3 New Year’s resolutions for the San Antonio Spurs backcourt
By Ethan Farina
The New Year is almost here and with that comes time for some goal setting. Here are three New Years’ resolutions for the San Antonio Spurs backcourt.
The start to the 2019-20 season has not gone the way that the San Antonio Spurs would have hoped but there is still reason for optimism. As we enter the new decade, the Spurs are only a few games out of playoff contention and team spirits are high.
There’s plenty to work on but the San Antonio Spurs backcourt has shown promise through the first 31 games of the season. Everyone has impressed in their own way but there’s always room for improvement.
Dejounte Murray has made a full recovery from his torn ACL and has shown that he can be the dynamic two-way guard that the Spurs hoped he could be. Derrick White has taken a huge step forward with his outside shooting ability. Patty Mills is having a career year and Lonnie Walker has driven the Spurs fanbase into a frenzy.
There have been moments of extreme frustration to be sure, but the San Antonio Spurs can still turn this season around and make their record-setting 23rd consecutive playoff appearance. Making a few key improvements will go a long way towards getting this team back into the top eight in the Western Conference.
Most people abandon their New Year’s resolutions within the first few months. If the Spurs backcourt is able to stick to these three resolutions the team will have a much better chance of making that coveted playoff berth.
Next: Force Pop's hand
Lonnie Walker needs to make Gregg Popovich play him
After an impressive summer, Spurs fans were calling for increased playing time for Lonnie Walker from the moment the season started. Since then the questions around Walker’s inconsistent playing time have only increased as he’s saved the Spurs in some games and been completely ignored in others.
Lonnie Walker’s New Year’s resolution is to force Gregg Popovich to play him. It’s an obscure and difficult goal to achieve but it needs to be done and it’s exactly what Pop wants. He’s said in the past that in order for a young player to get solid playing time they need to force his hand. Make him look like a fool for not playing you and you’ll get the playing time you deserve.
How exactly Lonnie does that is less than clear but he’s on the right path. He averaged almost 17 minutes a game in December, a significant uptick from the month before. That’s heading in the right direction but carving out a consistent role is more important than playing heavy minutes in a few games.
Walker has gone back and forth between brought into the game early and being relegated to garbage time minutes. In 2020 it would be nice to see him force Pop into using him as one of the Spurs key contributors early and often. He’s clearly the future of the Spurs, he just needs to earn his way onto the court more.
This kid is built different. Regardless of how this season goes the Spurs future is so bright with him on the team #GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/XtNFivxuyu
— Air Alamo (@AirAlamo) December 29, 2019
Lonnie’s shown flashes of his immense potential more often over the past month and his teammates are taking notice. Playing at the level his teammates and coaches know he’s capable of and cutting down on the mental mistakes should help him continue to establish himself as one of the Spurs’ most valuable players as the season goes forward.
Next: Keep attacking the rim
Keep attacking the rim
Hand up, I’ve been pretty critical of DeMar DeRozan this year. I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on what he could do better and not enough on what he has done well. DeMar has been outstanding when attacking the rim this season. Continuing with that and inspiring his teammates to do the same his resolution for 2020.
He’s known primarily as a mid-range virtuoso but DeRozan is taking defenders to the cup in a way that we largely haven’t seen from him over his career. He’s always been an aggressive player more than capable of delivering thunderous dunks. The dunks might have decreased but the efficiency hasn’t.
On the season, 27 percent of DeRozan’s field goal attempts are coming from within three feet of the rim. He’s also finding the bottom of the basket on 68 percent of those attempts. His focus on attacking the rim has helped him hit 52 percent of his shots this year. That will be a new career-high for him if he can sustain it over the rest of the season.
If San Antonio’s big men like Rudy Gay and LaMarcus Aldridge continue to stretch the floor it should open up even wider driving lanes for him. Those driving lanes will translate to more opportunities to attack and either get a layup or kick it out to a waiting teammate for three.
This league is all about attacking the rim, drawing defenders in, and kicking it out for three. With Aldridge starting to shoot more three’s, DeRozan continuing to attack, and players like White and Mills hitting from outside the Spurs are on their way to retooling their offense to stay with the times.
Next: Play some defense
Tighten up the perimeter defense
Despite their outdated scoring preferences, the San Antonio Spurs offense has kept them in quite a few close games. It’s on defense where they’ve been getting burned. The final resolution for the San Antonio Spurs backcourt is to tighten up the perimeter defense.
Defense has long been a point of pride for teh San Antonio Spurs but it quickly became clear that the team’s defensive struggles were going to be a constant problem during the season. The Spurs have two of the very worst perimeter defenders in the league in Patty Mills and Bryn Forbes. Both bring plenty of value on the other end but there is no denying that they’ve both been well below average on defense.
There is hope for this defense yet, thanks to Dejounte Murray. Murray has been just as aggressive as a defender as he was before his injury and should be in the running to make his second All-Defensive Team.
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He leads the league in deflections per 36 minutes among active players who’ve appeared in 28 or more games and is fourth in steals per 36 minutes. One change that could significantly improve the Spurs perimeter defense would be playing Dejounte with White.
The two are the Spurs best perimeter defenders and yet they hardly ever play together. There is the argument that keeping them separate allows San Antonio to hide the other guard, be it Mills or Forbes, on the opponents less threatening player but even still it would be nice to at least see the Spurs experiment with what they could do together on the defensive end.
They’ve played in just 18 minutes together all season but have posted an 83.7 defensive net rating in that very limited time. If the defensive struggles continue to plague the team it would be maddening to see the coaching staff continue to ignore the tremendous potential this duo has.
They’ve got work to do but don’t count the San Antonio Spurs out quite yet. The season is still young and this team has proven time and time again that you should doubt them at your own risk. All they are a few key tweaks and they’ll be back in playoff contention in no time.