3 Important questions facing the San Antonio Spurs after bubble games
The San Antonio Spurs have several big questions facing them before next season
If we’re being honest, none of us expected the San Antonio Spurs to play as well as they did in the Orlando bubble. Even the most ardent Spurs fans had almost no reason to think that they would go 5-3 over their final eight games and end up within striking distance of making the playoffs for the 23rd consecutive season.
Mourn the ending of the Spurs historic playoff streak for a bit but don’t hang on to the past for too long. Looking forward, Spurs fans have far too much to be excited about to hold on to the playoff streak that was. With the young core the team has they’ll be starting a new one in no time.
San Antonio got breakout performances from players of all ages and positions while in Orlando. Derrick White finished the regular season looking like a legitimate threat to be a 20 point per game scorer, Lonnie Walke showed off improved passing ability, Keldon Johnson looks like the best rookie the Spurs have had in a while, Luka Samanic finally had his breakout game, and DeMar DeRozan played well enough for the Spurs to seriously consider giving him a contract extension this summer.
All of these factors complicate what was already going to be a busy offseason for San Antonio. They’ve got a lot of unanswered questions and not a ton of time to figure out how to respond to them. Here’s what they’ve got to figure out.
Next: What does the future hold for Keldon Johnson
Just how good can Keldon Johnson be for the San Antonio Spurs?
Be hesitant about reading too much into a brief stretch of games or setting unrealistic expectations for a young player but oh my god did Keldon Johnson look amazing in the bubble. He was a revelation for San Antonio, one of the best rookies we’ve had in some time, and one of the most crucial parts in the Spurs impressive finish to the season.
At this point, it’s safe to say he’s easily the most valuable piece the Spurs got back from Toronto when they traded Kawhi Leonard away two summers ago. So the question is, just how good can Keldon Johnson be? Could he be a Kawhi Leonard level player? Before you accuse me of hyperbole look at these numbers.
Keldon Johnson has the 11th highest points per game (9.6) by a rookie in Spurs franchise history.
THAT IS BETTER THAN:
Tony Parker (9.2)Alvin Robertson (9.2)Kawhi Leonard (7.9)DeJuan Blair (7.8)Manu Ginóbili (7.6)Johnny Moore (7.4)George Hill (5.7)
— Noah Magaro-George (@N_Magaro) August 14, 2020
So it’s not as crazy of a comparison as it may seem. And in scoring 24 points in his two final games of the season, Johnson did something that Leonard wasn’t able to do until late in his second year. Now, their situations were vastly different. Leonard was coming into a team with several featured veterans and Johnson got to be a featured player in Orlando. But the fact remains that Keldon is way ahead of where Kawhi was as an offensive player at this point in his career.
If we’re being honest with ourselves, Johnson probably won’t follow Kawhi’s career arc. Leonard was locking up LeBron James and winning a Finals MVP during his third year in the league. Keldon’s going to be good but still, let’s anchor our expectations in reality.
Everything that Gregg Popovich and the rest of the Spurs have said about Johnson indicates that they have just as much faith in his potential as we do. That’s a great thing to hear and should play heavily into the next question facing the team.
Next: So, who's getting the start?
Who is starting for the San Antonio Spurs in 2020-2021?
The San Antonio Spurs had plenty of players breakout in the bubble but how many of them will get the same kind of playing time next year? Frankly, not many.
The Spurs will be getting Trey Lyles and LaMarcus Aldridge back, they also have to figure out the contract situations of Marco Belinelli, Bryn Forbes, Jakob Poeltl, and their two-way contracts. Then there is the small matter of DeMar DeRozan’s player option. Although, if you look at his post-game comments from the Spurs final game, it sounds like he’s coming back.
DeRozan also mentioned getting Trey Lyles back next season: "Kind of a great feeling going into it, understanding that once we are healthy, understanding what we really could be."
— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) August 14, 2020
You don’t want to read too much into one quote but that’s not the only quote that DeMar had where he talked about the possibilities facing the Spurs next year and referred to the team as ‘we’ rather than ‘they’.
Given how much money he’s got riding on his final year with San Antonio, and the uncertainty around the salary cap for next year, DeMar would be making the smart financial move to come back to San Antonio.
But if DeMar does come back, and LaMarcus reenters the fold, what does that mean for the Spurs starting lineup? Would Aldridge resume his starting role? If he does, given what he’s said about wanting a bigger opportunity, it’s unlikely that Jakob would want to stay in San Antonio. The Spurs can match any offer he gets this summer and should really consider doing so, as long as the price isn’t something absurd. He might not be happy about it but keeping Poeltl around should be a priority for San Antonio this summer.
These final eight games have shown us that the Spurs have a lot of players who can fill starting roles. But figuring out exactly how to use their guys will be San Antonio’s next big hurdle. Will they lean fully into their fast-paced youngsters, or trend back towards their veterans once they’re ready to play? The answer to that question could set the tone for the 2020-21 season.
Next: What's the pick?
Who will the San Antonio Spurs select with their lottery pick?
As disappointing as the end of the San Antonio Spurs historic streak of playoff appearances was, it did lock up their highest pick in over two decades. For the first time since they took Tim Duncan back in 1997, the Spurs are headed to the lottery.
This is a big moment for the Spurs, but maybe not as big as you might think. This draft is light on top tier talent but heavy on flyers and solid role players. And as they’re likely picking at the 11th spot in the draft, the Spurs will have a fair amount of options to choose from.
If we’ve learned anything from these past eight games it’s that the Spurs’ backcourt is well taken care of for years to come. White, Walker, Murray, and Weatherspoon should be able to hold down that position for a while, and that’s without even mentioning DeRozan and Patty Mills.
He’s flying underneath the radar but Drew Eubanks had himself a bubble too, he joins a gradually improving Spurs frontcourt that doesn’t really need another mouth to feed. That leaves just the possibility of a wing or stretch forward.
Here’s where things get interesting. Should San Antonio take a chance on a player with a higher ceiling such as Patrick Williams or play it safe and take a seemingly bust-proof player like Saddiq Bey? There really isn’t a wrong answer, it just depends on how the organization plans to approach the next few years.
If they feel like they’re lacking a potential superstar then maybe they should take a chance on a higher risk player. But if the front office truly believes that they have enough in guys like White, Murray, Walker, and Johnson then selecting a solid complementary player like Bey could be the move.
There’s a lot of unanswered questions but a lot to be happy about. The future for the San Antonio Spurs is bright.