They struggled this year but have young guys on deck, these three San Antonio Spurs are on the verge of having their breakout seasons
Nothing electrifies a fanbase quite like a young player having a breakout season. The satisfaction of knowing you were right about their potential, the thrill of something new, the excitement that comes with seeing your team do well, it’s been a while since San Antonio Spurs fans had something like that.
As far as NBA franchises go the San Antonio Spurs are less likely to experience a player’s breakout season than others. A well established and successful G-League team, proven development program, and Gregg Popovich’s long-standing policy of not playing young players until they make him look like an idiot for not putting them on the court has stuck more than one promising young player on the bench for longer than some have felt was necessary.
Pop’s insistence on sticking with players that he fully trusts is completely understandable but ultimately frustrated fans this season. Even as the Spurs continued to struggle he rolled with established but defensively underwhelming players like Bryn Forbes and Marco Belinelli over unproven but talented young players.
As the Spurs playoff chances got slimmer and slimmer he eventually relented, playing rookies more often and experimenting with lineups. Given the teams struggles this year, the potential departure of DeMar DeRozan, and the unrestricted free agencies of Rudy Gay, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Patty Mills that will come in the summer of 2021 this could be the year where we finally see Pop lean more on young players than he has in the past.
If that’s the case then these three players could finally get the breakout seasons we’ve all been hoping for in 2020.
Next: The Unicorn
He’s probably the furthest away from being ready to play consistent NBA minutes and the least likely of these three players to actually see the court consistently in 2020 but Luka Samanic could have his breakout year if the cards fall in his favor. After an impressive season in the G-League, we know he has the talent.
When the San Antonio Spurs drafted Samanic with the 19th pick in the 2019 Draft we knew that he was a few years away from being ready to play consistent minutes. He desperately needed to pack on muscle and adjust to the speed of the best league in the world.
Given all of the complications that have arisen due to COVID-19, it’s nearly impossible to accurately predict what this summer might look like for the NBA. The league is having a hard enough time finding a suitable situation to play the playoffs in, it’s hard to see them putting similar importance on less attractive events like the Utah and Las Vegas Summer Leagues.
Samanic could realistically go the whole summer without playing organized basketball. If that’s the case, maybe he can dedicate his summer to the weight room and go all-in on building out a frame that can withstand the 82 game NBA season.
With veterans like Rudy Gay, Trey Lyles, and Jakob Poeltl taking up space in the Spurs frontcourt it’s tough to see Samanic cracking the rotation in a meaningful way unless something changes. But teams around the NBA were rumored to be interested in Gay at the deadline and Poeltl will be a restricted free agent this summer. If one or both of them leave the team in the next few months Samanic would be in line for a greatly increased role.
With his floor spacing ability and skill as a secondary playmaker from the high post, Samanic would fill a role that the Spurs haven’t had a player in since Boris Diaw. He just needs his opportunity.
Next: The junkyard dog
I’m telling you now, Keldon Johnson is going to be special. He’s still pretty raw on offense but even with that, he can be a defensive-minded role player in the NBA for a long time if he puts his mind to it. And that’s the worst-case scenario.
Of the Spurs 2019 draft selections, Johnson was the only one that we got to see play real NBA minutes. Samanic and Quinndary Weatherspoon had their moments but neither played anything more than garbage time minutes. Johnson was finally getting to establish a spot in the rotation when the season was suspended. We didn’t get to see much of what he could do for the Spurs but what we did see was enough to raise eyebrows.
The Spurs really struggled on the defensive end this year, Johnson is in a prime position to help with that. Defense is a must for any young player seeking to crack Pop’s rotation and Johnson proved this year that he has the defensive chops to do that.
Studying players like Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard will go a long way towards helping Johnson improve on that end of the floor but it’s going to take real game reps to get him where he needs to be. In that regard, the season suspension and uncertain nature of the Summer League could set Johnson’s development back more so than Samanic’s.
The 29th pick that the Spurs received from the Toronto Raptors in the Kawhi Leonard trade was largely an afterthought at the time but we could look back on that deal in a year or two and look at it as the most valuable asset. Johnson has the physical tools he needs to be successful, tying it together with his basketball IQ is the next step. If he can do that he’s in a great position for a breakout year next season.
Next: The franchise point guard
It feels weird to include Dejounte Murray in here, he’s been the Spurs starting point guard for a while, has made an All-Defensive Team, and has already established himself as one of the more versatile point guards in the NBA. But it still feels like we’re just now seeing the player he can become.
After he cooked the Oklahoma City Thunder earlier this year to give the Spurs their first win of the Rodeo Road Trip he spoke to Sean Elliott and pointed out how he’s only been playing point guard in the NBA for about a year. He’ll be the first to admit that he’s far from a finished product.
While the season suspension and potential lack of organized basketball might other young Spurs back, it should be less of an issue for Murray. He spent much of last summer recovering from an ACL injury, working on his jump shot, and getting ready for his return to the NBA. We saw the fruits of his labors this year when he started knocking down nearly 38 percent of his long-range attempts.https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2020/01/02/0021900514/327/ac3121e7-19b2-45db-3c0c-5b2b9bab1c92_1280x720.mp4
He built out a nice mid-range game as well, connecting on 47 percent of his attempts between 10 feet from the basket and the 3-point line. All of those long hours locked in the gym had paid off as we saw Murray grow into one of the Spurs more consistent scoring threats.
If DeMar DeRozan does leave the Spurs this summer it might set the team back in the win column but the team, and certainly Murray, will be better for it. He’s shown that he can set up his teammates well but still can improve as a floor general. The additional reps he would get as the Spurs lead ball-handler in the wake of DeRozan’s departure could be just the catalyst he needs for that part of his game to take off.
Any one of these three players could take a leap next year. One thing is for sure, with young and talented players like these on the roster the future sure is bright for the San Antonio Spurs.