San Antonio Spurs: Three players whose roles should be minimized in return to play
By Dylan Carter
When the San Antonio Spurs season resumes in Orlando, FL, certain players should have their minutes reduced in favor of their teammates.
Let’s be brutally honest: Not everyone on this San Antonio Spurs team should be playing as many minutes as they have this season. For starters, San Antonio’s roster construction has been iffy for the last two seasons. It seems like head coach Gregg Popovich is catering to his veterans, but it’s not doing the team any good. For the first time since he assumed his role, San Antonio’s defense has slipped out of the Top-20 in defensive rating (112.8, 24th).
Much of that has to do with the rapid decline of the team’s veterans and a distinct effort to scheme for DeMar DeRozan. Though he isn’t the primary catalyst in the Spurs’ decline and shouldn’t be in line for a minutes reduction, the team needs to use their eight games to start focusing elsewhere. This will result in lineup changes from top to bottom.
DeRozan has spent more time at the power forward spot (23% of his minutes) than he has at his natural two-guard position because of the team’s spacing issues. He’s a lackluster defender at small forward, but a shift back to the two-guard might give him the energy that he needs to pick up his play on both ends of the floor.
With the team obviously trending younger, it’s time for Coach Pop to react accordingly. The injury to LaMarcus Aldridge is going to force his hand since the remaining big men are all young.
To correct their mistakes from this season and prove to the basketball world that the Spurs shouldn’t be given up on, tough decisions will need to be made and these three players should have their roles reduced — even if it means stepping outside of Popovich’s comfort zone.
Next: It's time for Bryn to take a backseat
For the San Antonio Spurs to hit their ceiling, Bryn Forbes needs to hit the bench.
Besides DeRozan himself, no Spur has caught as much flack at combo guard Bryn Forbes. Some of it is certainly deserved, considering he’s statistically one of the worst starting guards in the NBA, but the situation is working against him. Forbes is a bench talent at best who’s only starting because the Spurs desperately need his shooting on the perimeter.
The Spurs can still implement Forbes’ shooting around DeRozan without giving him 25.1 minutes per game — the third-most on the team. In smaller 15-to-20 minute doses, Forbes could be great for these Spurs, coming off the bench to hail triples and open up space for DeRozan to drive.
With Forbes on the floor, San Antonio is 10.6 points per 100 possessions worse than they are with him on it That’s the worst differential of any consistent rotation player this year. He’s played more-than double the minutes that Lonnie Walker IV has this season despite the Spurs being 2 points per 100 possessions better with the sophomore playing.
Taking eight minutes away from Forbes and distributing them between the other young guards is not only going to maximize what the team can get from Bryn, but it’s going to put them in a position to win more games. The nail in the coffin is this: San Antonio’s winning percentage is 13.6 percent better in games when Forbes logs less than 22 minutes.
If that doesn’t convince you that the team needs to limit his minutes, I’m not sure what will.
Next: Don't look at the advanced stats
Numbers will lie to you about Marco Belinelli’s impact, the San Antonio Spurs need to stash him on the bench and never look back.
If you lean too heavily into the statistics instead of actually watching a player’s on-court impact, you’re going to fall into some misleading conundrums. The Spurs’ greatest statistical anomaly is Marco Belinelli, who fares decently well in On/Off numbers, but is a truly horrid two-way player by this stage of his career. I say that because I don’t want to undermine Marco’s solid NBA career and helpful minutes for the Spurs in the past, but he’s been a disaster this year.
Belinelli is objectively the Spurs’ worst on-ball defender when you really pay attention. He can’t keep up with anyone at his position, doesn’t have the strength to combat drives to the basket or the reaction time to close out on shooters. His legs are stiff and his defensive IQ is mediocre at best, meaning the only place where he can truly make an impact is as a scorer… except he doesn’t.
This season, Marco is the only rotation player shooting below 40 percent from the field (39.1%) and for a player known as a sharpshooter, he’s only shooting 1.1 percent above league-average in 3-point shooting. There’s very little mobility left and his circus-shots aren’t falling the way they used to. San Antonio is 4-8 in the 12 games when he shot at least eight times this season and has a winning record when he takes two or fewer.
There comes a time in every NBA player’s life when his coach needs to sit him down and let him know that he’s not what he used to be. Whether or not someone has had that conversation with Marco is unknown, but there’s not much of a reason left to play him anymore. Those minutes could easily be distributed to younger players just waiting to be unleashed.
Next: It's time to slow Rudy's roll
There’s less incentive to play San Antonio Spurs forward Rudy Gay than there’s ever been during his stint in the River City.
After a slow start to the season, forward Rudy Gay started to come along nicely before the hiatus struck. The veteran found his footing despite a major decline to his shooting efficiency and Coach Popovich unlocked an exciting small-ball five option for the scoring savant. With that said, playing Gay extended minutes doesn’t bode well for anyone these days.
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He’s averaging 21.5 minutes per game this season, which seems reasonable until you notice what happens when he plays big minutes in an instinctive move from Coach Pop. The Spurs are 5-11 when he plays over 25 minutes and most of the time, this happens when Popovich is bothered by missteps from his younger players. When the team comes back, Pop should consider letting his team play through those mistakes so they can use this as a learning experience.
There’s a sweet-spot for Rudy: Between 19 and 21 and a half minutes. Gay’s playing time fell into that span 10 times this season — the Spurs won eight of those games. Playing Gay that specific range of minutes isn’t going to dramatically change the projection of the team, but it’ll help get others involved and lay out a gameplan for the future.
While Rudy can still go and get a bucket for himself in most scenarios, his shooting is declining and his athleticism isn’t what it used to be. He’s a smart player who uses his IQ to guide him, but he gets beat off the dribble more than you’d hope for a former-wing and now, he’s best used as an off-ball rim protector in limited minutes.
Cutting down on Rudy’s minutes would make the Spurs’ commitment to the future clear as day.