Thanks to the Orlando bubble, the future for the San Antonio Spurs appears to be bright, but where does that leave the former All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge?
Going back to early November of 2019, having the San Antonio Spurs part ways with either DeMar DeRozan or LaMarcus Aldridge was a popular idea. Their games didn’t appear to be the most compatible and many times, it seemed like they got in the way of development for the many young players on the roster.
Fast forward to the beginning of August and the Spurs almost have an entirely new identity. One of which revolves heavily around the young guard trio of Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, and Lonnie Walker IV. Not to mention the emergence of rookie Keldon Johnson along with the potential of Luka Samanic and Quinndary Weatherspoon, who quietly had a solid showcasing in the small sample size he was given.
The young Spurs’ identity is clear: Utilize their versatile guards and wings and embrace the small-ball era. From the start of the bubble it was obvious that head coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs were focused on development for the future and it was a huge success. Keldon was a machine, Lonnie showed he’s more than just an athletic freak, Dejounte continued to prove his worth on both sides of the ball and Derrick was just flat out incredible.
So how to the veterans fit into this picture next year?
Next: Assessing DeRozan's fit
How does DeRozan fit with the new-look San Antonio Spurs?
For one thing, the four-time All-Star put to bed the rumors about him not being a clutch player.
When the game was going down to the wire, Demar answered the call. During the fourth quarter alone, DeMar scored 17 points against the Kings, 13 against the Sixers, and 15 against the Pelicans. He did miss two crucial free throws against the Grizzlies that almost led to a disastrous collapse. However, after the Grizzlies came down and hit a miraculous 3-pointer to tie the game, DeMar calmly took the ball down the court, drew a shooting foul with one second left and knocked down both to seal the win.
Early on in the bubble, it was clear that DeMar was intentionally deferring more to the younger players, allowing them to take that time to get more reps with the basketball and running the offense. That led to more opportunities for Derrick, Lonnie, and even Keldon Johnson. The Spurs went small, starting Demar at the four to go with the young trio and the results spoke for themselves.
Should the Spurs extend DeMar DeRozan?
— Evan Closky (@EvanClosky) August 16, 2020
Going 5-3 and having one of the top offensive and defensive ratings among the bubble teams, the Spurs finally found a rhythm. Let the young guards along with Jakob loose for the first three quarters, then bring in Demar to close it out. So while it was crucial to let certain players take more control on the offensive end, it was clear the Spurs still needed a closer and that’s where DeMar came in.
Development isn’t the only benefit that comes with Demar deferring more to other players. Going into his 12th season, former All-NBA guard is on the back half of his career. Pretty soon no matter what team he is on, he will not be able to carry the load he has been the past few seasons. Playing Demar at the four is something that will benefit him in the long run. Defensively it may not be the best matchup against certain opponents, but offensively it will create mismatch nightmares for opposing defenses.
All this still depends on his decision in free agency. It’s impossible to tell which way he is leaning and none of us will truly know until the decision is made and final. If DeRozan can continue his role as the team’s leader and closer while continuing to defer more to the young players, his final years in San Antonio can be more successful than people think.
Next: Assessing Aldridge's fit
How will LaMarcus fit with the San Antonio Spurs when he returns?
The seven-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge sat out of the remaining eight regular-season games to rehab after shoulder surgery and his future with the team remains unclear. With the Spurs continuing to move more into the small-ball era can he still fit in with this new look team?
The short answer? Yes. If he is willing to accept a different role.
Now, what does this role entail? For one, it means he’s going to have to continue the trend of being a floor spacer by shooting a higher volume of threes. He proved he’s quite capable shooting 38 percent this past season, it would be crucial to the Spurs’ offense if he would transition fully into a ‘3-and-D’ big.
The Spurs are 26-18 without All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge since he joined the team during the 2015 offseason.
San Antonio also went 5-3 without him in Orlando while operating at the third-highest pace (105.5) in the bubble.
— Noah Magaro-George (@N_Magaro) August 15, 2020
In the latter years of his career, LaMarcus has improved drastically on the defensive end, possibly thanks to some mentorship from the great Tim Duncan and that will still be key for the Spurs going forward. Averaging a career-high in blocks the past two seasons, LaMarcus has been a terrific rim defender.
He’s still a walking bucket on offense averaging 19 points per game this past season. However, some of that came at the cost of any offensive rhythm or flow meaning instead of spacing the floor to allow for more dribble-drive opportunities for the guards. The offense was centered around LaMarcus posting up on the block and playing out of that.
While sometimes that’s not a bad thing, especially if the young guys are struggling to get anything going offensively or LaMarcus is red-hot on the floor, it’s not going to fit with this new-look Spurs. If LaMarcus can adopt a more modern big style role similar to Brook Lopez of the Bucks, it would make the Spurs a much more dangerous team next season.
Next: The competitive nature of the Spurs
They can help the Spurs remain competitive in the short term while not getting in the way of developing the young talent.
This happens by them adapting to their new roles. This means remaining the leaders of the team, but it also means deferring more to younger players and allowing them to grow through their mistakes.
In a perfect world, they are the floor, while the young guys are the ceiling. By this I mean Dejounte, Derrick, Lonnie, and Keldon have untapped potential and they have not reached their ceilings yet. With more reps and minutes together, they will have more opportunities to tap into that potential.
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None of this is to suggest that LaMarcus and Demar aren’t great players anymore, they are, and still will be for a while, but the reality is that with those two at the helm, the ceiling for the Spurs is going to remain low.
Still, I want LaMarcus and Demar to be Spurs next year. Imagine a lineup of Dejounte, Derrick, Lonnie, Demar and LaMarcus? With Patty, Keldon, Rudy, Trey, and Jakob coming off the bench, that will give the coaching staff plenty of options to run big or small depending on the opponent and the flow of the game. It’s asking a lot out of two seasoned NBA veterans to adapt their games so late into their careers, and no one would blame them if they decided to finish their careers elsewhere. This is more of a dream scenario anyways.
Still, with all that’s happened in 2020, it wouldn’t be the craziest dream to have.