Big Jak in the coming year. As the sole center on the main roster, Pop is going to lay expectations upon Poeltl. He’ll need to limit his fouls, something that troubled him throughout last season, while remaining an aggressive defender under the basket and in the pick-and-roll.
Guards are going to try to draw switches and isolate against Poeltl, so keeping light on his feet is key to the Spurs’ defensive identity. Luckily, he’ll have help on the boards with Carroll joining the squad and Dejounte Murray returning to the lineup.
Of centers appearing in 70 or more games last year, Poeltl had the third highest contested rebound percentage at 53.9, putting him above the likes of Rudy Gobert, Andre Drummond and Steven Adams. Using his enormous wingspan and keen rebounding instincts, Poeltl is an admirable foe on the backboards for any center.
San Antonio has grown keen to Poeltl with many believing him to be the team’s best center of the decade. He’s got a serious shot to build a long-term role for himself in the Alamo City and has already proven his dedication to the craft by working his tail off to adjust to Popovich’s game plan.
Rounding out the bench mob’s key rotation, Poeltl is going to be a foundational rock for the Spurs moving forward.