Goals for the San Antonio Spurs’ five most important players in the bubble

SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 28: Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs passes off to DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs against the Detroit Pistons (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 28: Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs passes off to DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs against the Detroit Pistons (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images) /
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CLEVELAND, OHIO – MARCH 08: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs watches the scoreboard during the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OHIO – MARCH 08: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs watches the scoreboard during the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Games will begin shortly inside in the NBA’s Orlando Bubble and the San Antonio Spurs’ most important players need to make the most of their opportunity.

Second chances don’t come around often and while the San Antonio Spurs probably aren’t going to get back into the playoffs, they shouldn’t waste their opportunity inside the Orlando bubble. Having a chance to compete against elite talent didn’t seem like a possibility when the league shut down operations in mid-March, but they’ve defied the odds and are back in action next week.

Therefore, wasting this chance to improve is not an option for the Spurs roster from the top down. Today, we’re going to key in on the primary focus of the five most important players inside the bubble. There aren’t the Spurs’ five best players, though four of them have a decent case. It’s the five guys who the team has invested the most stock into that set the tone for their teammates.

We’ve already seen footage of these guys pushing themselves inside the bubble, competing to the best of their ability during five-on-five scrimmages against each other. Head coach Gregg Popovich has put together some unique lineup combinations that we haven’t seen in-game before. Now is the time to experiment — especially considering both of the Spurs’ starters in the frontcourt are out of the bubble while recovering from surgery.

It was an unfortunate twist of fate that probably sealed their playoff hopes, but this isn’t the kind of team to just give up. There’ve been murmurs that the young guys will be getting some extra run in Orlando, which bodes well for the future considering they make up the majority of the team.

Now is the time to see what everybody can bring to the table so Popovich and the front office can make decisions for next year.

Next: 5 - The Rook

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JULY 10: Luka Samanic #19 of San Antonio Spurs in action against the Phoenix Suns during the 2019 Summer League at the Cox Pavilion (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JULY 10: Luka Samanic #19 of San Antonio Spurs in action against the Phoenix Suns during the 2019 Summer League at the Cox Pavilion (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

5. After being picked 19th by the San Antonio Spurs, rookie forward Luka Samanic needs to get his feet wet.

Before we address Luka, we need to talk about the other prominent rookie — No. 29 pick, Keldon Johnson. There’s no doubt in my mind that Johnson is going to be a fantastic player in the pros who should be getting roughly 15-22 minutes per game in Orlando, but he has his limitations. Johnson projects to be a high-end role player with defensive tenacity and versatile scoring to balance out the team.

However, the Spurs drafted Luka Samanic as their dart throw at a star talent and invested higher draft capital in him. We all knew heading into the season that Johnson was the more NBA-ready player of the two, but now we’re going to get a glance at what Luka can do. With unusual mobility and ball-handing skills for a player of his size, the rookie is somewhat of an anomaly on the court.

In Austin, Samanic proved his three-level scoring potential by taking initiative as a primary scoring threat for the G-League’s seventh-best offense. As the year went on, he became more comfortable in his role, averaging 17.1 points and 8.7 boards per game in January at 47.2 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from deep.

Turnovers are a big issue for him and to be fair, his basketball IQ is still being established. However, the Spurs need him to step in immediately and show us what he’s got. When the lights are bright and the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been, can Samanic play to the best of his ability?

I guess we’re about to find out, but at the very least, the 20-year-old is about to get a feel for elite NBA competition.

Next: 4 - The Marvelous Athlete

SAN ANTONIO, TX – JANUARY 6: Fans reacts after a three-pointer by Lonnie Walker #1 of the San Antonio Spurs against the Milwaukee Bucks in the second half at AT&T Center. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX – JANUARY 6: Fans reacts after a three-pointer by Lonnie Walker #1 of the San Antonio Spurs against the Milwaukee Bucks in the second half at AT&T Center. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images) /

4. If Lonnie Walker IV wants to take a larger role for the San Antonio Spurs, he must improve his decision-making.

Fan-favorite wing Lonnie Walker IV is easily the most athletically gifted of the Spurs, but the question remains; How high is his ceiling in actuality? The fanbase in San Antonio envisions him as this unstoppable scorer who can take over as the team’s go-to guy on offense, but so far, his decision-making has been highly questionable, to say the least.

