Whether they fight back into the playoffs or not, the San Antonio Spurs need to try playing their rising stars alongside each other.
No matter what the San Antonio Spurs looked like before the All-Star break, head coach Gregg Popovich is going to try to force his team back into the playoffs. It’s in their nature to compete and be the best version of themselves—tanking is not in the Spurs’ vocabulary and more than likely never will be.
In order to achieve this, some players’ minutes need to be sacrificed and some exploratory lineups must be implemented. This could mean a playing time reduction for defensive liabilities like guards Bryn Forbes and Marco Belinelli, and the dream backcourt of Dejounte Murray and Derrick White should certainly be explored in pursuit of the playoffs.
Even if things continue trending downward and the Spurs can’t pull off a 23rd consecutive playoff appearance, Popovich needs to start establishing continuity and chemistry between the team’s two best, young players. Murray signed a four-year extension in the offseason and San Antonio will likely match any offer thrown at White in 2021 free agency. They are concurrently and present, and the future of this organization.
Very small sample size, but here’s Dejounte Murray and Derrick White’s numbers in the last two games.
Murray: 30.1 mins, 19.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 6 assists
White: 23.3 mins, 16 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists
Pop closed with both of them on the floor last night.
— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) February 12, 2020
Statistics back up the fact that White and Murray are a strong combination. Though they’ve only played 77 minutes together this year, they’ve closed out games alongside each other lately and have a 9.0 Net Rating in that span. They have a defensive rating of 99.4, which is 13.3 points better than the team average while improving the team’s average true shooting percentage by 2.4 percent with the duo on the floor.
When the Spurs’ rising talents play together, they vastly improve the defensive integrity of the group by providing two switchable perimeter defenders who stick like glue to players at positions 1-through-3. They have active hands, keen instincts and high defensive IQ, elevating the play of everyone around them in the process.
San Antonio plays much faster when Murray and White share the backcourt, increasing its pace from 100.40 to 107.25. They force their teammates to play with more intensity and having two team-minded ball-handlers at the helm sets the tempo for everyone else on the team.
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They also attack the glass with more intensity when Murray and White are in because having two skilled rebounding guards helps San Antonio’s bigs to focus on boxing out instead of being the only ones corralling boards. No Spurs duo has a better rebounding percentage than Dejounte and Derrick.
There are no two ways about it: The Spurs have too many guards, and the only reason why White and Murray aren’t playing together already is that they have to make up for the shortcomings of their teammates. It’ll take a big decision from Popovich, who has seemed stuck in his ways this season, but his team is desperate.
Keeping Murray and White apart isn’t going to help anyone. It’s time to embrace them as the leaders of this team moving forward because we don’t know how much longer DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge are going to be around.
Embracing the future doesn’t have to mean letting this season go. Inversely, it could be the thing that saves this team from imminent doom.