San Antonio Spurs Lonnie Walker Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
3 Bold Predictions for the San Antonio Spurs in the 2020-21 season
For the first time in years, there have been several rumors of the San Antonio Spurs potentially being active in an offseason. After missing the playoffs for the first time this century, it’s clear why – they need to vastly improve to meet their high standards.
With a couple of veteran All-Stars, some exciting young guards, and the 11th pick in the upcoming NBA draft, the Spurs have plenty of tools to work with when the trade market opens up. The NBA Draft is just around the corner on November 18, while free agency will officially begin at 6 p.m. ET on November 20.
The feeling around the organization is they will at least make a few changes to the roster to get the team trending back toward making a playoff run. While we won’t know that the team will look like for another few weeks, it’s never too early to speculate about some things to look out for as the Spurs look to forge a return to the postseason.
With the season set to start in just a few weeks on December 22, here are three bold predictions about the upcoming campaign for the Silver and Black.
Lonnie Walker will receive multiple votes for Most Improved Player this season
The NBA restart gifted Spurs fans with what they’ve wanted since he joined the team: more Lonnie Walker. Basketball fans always love to see someone with explosive athleticism on the court, and San Antonio is no exception.
Joining the Spurs at age 20, Walker had several exciting plays in his rookie season but sometimes let the fundamentals of the game get away from him. As such, Coach Popovich used him sparingly, which is par for the course for him to do with guys that are still learning the system.
Walker made a big jump in his sophomore season, averaging 9.3 more minutes per game (16.2) than he did in 2018-19. His production fell in line with his increased playing time, as he upped his scoring average to 6.4 points per game and shot 40.6 percent from beyond the arc.
Still, Lonnie only started 12 times in his 61 games last season, so there is plenty of room for him to make another huge leap in 2020-21. While he still had many inconsistent games last season, his play in the Orlando bubble was the most consistent stretch he’s had, highlighted by his increased ability as a playmaker.
Walker started his NBA career as mostly a slasher, often taking difficult shots due to defenders closing in. Since then, he’s developed a reliable jump shot, improved his finishing, and most recently added some beautiful passing to his arsenal.
Lonnie has all the tools to make another massive leap in his third year with the Spurs, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get some Most Improved Player votes when all is said and done — as long as Popovich gives him the playing time to do so.
Next: No. 2
The San Antonio Spurs will return to having a top 10 defense
In 2017-18, the San Antonio Spurs finished with a record of 47-35 and went to the playoffs as a seventh seed. Despite finishing 27th in the league in points per game, it was the Spurs’ league-leading 99.8 points allowed per game that carried them to a playoff berth. They finished with a defensive rating of 104.8 that season, which was the last time they’ve finished in that top 10 in that category.
With the departure of the Big Three and Kawih Leonard the following season, the Spurs fell to 19th in defensive rating, allowing 110 points per game. Last season, they fell even further to 25th, giving up 115.2 points per game. So how can they reverse the trend next season? Well, that depends on if some changes are made.
Mixing up the San Antonio Spurs lineup can save their defense
If there’s one thing the bubble version of the Spurs showed, it’s that some changes to the lineup are sorely needed. If not for an ill-timed gamble by Dejounte Murray against the Philadelphia 76ers in Orlando, they likely would’ve won six of their first seven games in the restart, boosted by their youth movement.
The biggest key to a defensive renaissance in San Antonio will be a severe reduction in the usage of Bryn Forbes and Marco Belinelli. Forbes was statistically one of the worst defensive players in the league last season yet was fourth in minutes per game, ahead of guys like Derrick White, Lonnie Walker, and Keldon Johnson.
It’s not a coincidence that the new lineup in Orlando had much more success than they did before the NBA was shut down. There comes the point where shooting accurately from downtown loses its value when it’s compounded by matador defense.
If Coach Popovich decides to finally play his best two-way players more often than his one-dimensional ones, they have an excellent shot at cracking their way back into the top third of the NBA in defensive effectiveness.
Next: No. 1
Keldon Johnson will become a staple in the Spurs’ closing lineup
Rudy Gay recently named Keldon Johnson as the one to watch on the Spurs next season, and there’s a reason for that. The 6-5 forward out of Kentucky didn’t get a chance to showcase himself until the Orlando restart, but he did that in spades in San Antonio’s final eight games.
Averaging 12.7 points and 5.4 rebounds in that span, Keldon Johnson was one of the best Spurs inside the bubble, scoring 15 or more three times off the bench and ending the season with a 24-point finale as a starter. His staggering 71.4 percent shooting from downtown, while obviously an anomaly due to a small sample size, also showed his rapid growth in that department.
What makes Johnson even more valuable to the Spurs is his hard-nosed defense and instinctive hustle on both ends of the floor. Keldon was everywhere on the court, making some Manu-esque plays by sneakily getting to spots for a critical rebound or hustling steal.
— NBA (@NBA) August 11, 2020
Given that they’re not as dominant as Spurs teams of the past, next season’s squad will undoubtedly be involved in many games that come down to the wire once again. Lineups capable of making an impact on both ends of the floor will be vital when one play can be the difference between victories and losses.
Keldon has all the makings of someone that can be a hidden gem for the Spurs, and his skills make him a prime candidate for being a part of the closing lineup sooner than later.