By this point, most Spurs fans see the vision of Walker developing his skills and excelling in a greater role. There’s not a single player out there with his pizazz as a finisher, but his percentages near the basket need work. Lonnie shot 55.6 percent in the restricted area and only 27.7 percent on paint shots outside of the restricted area. His floater needs work and he needs to learn not to force those shots if he doesn’t have space for it.

Lonnie Walker tells me that he echos Dejounte Murray's feelings that the young players on the team are hungry to play. #nba #gospursgo

— JeffGSpursZone (@JeffGSpursZone) July 11, 2020

Despite shooting 40.8 percent on triples, Walker is only a 37.2 percent jump shooter on 156 attempts and is just 46.8 percent on 94 layups. He’s not invincible and until he shows Coach Pop that he’s going to be smarter with his shot selection, Lonnie’s not going to get that role that the fanbase yearns for him.

Turnovers aren’t as big of an issue as they once were for Lonnie, but he still needs to be careful not to make silly mistakes with the ball in his hands. He’s got 46 assists to 31 turnovers this season, which isn’t awful but still leaves plenty of room for improvement. More so than anything, Lonnie needs to prove that he’s maturing into the player that the Spurs dream he could be.

Next: 3 - The Floor General

ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 06: Derrick White #4 of the San Antonio Spurs dunks against Alex Len #25 of the Atlanta Hawks in the first half at State Farm Arena. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 06: Derrick White #4 of the San Antonio Spurs dunks against Alex Len #25 of the Atlanta Hawks in the first half at State Farm Arena. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

3. For the San Antonio Spurs to reach their peak, Derrick White needs to show that he can bring some nasty.

We’ve all seen Derrick White’s competitive nature flair up throughout the past two seasons. It was omnipresent during the early stages of last year’s first-round playoff series with the Denver Nuggets and reared its head various times since. When he’s engaged and aggressive, White asserts a level of dominance over a game that most players couldn’t achieve.

Unfortunately, we don’t get that version of Derrick all too often. That needs to change.

When Derrick White is aggressive, seeking shots and setting up teammates by commanding the ball, great things happen. The Spurs broke even in games when he scored at least 17 points this season and had a winning record when he had at least two steals. Whether his shots are falling on one end or he’s locking up on the other, San Antonio is a better ballclub when White is engaged.

https://twitter.com/spurs/status/1283853767935434759

With that in mind, White’s focus should be on bringing some competitive fire to Orlando and taking that starting two-guard spot by the cojones. By this point, it’s obvious that Bryn Forbes shouldn’t be a starter. There’s no denying that Bryn’s three-point shot is wicked and his quick release bodes well in the uptempo offense, but he’s too one-dimensional to last in the starting five. Instead of masking other player’s deficiencies by limiting White’s role, Popovich and the coaching staff need to unleash their third-best player in the bubble.

White is statistically one of the best pick-and-roll ballhandlers in basketball, blocks more shots than any guard in the league and sacrifices his body to make winning plays with the fourth-most charges drawn — second amongst guards. He’s not going to get handed the job, so if he plays with his heart on his sleeve and makes more of those winning plays, White can force Pop’s hand.

Next: 2 - The Unlikely Leader

PORTLAND, OREGON – FEBRUARY 06: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs dribbles with the ball in the first quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers during their game at Moda Center. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
PORTLAND, OREGON – FEBRUARY 06: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs dribbles with the ball in the first quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers during their game at Moda Center. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

2. It’s time for DeMar DeRozan to hand the keys to the San Antonio Spurs’ offense to his counterparts and take on a different role.

