3 Players who must step up in order for the Spurs to make the playoffs
The San Antonio Spurs are in the midst of their most difficult season in two decades, here are three guys who must step up in the second half if San Antonio wants to make the playoffs
At the halfway point of the season, the San Antonio Spurs sit at 19-23 and in 9th place in the Western Conference. For a team that has been accustomed to perennial success, this season has been a tough pill to swallow for Spurs fans and players alike.
Even if everything had gone exactly how the Spurs had hoped, making the playoffs still would have been a difficult task. With star’s paring up on both sides of the Staples Center, in Houston, young MVP candidates taking over in Dallas and Denver, and an Oklahoma City team playing well past its expected level, San Antonio’s route to the postseason was always going to be difficult.
The Spurs’ first half of the season featured several black eyes. Near league-worst defense, questionable rotations, and the longest losing streak in Gregg Popovich’s tenure as head coach have all made the first half of the season one of the most frustrating in a long, long time.
That being said, there is always a silver lining to be found, if you look hard enough. Sure, San Antonio is out of the playoffs right now but only by one half of a game. And with the 15th most difficult strength of schedule to end the season, according to Tankathon, the Spurs should have plenty of opportunities to get back into the thick of things.
It’ll take a team effort but it’s doable. Here are three guys who will need to step up in the second half in order for the San Antonio Spurs to make the playoffs.
Lonnie Walker IV
When we talk about questionable rotations, Lonnie Walker‘s fluctuating minutes are what first come to mind. Walker’s sophomore season has been full of ups and downs. He’s gone from saving the Spurs skin in double overtime games to playing garbage time minutes in without much explanation from coaches, at least to the media, about why.
Walker knows that the way for him to receive more playing time is though making an impact on the defensive end. He’s the most athletic player on the San Antonio Spurs roster and while he has made some outstanding plays on that end this year he’s also made the kind of mistakes you expect from a player who’s basically in his rookie year. They’re not surprising but they can’t continue if the Spurs want to make the playoffs.
On offense, Walker can already do everything that the Spurs need him to do. He’s not quite to the point where he can carry the load on a nightly basis like DeMar DeRozan but he’s a strong complementary player who is capable of scoring at every level. The next step for Walker on the offensive end is for him to develop into a player who can put in 10-15 points on a nightly basis.
If Walker can cut out the defensive mistakes and improve his offensive contributions he should be able to carve out a more consistent role. The hope of Lonnie taking over a starting role this reason is all but a pipe dream at this point but he can still be a key contributor in helping the Spurs make the second-half push for the playoffs.
Last season, Derrick White stepped up in early December to spark a mid-season turnaround and help salvage the Spurs season. He took another step forward in the playoffs when he helped San Antonio take the second-best team in the Western Conference to seven games. This year has been a big adjustment for White, he went from running point for the Spurs to coming off the bench for most this season. Even still, San Antonio needs White play at an extremely high level in the second half if they want to make the playoffs.
The Derrick White we saw on Monday night against the Phoenix Suns is the guy that the Spurs need to show up every night over the second half. It was his best game of the season, he set new season highs in both points and assists with 25 and 7, respectively. He doesn’t need to pour in 20+ points per night but how he played was important.
White was aggressive from the jump on Monday. His season-high in points was unsurprisingly matched with a season-high in field goal attempts as White looked to score early and often. He was able to create several assists off of driving to the rim and finding a teammate for a backdoor pass as the defense slid over to contest his shot. That’s the kind of dynamic playmaking that San Antonio needs from him.
The Spurs have traditionally had one of the best bench units in the league, as the lead guard for the second unit White can help with that. The trio of White, Walker, and Jakob Poeltl could be particularly dangerous as the season goes on.
In the 138 minutes that those three have shared the floor, they’ve posted an offensive rating of 119.8 and an overall net rating of +23.1. White’s very skilled in operating in pick and roll, which pairs well with the rim running Poeltl. Add in the threat of Lonnie Walker cutting or knocking down a kick out three and you’ve got a pretty potent trio. All three players look like they will be important parts of the Spurs for years to come. Continuing to build chemistry with one another will not only help San Antonio this year but for years to come.
Thorugh his time in San Antonio, Bryn Forbes has slowly but surely evolved from a guy who hardly saw the floor to a staple in the Spurs starting lineup. He’s made major improvements every year, including taking over a lot of point guard duties last season, which has made his regression this season all the more frustrating.
By most metrics, Forbes has taken a step back in his fourth year with the team. His scoring is a hair below where it was last year, he’s making fewer of his shots, both from in close and from long range, and his defensive lapses have been a constant point of frustration.
He’s had his moments, like when he set a new career-high for triples on Monday night with eight, seven of which came in the first half. But these games have been few and far between. Monday was an impressive performance, but it doesn’t erase the four prior games in which Forbes went a combined 5 for 26 from behind the arc.
If he’s not making shots, Bryn’s defense makes him nearly unplayable. On the season he’s 446th in overall defensive rating 418th in defensive win shares. The effort is there, but far too often Bryn is late on rotations, drifting away from his man, or simply gets bullied for an easy basket.
If he can catch fire as he did on Monday night then the defensive issues become less concerning. But you can’t really rely on that. We’ve seen Bryn alternate between scorching hot and ice cold this season. He doesn’t need to knock down 73 percent of his three’s as he did against the Suns but if he could even return to the 43 percent accuracy he was at last year the Spurs would be a much more dangerous team.
It will take a full team effort but the San Antonio Spurs are still within striking defense of the playoffs. If DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge continue their stellar play and these three players step up it won’t be a surprise to see the Spurs make their 23rd consecutive playoff appearance.