Dec 31, 2019; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray (5) and center LaMarcus Aldridge (12) celebrate after the Spurs defeated the Golden State Warriors at AT&T Center. (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)
Here is what the San Antonio Spurs need from their top five players
Another season is almost here and the San Antonio Spurs are flying under the national radar once again. Their new uniforms are generating more national attention than the players are at this point. But the Spurs are going to do all they can to change that.
When asked about the team’s lack of nationally televised games, Dejounte Murray said that it was up to the team to play better if they want that kind of exposure. He’d go on to talk about how the team is determined to get back to the playoffs after missing out on them this year for the first time in over twenty years.
There’s a sizeable section of the fanbase who are rooting for a full rebuild year but don’t expect anyone on the team to be using the word “tank” any time soon. This team is looking at the playoffs as a must, not some sort of out of reach dream.
If the Spurs want to get back to the playoffs they’re going to have to get more out of their starters than they did last year.
The Spurs starters ranked 23rd in the league in total plus/minus last season. If this year’s group can’t improve on that number they’ll be right back in the lottery in a few months from now.
They’ve got a lofty set of expectations for themselves and so do we. Here are our expectations for each likely San Antonio Spurs starter.
Next: Point Guard
Feb 3, 2020; Los Angeles, California, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray (5) warms up before a game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
San Antonio Spurs expect Dejounte Murray to continue to improve as a shooter
Dejounte Murray is in one of the strangest spots of the San Antonio Spurs young core. At just 24 years old he’s still very much one of the young guys. But he’s been in the league since 2016 and is one of the longest-tenured players on the roster so he’s also one of the veterans.
Entering his fourth year of play, Dejounte seems as ready as we’ve ever seen him. He’s filled out a lot of the holes in his game over the past few seasons and it feels like this could be the year we see him really take off.
One part of his game that should continue to be a point of focus is his jumper. He took real steps forward as a shooter last year but the San Antonio Spurs need to be able to expect that he’s going to continue to build off of that improvement.
With Bryn Forbes and Marco Belinelli moving on to different teams, the Spurs are going to have to replace 3.5 made three’s per game. Murray figures to be a part of the team’s answer to that.
With so many skilled ball handlers there are going to be nights where Murray ends up playing more of a spot-up shooting role. I expect that that’s something both he and the Spurs are more than okay with.
Murray shot 41 percent from behind the arc in catch and shoot situations last year. He looked more comfortable shooting from deep as the season went on and was letting it go without hesitation in Orlando.
He’s not going to look like Duncan Robinson but I expect that Dejounte Murray’s most noticeable changes will be seen in his willingness to consistently shoot and knock down spot-up threes.
Next: Shooting Guard
Expect Derrick White to grow as a scorer for the San Antonio Spurs
There’s a lot that the San Antonio Spurs will try to replicate from their time in the bubble but one of the most important is continuing to get Derrick White involved. Once he’s healthy, White should take over as one of San Antonio’s leading scorers.
With LaMarcus Aldridge out in the bubble, White took over as the Spurs’ second option on offense after DeMar DeRozan. During the early parts of games, White would lead the Spurs offense and, when it came time to put things away, DeRozan would take over.
Now, with Aldridge and Trey Lyles returning, it’ll be interesting to see what the Spurs’ offense looks like. Forever the good teammate, White will surely look to get his guys involved. But I hope we see him be as aggressive in looking for his own shot as he was in Orlando.
During that time, White was regularly looking to score first. He averaged 4.5 more field goal attempts per game during that time than he did during the rest of the regular season. You could ask him to pull up from deep, force his way to the rim, or run pick and roll, he was doing it all.
White has proven that he can get you buckets at every level and that he can carry the weight as a team’s second or third scoring option. I expect him to continue to take steps forward and emerge as a top-three scorer for the Spurs this time around.
Next: Small Forward
Apr 18, 2019; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs shooting guard DeMar DeRozan (10) shoots the ball past Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) in the 2019 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. (Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports)
Expect DeMar DeRozan to thrive as San Antonio Spurs late-game finisher
If the Spurs recreate the same style of play they had in the bubble look for them to spend most of the early parts of games getting the young players involved. But when it comes time to close games out it’s going to be DeMar DeRozan who steps up for San Antonio.
I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to see DeMar embrace the veteran mentor role and help lead the changes that we’re hoping to see. He seems ready to help the young guys grow but he also knows he’s the team’s best option in clutch situations.
You could see that in the teams per quarter scoring breakdowns from their time in Orlando. During the first three-quarters of the game, DeRozan would average somewhere close to four points per quarter.
That number more than doubled in the fourth quarter as he averaged 8.9 points per game in just the final twelve minutes alone, a mark that ranked 5th in the NBA at the time.
There will times this year when one of the young guys has the ball in their hands with the game on the line. But more often than not it’s going to be DeRozan stepping up to finish things out.
It’s a role that his old school mid-range game is well suited for and I think he’s going to be one of the best clutch options in the league this year.
Next: Power Forward
Feb 10, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) warms up before the game against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Expect a career year from LaMarcus Aldridge in a key area
The elephant in the room for the San Antonio Spurs has been how LaMarcus Aldridge will adjust to the changes the team made in the bubble. It’s been something that’s been addressed by both LaMarcus and his teammates and I’m optimistic that it’ll go well.
The Spurs are just asking Aldridge to lean even further into something that he’s already proven that he can do at a solid level. After ramping up the volume in late December, LaMarcus went on to shoot 38.9 percent from behind the arc on three three-point attempts per game.
That set a new career-high in three-point shots per game for the big man. A career-high that, if all goes as we expect it to, should easily be eclipsed this year.
We’ve seen what kind of space the threat of a dangerous shooting big man can create. Look at how effective the Milwaukee Bucks have been with Brook Lopez or how DeMar DeRozan was able to thrive this past January after LaMarcus stepped out and shot more from deep.
That’s the kind of space that San Antonio will be looking to recreate this year. In helping to make that happen I’d expect Aldridge to easily set a new career-high in three-point attempts per game.
Jan 15, 2020; Miami, Florida, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Trey Lyles (41) at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Look for Trey Lyles to continue to get comfortable with the Spurs
After signing a three-year extension it wouldn’t be surprising to see Jakob Poeltl as the San Antonio Spurs starting center but I’m still expecting it to be Trey Lyles. He really started to own the role over the final few weeks of last season and is entering this year more comfortable than ever.
One of the most wholesome moments of the Spurs’ meetings with the media was Lyles telling reporters how much it meant to him to be involved in the Spurs debuting their new fiesta jerseys.
To be included with Spurs draftees and fan favorites like Keldon Johnson and Lonnie Walker would surely mean a lot to any new addition to a team but it’s even more special for Lyles. After bouncing between three teams in his young career it looks like he’s found his home.
If Lyles can keep shooting at the rate he did last season the Spurs should be happy to have him. He was shooting 48.8 percent from behind the arc after the All-Star break and was still rebounding at an impressive level.
In year two for the Spurs, I’m expecting Trey Lyles to start at center, average over 3.5 three-point shots per game, and make a strong case for why San Antonio should extend him long term.
The national media might be counting the San Antonio Spurs out but this team has every intention of making it back to the playoffs. The play of these five players will go a long way in determining if they’re able to make that happen.