Plenty of things are up in the air with the San Antonio Spurs next season, including which guys will ultimately secure their spots as starters.
Like many teams after an unprecedented NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs are uncertain about several things as the December tipoff approaches. They were predictably and perhaps disappointingly quiet throughout November’s trade and free agency bonanza despite numerous rumors of something big in the works. While they still have time to make a move (such as shipping off LaMarcus Aldridge), their roster is mostly set for the 2020-21 season.
However, one thing that’s up in the air is the lineup that will be setting the tone on the court as the Spurs look to mount a return to the NBA playoffs. Matty Farner recently provided his prediction for us regarding next season’s potential lineup, complete with extensive analysis and breakdowns. Still, with the sudden depth San Antonio has at certain positions, some spots should be there for the taking as next season rolls along.
With some key additions and subtractions to the roster, let’s start with the guys that should be considered locks to be part of the starting five, assuming they’re still on the team come go time.
Next: The Locks
San Antonio Spurs’ starting lineup locks
Three guys have shown enough in their time in the Alamo City to be written in permanent marker on San Antonio’s starting lineup sheet. They’ve all established themselves as cornerstones to how the Spurs operate, even if they sometimes aren’t as effective as a unit as one would hope.
The first one up is a seven-time NBA All-Star that’s still a force statistically but should still be on the trading block if the right opportunity presents itself.
1. LaMarcus Aldridge – Center
There has been a lot of speculation regarding LaMarcus Aldridge‘s future with the San Antonio Spurs. He’s had three All-Star seasons with the Silver and Black, but the fact of the matter is something isn’t quite working. Aldridge’s strength as a midrange beast is only being eclipsed by the fact that his co-star is a midrange beast himself.
In a league that’s increasingly expanding beyond the 3-point line more every year, it’s hard to see the duo of Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan leading the Spurs to anything more than a first-round playoff upset in the near future.
With all that said, should Aldridge be on the roster come this season, he’ll undoubtedly be the team’s starting center. LaMarcus still has plenty left in the tank on both ends of the floor, coming off 18.9 points and a career-high 1.6 blocks per game last season.
Gregg Popovich will need to experiment with different rotations around LaMarcus, but there’s no world in which his starting spot will be taken anytime soon.
2. DeMar DeRozan – Small Forward
If you couldn’t tell by now, I believe DeMar DeRozan fits the Spurs’ system more than Aldridge does at this point. He’s become the go-to guy down the stretch, using an ultra-efficient 53.1 percent shooting percentage last season to solidify his spot as the team’s go-to guy.
While the Spurs’ biggest priority should be finding a way to trade one of its two stars for the betterment of the team, it would be a shame if that came at the expense of losing DeRozan. DeMar mixed well with the new lineups in the NBA bubble, proving he can be reliable no matter who shares the court with him.
DeRozan’s passing continues to shine in his role with the Spurs, which only enhances his impact on the court when you factor in his devastating ability to create his own shot. The four-time All-Star has only come off the bench 12 times in his 820-game NBA career, and that number won’t increase with the Spurs or anyone else.
3. Dejounte Murray – Point Guard
The 2017-18 season proved to Coach Popovich that he had found his point guard of the future. Dejounte Murray‘s defensive presence was enough to earn him the starting nod over a 35-year-old Tony Parker, instilling in him the confidence he needed to become a leader.
Murray has only improved with each passing season, averaging career highs in points per game (10.9), assists per game (4.1), and steals per game (1.7) last year. At just 23 years old with three seasons of NBA basketball experience, there’s no reason to believe he’ll be slowing down soon as he continues to adapt to San Antonio’s changing system.
Dejounte’s dedication to improving his jump shot is still a work in progress, but he’s already made noticeable strides in that department that will make him a tougher guard than ever before this season. Murray is one of the top two-way guards on the Spurs, so his job as the starting point guard is a lock.
Next: The Fringe Guys
San Antonio Spurs: The Fringe Guys
When it comes to the starting shooting guard and center positions for the Spurs next season, not everything is set in stone. San Antonio has varying levels of skill sets and talent at both positions, all of which are capable of playing themselves into the starting five.
While we can anticipate these two will likely round out the opening lineup, there’s always an outside shot that someone else could play their way into their roles. First up, someone that’s done more than enough to earn a permanent starting role if he keeps playing up to his demonstrated abilities.
1. Derrick White – Shooting Guard
If it were up to me, Derrick White would also be a shoo-in for the starting gig as much as anyone else on the roster. His game has evolved and improved every bit as much as Murray’s, his offense is hitting its stride, and his feel for the game is one of the best on the roster.
