The San Antonio Spurs will have to contend with these three underrated players
The excitement continues to build around the league for the highly anticipated return to play. After months without NBA basketball, five on five scrimmages with other teams kick off this week and real-life NBA games are coming back into our lives next week. Folks, the San Antonio Spurs are almost back in our lives.
The Spurs have a little less at stake in these wrap-up games than the rest of the league. They’re not contending for a title and it seems like they’re focused more on the development of their young players at this point than they are with keeping their long-running streak of playoff appearances alive.
That said, they’re still going to come out hot and ready to take on every opponent. The young Spurs, led by Dejounte Murray, sound as motivated as they’ve ever been. They’re ready to prove to everyone that they’re the future of the franchise. Taking down some of the toughest teams in the Western Conference is a great place to start with that mission.
With the top competition contained in the bubble, the Spurs don’t get a night off. We’ve covered the stars who will most impact San Antonio’s playoff hopes and the guys who will be the toughest to gameplan for, but who might the Spurs be overlooking?
These three underrated players could give the Spurs real problems over the next few weeks.
Next: The Rookie
San Antonio Spurs cannot overlook Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr.
After sitting out his entire first year in the NBA with an injury to his lower back, Michael Porter Jr. finally made his highly anticipated NBA debut earlier this year. The Denver Nuggets versatile forward instantly drew eyes as he showed off some of the same offensive potential that made him one of the most exciting high school players in the country a few years ago.
The Nuggets have their playoff spot firmly secured and are a legitimate title contender, they might use these final eight regular-season games to set up their preferred path to the Western Conference Finals as well as an experimental environment to tinker with their rotations. If that’s the case, we could see more of Porter than we did in the regular season.
Porter had an up and down rookie year, it’s what you’d expect from any player getting their first taste of NBA action. But when he was on he was lethal. Just watch the highlights from his career-high 25 point performance against the Indiana Pacers. Keep in mind this isn’t a subpar defensive team he’s doing this against, the Pacers had the 7th best defensive rating in the league this year and they still had no answer for Porter when he got going.
The problem with guarding Porter is that not only can he score from almost anywhere, he’s also almost always going to be the third or fourth most dangerous player on the court at any given moment for the Nuggets. While the Spurs defense could be focused on slowing down Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, they simply can’t forget about Porter unless they want him to run up a quick 15-plus points all on his own.
Account for how versatile the Nuggets can get with their lineups and you have a whole different set of problems. They can run out a lineup featuring Jokic, Paul Millsap, and Porter and have Porter matched up on someone like DeMar DeRozan or Lonnie Walker. With a nearly 6-inch height advantage, all a deft passer like Jokic has to do is throw high enough for a cutting Porter to reach it and he’s on his way to an easy two points.
Porter isn’t the most dangerous player on the Nuggets but he’s an improving player that the Spurs cannot ignore.
Next: A sniper
San Antonio Spurs beware, Eric Gordon is still dangerous
Similar to Porter, Eric Gordon isn’t the biggest threat facing the San Antonio Spurs when they play the Houston Rockets but he must be accounted for. Leave him alone for even a split second and he can slide into a corner for an easy three.
After missing a hefty amount of the season with nagging injuries, Gordon used the months-long hiatus to get his body right, drop some weight, and is coming into the season restart at 100 percent. That should scare the Spurs and any other team that has to face the Rockets.
We all know how the Rockets want to attack. They’re going to space the floor, shoot an avalanche of three’s, and let James Harden and Russell Westbrook take turns getting to the rim. But that strategy only works if they’ve got complimentary players like Gordon and Ben McLemore waiting on the wings to knock down open looks. If they don’t have that then defenses can collapse in and the whole system becomes less effective.
And when he’s not playing off of Westbrook and Harden, Gordon is still dangerous on his own. In fact, that might be how the Spurs see him play in their lone matchup with the Rockets. The two teams face off in the second to last game of the ‘regular seasonn’ and if the Rockets feel that their conditioning and chemistry are in comfortable enough spots they could elect to let Gordon run more of the show then they typically would.
If that’s the case, San Antonio has to be careful to not let Gordon pop off for a 50 burger as he did against the Utah Jazz earlier this year. Speaking of the Jazz, that’s where we find our next underrated player.
Next: Patty's pal
San Antonio Spurs can’t let Joe Ingles get hot for the Utah Jazz
Utah Jazz small forward Joe Ingles is a friend and national teammate with Spurs point guard Patty Mills. He even reached out to Mills for advice on how to shift into a sixth man role earlier this year. But that can’t stop Mills and the rest of the Spurs from keying in on Ingles in the lone matchup between their two teams earlier this year.
Ingles is the glue that holds the Jazz together. He’s a jack of all trades, master of none type of player who for, outside of his 3-point shooting, doesn’t do anything at a truly elite level but does everything well.
He’s a key part of Utah’s most frequently used lineup and will likely replace Bojan Bogdanovic in Utah’s second most common lineup. He can slide between shooting guard and either of the forward spots, depending on what the Jazz need from him, and will hold his own against almost every player he matches up against. He really is one of the NBA’s best complementary players.
The difficult thing about Ingles is that the Jazz are such a complete team from top to bottom that you can’t key too much on any one player on defense, save for maybe Donovan Mitchell, and you can’t get too many advantageous matchups on offense because almost every one of their players is solid on that end of the floor.
With Bogdanovic out, Ingles’s ability to knock down three’s will become even more important for a Utah team that relied heavily on Bogdanovic for spacing. The Spurs can start by staying locked to him on the perimeter and forcing more inconsistent long-range shooters like Donovan Mitchell to beat them from deep.
The NBA is a star-driven league but the San Antonio Spurs can’t overlook the underrated glue guys that keep every championship-contending team chugging along if they want to keep their playoff streak alive.