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How would the San Antonio Spurs offense respond to losing DeRozan?

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JANUARY 17: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs and Dejounte Murray #5 push the ball down court against the Atlanta Hawks during second half action at AT&T Center on January 17, 2020 in San Antonio, Texas. Atlanta Hawks defeated the San Antonio Spurs 121-120. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that ,by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - JANUARY 17: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs and Dejounte Murray #5 push the ball down court against the Atlanta Hawks during second half action at AT&T Center on January 17, 2020 in San Antonio, Texas. Atlanta Hawks defeated the San Antonio Spurs 121-120. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that ,by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images) /
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What do the San Antonio Spurs do if they lose DeMar DeRozan?

One of the biggest questions facing the San Antonio Spurs this summer is the uncertainty around DeMar DeRozan‘s upcoming player option. The star wing has excelled in the Alamo City since being traded by the Toronto Raptors but his future with the team is a bit murkier.

DeRozan has an upcoming option worth around $27.7 million dollars. That’s a lot of money to walk away from, and if the attitude that Andre Drummond had when considering his similar option with the Cleveland Cavaliers is any indication of what DeRozan’s thinking is likely to be then it’s safe to assume that DeMar will be back in the silver and black next year.

If DeRozan does return to San Antonio, he could be one of the hottest stars on the trade market. The Spurs young backcourt is their strength right now. With budding young players like Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker on the rise, you couldn’t blame the Spurs front office for shopping DeRozan around in search of assets. The team needs to go through a rebuild and that process is unlikely to end with DeRozan still on the roster.

In a recent creative experiment, the folks over at The Step Back put together a mock expansion draft for two additional NBA teams. Thankfully the Spurs were able to hold on to most of their young talent but did lose DeMar to the Kansas City Burnt Ends. That was just for kicks and giggles, but what would the Spurs attack would look like if the team does come back without DeRozan next year.

How could the San Antonio Spurs offense replace DeMar DeRozan

While he has been criticized for sticking with a game that analytics fans abhor, the fact remains that DeRozan was a crucial part of the San Antonio Spurs offense, and replacing his contributions would be a difficult task.

We’ve all seen what DeRozan can do as a scorer. Detractors of the mid-range be damned, DeMar was on a roll this year. He rattled off game after game of 20+ points on 50 percent or better shooting from the floor, breaking Michael Jordan’s record for consecutive games with stats like that along the way.

Scoring has always been what DeMar is known for but his playmaking ability has quickly become nearly as dangerous. He’s thrived as a primary facilitator in the Spurs offense, posting the best passing numbers of his career in both of his seasons in San Antonio. Dylan Carter did a great job going into exactly how DeRozan thrives as the Spurs lead playmaker but suffice it to say that his skill in that area of the game would be sorely missed.

DeRozan led the Spurs in assist percentage, assists per game, points per game, offensive win shares, usage rate, and VORP. Whenever he was on the floor he was the fulcrum that the entire San Antonio offense ran through. It will take a full team effort to replace what he did for the team.

Losing DeRozan would hurt but it could also open up minutes for players who could end up replacing or exceeding what he brought to the table. One of the biggest reasons Spurs fans are so keen on moving on from DeRozan is because the team has a glut of young players clamoring for his minutes.

Derrick White, Lonnie Walker, and Dejounte Murray are all ready to step up and fill a DeRozan sized hole in the San Antonio offense. Together the three are the future of the team and it’s hard to see them reaching their respective ceilings with DeMar handling as much of the offensive load as he does.

Specifically, regarding playmaking, Murray seems like the readiest to step up. DeMar sat out the final two games of the first leg of the Spurs Rodeo Road Trip. In his absence DJ rose to the occasion and led San Antonio to their first win of the trip against Oklahoma City after excelling as a passer against the Denver Nuggets the night before.

https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2020/02/10/0021900799/66/6216500a-09c4-ae7d-4d5f-9e44060105aa_1280x720.mp4

DeRozan led the Spurs in assists per game but Dejounte actually led him in assists per 100 possessions. Murray averaged 7.9 assists per 100, and DeMar and Derrick White followed right behind with 7.8 and 6.7, respectively. White and Murray have both proven that they’re more than capable of running the Spurs offense on their own. Together they should have no problem filling in the gap created by DeRozan’s potential departure.

White and Murray have each taken steps forward as scorers every year they’ve been in the league but it’s Lonnie Walker who shows the most potential of the three in that area of the game.

Walker has the potential to be a 20 point per game scorer and a threat from all areas of the floor. He’s had impressive scoring performances scattered into his first two years but stringing them together and being consistent from all areas of the floor has been a challenge for the bouncy young guard.

Would really like to see Lonnie Walker improve his finishing around the rim down in Orlando, definitely something for him to focus on over these final few games pic.twitter.com/zJtSeq0VlA

— Ethan (@EthanMarcel) July 11, 2020

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Take his performance inside the ar. Walker is one of the most explosive young players in the league, he’s by far the bounciest member of the Spurs, but he shot just 58 percent at the rim and 30 percent between 3 and 16 feet away from the basket.

He’s more than capable of creating space by either blowing past his man or elevating over them but finishing on these open looks has to become the norm. Maybe it’s just jitters or playing too fast. Once the game slows down for Walker as it does for all players the longer they are in the league he’s going to be able to use his athleticism to lethal effect.

It’s hard to see Walker continuing to struggle near the rim throughout his career, he’s sure to figure it out soon. But until then we can still be happy that he’s already shown an ability to do something DeRozan was unable or unwilling to do. He’s above the league average in several areas behind the arc and has looked comfortable pulling up on his own or knocking down catch and shoot opportunities.

The vibe around the Spurs is full of energy and excitement, it sounds like a lot of these young guys are coming into Orlando fired up and ready to prove that they’re ready to take over. They all know the opportunity that is in front of them with DeRozan’s potential leaving. Bet on them coming out hot and showing the coaches and front office that they’re the future of the franchise.

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DeMar DeRozan’s departure isn’t set in stone for the San Antonio Spurs. But if next season does come around and he’s no longer on the roster, the responsibility replacing his contributions to the offense will largely fall upon White, Murray, and Walker. Let’s hope they’re up to the task.

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