Things clearly aren’t going well for the San Antonio Spurs early in the season and changing around the rotation seems like the most logical option to save this year.
While it’s hard not to feel like the 2019-20 season is lost already, the San Antonio Spurs still have 67 games left to turn things around. With a shocking 5-10 record and their longest losing streak since franchise cornerstone Tim Duncan was drafted, the Spurs are in dire need of a change to the lineup.
Teams coached by organizational mastermind Gregg Popovich have never started as poorly as this group, though it’s hard to suspect he doesn’t find a way to pick up the pieces and salvage this season. San Antonio exceeded expectations by finishing seventh and nearly earning a trip to the second round of the playoffs last year, then added new pieces and returned point guard Dejounte Murray in the summer.
To take the next step in his own evolution as leader of the franchise Pop needs to take a long look at his team, his decisions and the trends of the league to guide the Spurs back to a winning record. He needs to start by tinkering his lineups, as the Spurs’ defensive woes have stymied an extremely effective offensive unit.
Though offensively gifted, the lack of perimeter defense in this grouping put the Wizards in position to score 138 points in four quarters including three periods with 35 or more points allowed. It’s no secret that both Mills and Bryn Forbes are mediocre defensively, due more to lack of discipline and size than effort. The same can be said of starting three DeMar DeRozan, whose natural position is at the shooting guard.
Playing a more defensive-minded forward at the starting three could help the Spurs switch on defense and closeout on shots. Furthermore, DeRozan can defend other natural shooting guards much better than 6-foot-2 Forbes can. With that in mind, one of DeMarre Carroll or Rudy Gay should probably be promoted to the starting lineup.
Even though Pop has been hesitant to play Carroll, the veteran wing has been helpful in his limited minutes. Through just 57 minutes of play, the Spurs have proven to be a considerably better team with him logging minutes
San Antonio’s offensive rating is better by 6.5 and defensive rating is better by 4.1 with their Carroll on the floor. His shooting and versatile defense give the Spurs a better chance to compete against opposing wings while spreading out the offense and providing an additional ball handler. Though he doesn’t have one particular specialty, Carroll imposes himself on multiple aspects of the game.
This way, the Spurs can continue bringing Gay off the bench alongside Mills to lead the second unit. If this group is going to continue trending downward defensively, they should at least look to give up those points with the bench unit in while allowing the starters to build momentum and secure leads.
It’d also be wise to keep Poeltl in the starting lineup. Similarly to Carroll, statistics greatly suggest that the Spurs are better on both sides of the ball with their young center in the game and it’s been proven countless times that potential Hall of Famer LaMarcus Aldridge plays his best at the power forward spot.
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With Carroll and Poeltl in the starting lineup in place of Lyles and Forbes, the Spurs have three dedicated defenders to start games off with. Allowing first-quarter points has been a consistent issue with this group, but supporting their stars defensively could help balance things out.
As a result of this change, the bench rotation would become somewhat chaotic. Logging minutes for five guards off the bench (Lonnie Walker IV, Marco Belinelli, Derrick White, Mills and Forbes) is a tall order and DeRozan would likely continue playing a decent amount of minutes at the small forward.
However, it’s a better issue than not having enough players to fill minutes in the backcourt and I believe Popovich could sort it out in time.
Forbes has logged the third-most minutes of any player this year, yet he has the worst net rating on the team. He’ll continue to be an exciting sharpshooter and arguably the team’s best shooter, but San Antonio is better off with Forbes within a smaller role because of his lackluster defense.