There’s been evidence to suggest that the Spurs are a better team when DeMar DeRozan is prioritizing his passing over his individual scoring. Over the last two years in the River City, DeRozan has become a transcendent passer who can pick opponents apart by drawing them near the paint on the way to the basket and dropping dimes off to teammates. This is what he needs to emphasize as the Spurs resume their season in Orlando.

Let’s be frank — DeRozan is going to be viewed by many as the primary reason why the Spurs didn’t make the playoffs. The team was still evenly split between him and Aldridge last year, but it became obvious in 2020 that the offense belonged to DeRozan and the team suffered for it. Everyone around DeRozan needs to play differently to compliment his playstyle but now, he has a chance to correct the error of his ways.

"You get that on film?"@DeMar_DeRozan | #GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/FiznUFTYNH

— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) July 17, 2020

If DeRozan embraces a passing role and helps open up the floor for his teammates instead of focusing on his scoring numbers, the Spurs will play better as a whole. He’s a solid pick-and-roll threat who can curl off of screens and force defenders to gravitate to him instead of the roll-man. If he plays his cards right, DeRozan can help some of these young bigs get comfortable and confident in the league by prioritizing their buckets over his own.

Sometimes, it’s more meaningful for a player to settle into a lesser role and let the team around him grow than it is to be the go-to guy. Maybe it’ll damage his pride, but the entire Spurs organization will be better off if he recognizes that these eight games in Orlando aren’t about him.

Next: 1 - The Spiritual Leader

MIAMI, FLORIDA – JANUARY 15: Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs in action against the Miami Heat during the second half at American Airlines Arena. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA – JANUARY 15: Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs in action against the Miami Heat during the second half at American Airlines Arena. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

1. Dejounte Murray is already a mentor to younger San Antonio Spurs, now he needs to pick up the volume and maintain his efficiency to take the next step.

Believe it or not, Dejounte Murray is the most important player on the Spurs right now. He’s the physical embodiment of the Spurs’ way. Murray went under the wings of Tony Parker and Patty Mills from early on, absorbing as much information as he could while buying into a team-culture that believed in him when many other organizations didn’t. The young point guard responded by becoming the youngest player to make an All-Defensive team and the rest is history.

Murray is the bridge between the Spurs teams of the past and the dynasties of the future. If San Antonio is going to get back to its winning ways, it’ll be because Murray played a major part in making that happen. Between his competitive nature and natural charisma, Murray is the next leader of this franchise without a doubt in my mind — even if he’s not the leading scorer or even an All-Star in the coming years.

DJ gonna DJ ?@DejounteMurray | #GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/QamGyCxwKg

— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) July 17, 2020

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Right now, Dejounte needs to take things one step at a time. We tend to forget that he’s still partially working himself back from a life-changing injury. That said, the task ahead is simple: Dejounte needs to start increasing his shot volume so that we can better understand whether or not his shooting percentages are legitimate.

Through 58 games, Murray shot 47.5 percent from the field, 37.8 percent from deep and 79.8 percent from the charity stripe. A higher free throw percentage is usually a great indicator that a player’s shooting bump is real, but even then, he only took 94 free throws this year. With the increased volume, San Antonio can get a better sense of what they’ll get from Dejounte moving forward. Even if it means getting the ball in his hands to let him make a play, that’s a better experience for him than making him run a play to get the ball in DeMar’s hands.

Maybe it’s easier said than done. This is a group with a lot of talented players that emphasize team-ball and unselfish play. Even for Dejounte, that could be an uphill battle since he’s bought so far into it. Still, it feels like we’re only scraping the surface with what Murray can do as a scorer both on and off the ball.

Next. Areas of focus for Derrick White in Orlando

Letting him get more touches and adapting to his playstyle would bode well for the team’s future.

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