As displayed in the NBA’s Orlando bubble, competition is at an all-time high and the San Antonio Spurs’ path to the 2021 postseason is muddied.
Given the organization’s track record, missing the playoffs isn’t something we should come to expect from the San Antonio Spurs. This is a franchise that exudes a winning culture from the top down, but the road ahead is not one that’s easy to bounce back from. The Western Conference is stacked with more talent than ever as all 15 teams will compete for a playoff spot in 2021.
A contender to reach the playoffs led by a young star in Memphis missed out on the 2020 postseason. The only team to go undefeated in the bubble, the Phoenix Suns, finished at the tenth seed in the West. 2019’s No. 1 pick, Zion Williamson and his New Orleans Pelicans finished 13th in the division despite having three All-Star caliber players. Only two Western Conference teams weren’t invited to the Orlando — the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Golden State Warriors.
There’s a reasonable expectation that Golden State gets its playoff spot back next season. With a healthy and rehabilitated version of their big three, the Warriors have the firepower to compete with anyone. That’s before considering the addition of Andrew Wiggins and their 2020 NBA Draft selection, which is likely to be the No. 1 pick. It’s also not outside of the realm of possibility for the T-Wolves to make a splash with KAT and DLO as their one-two punch of rising stars.
San Antonio won’t have an easy path into the 2021 postseason after missing out this year. Chances are, they won’t make major changes and will run it back with a similar lineup. Every single team in the West has a star or young building block to center their team around but the Spurs.
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While San Antonio’s young core has a ton of potential, none of these players have shown that they’re ready to leap into an All-Star conversation. The closest candidate is Derrick White, who was one of the most improved players in the Orlando restart. Even so, White needs to put together a consistent season at that level to even be considered for that conversation.
The Spurs have advantages that other teams couldn’t begin to fathom: Bench depth, playoff experience, one of the league’s premier coaching lineups and a culture that drives them to success. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough this year and it isn’t likely to be enough next season either. Unless something unforeseen happens like a major trade or a jump into the top of the 2020 NBA Draft, Spurs fans need to brace themselves for the possibility that the 2021 Playoffs might be a longshot.
It’s hard to say that returning a 35-year-old in LaMarcus Aldridge is going to give San Antonio enough to get over the hump — especially when they played drastically better without him in Orlando. The modern game isn’t kind to post-up players, like Aldridge, who slow the pace of the game and limit their team’s ball-movement. San Antonio is the only team that consistently funnels their offense through isolations in the post anymore, which won’t work when they’re getting beat off the dribble on defense and give up a firestorm of 3-pointers.
There’s no telling what the 2021 Playoff picture will look like in a year from now. Players will switch teams, injuries will occur and dynamics will change, but one thing is for sure: The Spurs need to be ready for an uphill battle next season.