The San Antonio Spurs will have to get creative with Trey Lyles out
One of the most common criticisms from San Antonio Spurs fans this season was that the team was too stuck into using rotations that weren’t helping them win games. Be it the constant presence of Bryn Forbes in the starting lineup, Lonnie Walker being stuck on the bench for long stretches at a time, or Jakob Poeltl’s frustrating underutilization, there were a lot of rotation adjustments that could have been made to help the teams fortunes.
Even before the injury bug started biting the Spurs left and right, there was hope that the coaching staff would use the rest of the regular season as a sandbox environment to experiment with new lineups and get younger players more playing time. If that was the hope then the recent developments around Trey Lyles and LaMarcus Aldrdige have all but made it a certainty.
We’ve known for a while that Aldridge would miss the rest of the regular season after undergoing surgery on his right shoulder. But we just recently found out that Lyles would also miss the seasons restart with appendicitis.
This is a real blow for both the Spurs and Lyles. For San Antonio, it means that they’re going to have to lean heavily on young players or the newly signed Tyler Zeller. For Lyles, this robs him of a chance to remind the Spurs front office exactly why they should consider him a part of their organization long term.
But this is also a chance for San Antonio to turn lemons into lemonade. Without Lyles, they’ll have to get even more creative with their rotations. It’s time to get weird. Here are two lineup quirks that the Spurs should try out over the next eight games.
Next: Go small
Keldon Johnson could play power forward for the San Antonio Spurs
When we recently covered how the Spurs could go about replacing Trey Lyles in the lineup we focused on the traditional big men like Chimezie Metu and Drew Eubanks. But there’s another option that would go away from the traditional and focus more on the future.
Among the Spurs rookies who have a chance to carve out roles in Orlando, Keldon Johnson has the most NBA experience thus far. He was starting to become a regular part of the Spurs rotation before the season was canceled, but in the bubble, he can make a really strong impression if he’s willing to take on a change of responsibilities.
Johnson only played at the power forward spot for 35 percent of his limited minutes this year and at 6’5 he might be a hair undersized for the position but if the Spurs are willing to go small and see how the rookie handles himself it could end up with some interesting results.
The Spurs were remarkably successful when Johnson was on the floor, outscoring the opponents by 10.6 points per 100 possessions. He’s shown a willingness to stick his nose into the heart of the opposing team’s offense and isn’t afraid to throw himself on the floor for loose balls. He’s a dog, a scrapper who could excel as a small-ball power forward.
The young players on the Spurs roster can flat out fly, with Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker, and Keldon Johnson, San Antonio has an incredibly athletic group of guys who haven’t gotten much of a chance to play together thus far. Over the next few games, it could be interesting to see how the team fares with Johnson taking over as their power forward. At the very least it would result in some entertaining fast-break moments if he’s running with Murray and Walker.
Next: Tall Luka takes over
Experiment with Luka Samanic as the San Antonio Spurs center
If you didn’t see our recent piece on Luka’s apparent growth spurt, the San Antonio Spurs promising rookie looks like he’s a bona fide 7-footer at this point. It’s time for the San Antonio Spurs to put this height to use and play Luka Samanic at center.
Before we get into why this is a good idea, let’s address how it could backfire. One of the biggest points of emphasis for Luka in his rookie season was adding muscle to his frame. He’s on his way, but still has a lot of room to pack on pounds. He’s got the height to play center now, but his ability to hold his own with the big boys in the NBA is questionable at this point.
This wouldn’t be as big of an issue if the Spurs didn’t have to face a gauntlet of physical big men. Looking at their remaining schedule they have to face the 76ers, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Jazz, and Nuggets, to name a few teams. We’ve got all the faith in the world that Luka is going to be a good player for the Spurs down the road but asking him to guard Joel Embiid or Jonas Valančiūnas seems less like a creative experiment and more like cruel and unusual punishment.
That said, the Spurs’ chances of making the playoffs are about as slim as they could be at this point. Picking and choosing the spots where Luka steps in at center could give him some valuable experience, and who cares if it results in a loss if it’s going to help the team down the road. San Antonio also has a game with the Kings, who are down to just Harry Giles and Marvin Bagley in their frontcourt, that could be perfect opportunity to get Samanic a long stretch at center.
Teams around the league are running with a five out style of play that puts everyone on the perimeter. So far that’s not something the Spurs have really experimented with. That could be due to their personnel or simply Pop’s preferences. But playing Luka at center would allow them to do that and with so little left to lose it’s hard to find a reason why they shouldn’t at least give it a go from time to time in Orlando.
No matter how they do it the San Antonio Spurs need to find ways to get Luka on the court over these final eight games.
The injuries to Trey Lyles and LaMarcus Aldrdige have backed the San Antonio Spurs into a corner but there’s no reason that they can’t spin this into a positive direction. Take the gloves off, get weird, try some new lineups, and just maybe they’ll find something that could be really successful in the future.