Although he was snubbed for an All-NBA Defensive Team last season, White has proven to be one of the best defending guards in the league. If the 2019 playoffs series against Denver was his breakout, Orlando’s restart was his second act. In his seven games played, Derrick averaged 18.9 points, 5.0 assists, and 4.3 rebounds per game.
Despite his meteoric rise, there are still scenarios where Popovich could opt to have him come off the bench in certain situations. Much like Manu Ginobili, another Spur that made timely plays on both ends of the court, White could be seen as a spark off the bench to lead the second unit.
Other rising guards could also play their way into his spot, which I’ll dive into more a little bit later. If I had to bet on it, though, I think White’s spot as a starter is fairly safe.
2. Trey Lyles – Power Forward
The power forward and center positions have always been blurred in San Antonio, so Trey Lyles and LaMarcus Aldridge could be interchangeable in starting lineups depending on certain matchups. Unlike Aldridge, however, Lyles could see his starting gig being overtaken depending on performance.
Trey has an advantage over other potential starters in that he has an outside jump shot to go along with his size in a game that’s increasingly favoring stretch fours. His 38.7 shooting from deep last season was the best such shooting season in his career, and the Spurs could always use more spacing.
What works against Trey is his mediocre rebounding. At 6-9, Lyles can’t quite match up with some of the bigger guys in the league when it comes to battling down low, so he doesn’t find himself in the paint very often. Meanwhile, guys like Jakob Poeltl and Drew Eubanks offer more when it comes to owning the paint, although the Spurs sacrifice offense with either of them on the court.
Lyles’ starting job could be a case-by-case basis depending on who the Spurs are playing any given night, so he’s probably the most vulnerable starter going into next season.
Next: Potential Break-ins
San Antonio Spurs: Potential Break-ins
1. Lonnie Walker
There’s no question that Lonnie Walker is one of the most athletic players in the league. His leaping ability is top-tier, which has made him a fan favorite in San Antonio. Pure athleticism isn’t enough to get you heavy rotation minutes with the Spurs, however.
At just 21 years old, Walker is still learning the Spurs way, particularly on the defensive end, where he can sometimes get lost. Fortunately, he also showed tremendous overall growth last season, most notably with his passing and shooting. Walker doubled his 3-point attempts per game from his rookie to sophomore season while improving from 38.5 percent to 40.6.
Lonnie also let loose as a starter in Orlando, making plays for others while also remaining comfortable with his own shot. The more Walker keeps learning, the more difficult it’ll be to silence the ‘start Lonnie’ crowd. Still, until his defense comes close to that of Derrick White’s, he has a way to go before Pop listens.
2. Jakob Poeltl
The San Antonio Spurs recently pulled off their magic once again, signing 7-1 center Jakob Poeltl to a team-friendly three-year deal worth $9 million per season. Considering the inflated value bug that seems to have hit the entire league in recent years, the contract is more than fair for a player of Poeltl’s caliber.
What points to Jakob’s potential of eventually becoming a starter has to do with his publicly disclosed desires for a more significant role on the team. Shortly after signing his new deal, Poeltl explained what went into the negotiations.
“There was some conversation about my role and how the team is going to look in the future,” said Poeltl. “That was a big part of my decision. I wanted to be on a team where I felt comfortable and would get along and play well alongside my teammates.”
Before the season was over, Jakob had hinted at having a bigger role on the basketball court. With him now being locked down through 2023, it would be extremely surprising if he didn’t end up in the starting frontcourt after Aldridge is ultimately traded or looks to move on in the summer of 2021.
While the Austrian center doesn’t move the needle very much offensively, the Spurs have had a history of success with that being the case (see: Nazr Mohammed, Rasho Nesterovic, Fabricio Oberto).
Poeltl’s screen-setting, rebounding, and interior defense will be key factors for the Spurs going forward, and it’s only a matter of time before the big man hears his name in team introductions.
3. Keldon Johnson
Considering his youth and natural playing position, Keldon Johnson is probably the biggest longshot to crack the starting lineup this season on this list. Still, his potential is off the charts. Johnson was the most exciting Spurs development in the NBA’s restart, showcasing all-around abilities that many didn’t get a chance to see in his limited minutes before the shutdown.
Johnson was a bulldog in Orlando — following up misses with and-ones, burying triples at a rate of 64.7 percent, and hounding his man on the defensive end with ferocity. Keldon’s nose for the ball and unmatched hustle are qualities you can’t teach, and at just 20 years old, he’s already shown he can be something truly special.
There’s nothing Gregg Popovich loves more than going all out on defense, and Keldon fits that to a T. While he plays the same position as DeRozan, they could easily be interchanged as shooting guards or small forwards if Coach Pop sees enough in Johnson to make him a starter at some point this season.
It may not happen on a permanent basis anytime soon, but Keldon could potentially see some starts in his future if he plays anything like he did to wrap up last season.