San Antonio Spurs: 3 Surprising breakout candidates for Spurs in 2021
By Ethan Farina
Aug 2, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, USA; From left, San Antonio Spurs’ Dejounte Murray, Patty Mills and Derrick White celebrate after defeating the Memphis Grizzlies during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Mandatory Credit: Ashley Landis/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports
These three San Antonio Spurs players could be in for big seasons
Even though they were involved in numerous rumors leading up to the draft, the San Antonio Spurs surprised absolutely no one with their decision to stick to stand by and let other teams make the deals on draft night.
It ended up working out for them. We’re not going to complain about walking away with two NBA ready defenders, not for this team. But the Spurs low-key draft night set the tone for what would happen across the rest of the offseason.
While teams like the Atlanta Hawks and Portland Trail Blazers made large-scale changes to their teams, the Spurs were content to do their own minor roster tweaks.
The end result – a roster that looks quite similar to the group the Spurs entered last year, with a few key changes. Swap Bryn Forbes and Marco Belinelli for Devin Vassell and Tre Jones, inject a shot of energy, add a dash of small ball, and season with a few more three’s per game and bang, there’s your ’20-21 San Antonio Spurs.
So it’ll be no surprise to see some familiar faces among our potential breakout candidates. But changes in either play style or mindset have set up these three Spurs to be potential breakout stars for the team this year.
Next: An international hero
Aug 5, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills (8) passes the ball between Denver Nuggets guard Monte Morris (11) and guard PJ Dozier (35) during the second half of a NBA basketball game at Visa Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Patty Mills could be in for another career-year with the San Antonio Spurs
Who would’ve thought that here we would be in year twelve watching Patty Mills preparing to play some of the best basketball of his life in his tenth season with the San Antonio Spurs.
Mills was his usual self last year. He held down his role as the emotional center of the team and leader of the second unit while also posting some of the best numbers of his career.
Patty was more aggressive than ever. He set a new career-high in field goal attempts per game as he put up 9.1 per game last season. That helped lead him to another new career-high with 11.6 points per game.
Now, as we approach the new season, Mills is dropping hints that more could be in store. He’s hinting that “Olympic Patty” will make an appearance during the season.
Olympic Patty puts some of the best in the world on skates, Olympic Patty averaged 21.3 points per game during the 2016 Rio Olympics, Olympic Patty will carve up a team of NBA All-Stars like it’s nothing.
If the Spurs are determined to make the playoffs they might need to invest in yellow alternate jerseys if they think it would help bring the best version of Mills out.
With Derrick White still dealing with a few bumps and bruises, it might fall to Mills to carry a heavy playmaking load during the early parts of the season. Seeing him with the ball in his hands more could lead to more great Mills moments during the first few weeks of the year.
It might end up looking different on the floor but Patty Mills is coming into this season with some fire in his eyes. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Mills put together a few more career highs this year.
Next: The rookie
Jan 28, 2020; Charlottesville, Virginia, USA; Florida State Seminoles guard Devin Vassell (24) shoots the ball over Virginia Cavaliers guard Casey Morsell (13) in the first half at John Paul Jones Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
San Antonio Spurs might lean on Devin Vassell early and often
Most San Antonio Spurs rookies hardly ever see the floor during their first season with the team. Most Spurs rookies spend their inaugural season hunting for playing time during garbage time or in G League games. But Devin Vassell is not your typical Spurs rookie.
Vassell is coming from two years in a program that emphasized defense and sharing the ball. He’s ready to play NBA minutes and could be looked to early on.
With Keldon Johnson, Lonnie Walker, Quinndary Weatherspoon, and Derrick White all dealing with some variety of bump, bruise, or ailment, the Spurs once deep backcourt is looking rather thin all of a sudden.
Players like Mills, Dejounte Murray, and DeMar DeRozan will all be asked to pick up the slack early on but don’t be surprised to see Vassell involved too. Depending on who is all out to start the season Vassell could be in line for close to 15 minutes a game to start out.
If Vassell proves himself early there would hardly be a reason to relegate him to the bench once everyone is healthy. There’s something to be said for earning your stripes but if he can prove he can play, why keep him on the bench?
I think you’ll see Vassell prove himself soon after he makes his debut. His defensive intensity and three-point shooting make him a great addition to any lineup and I think Spurs fans are going to be surprised at how well rounded of a scoring threat he is.
This is not a player who will start out creating for himself and others but that doesn’t mean he’s purely a shooter. He’s got some skill in the post and has a nice variety of side steps and step-backs that he can use to get his shot off too.
This isn’t the kind of play that you’ll probably see from Vassell early on but it’s in his arsenal. Even if he limits his impact to just defense and three-point shooting, expect Devin Vassell to assert himself as a key rotation player once he gets the opportunity.
Next: The big man
Mar 3, 2020; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Trey Lyles (41) shoots a three point basket against the Charlotte Hornets during the first half at Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Trey Lyles has found his home with the San Antonio Spurs
After splitting his first four years with the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets, Trey Lyles walked into his third team in five years when he signed a low-risk deal with the Spurs near the beginning of last season.
Lyles surprised some with how quickly he acclimated to his new team. He was starting for them early on and would end up logging the most starts of his career with the Spurs. He began the season a bit shaky but as time went on he looked increasingly comfortable with his new team.
During the final two months of the season, Lyles averaged 11.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game while shooting 48.4 percent from behind the arc. That’s a pretty good bargain for the Spurs.
In speaking with the media in the lead-up to this year, Lyles has talked about how he wants to retire a Spur, how comfortable he is in the situation he’s in, and how much it meant to him to be included in the Fiesta jerseys debut photos.
All in all, it just seems like Trey Lyles is at a better spot now than he has been in for most of his career. That level of peace off the court could help set the table for major steps forward on the court.
I think Lyles is going to thrive in the up-tempo style of play that the Spurs are going to want to run. His three-point shot was really hitting near the end of last season and if he can find that rhythm again he should have no problem putting together what could be one of the best seasons of his career.
The San Antonio Spurs as a team are flying under the radar. I think were going to be pleasantly surprised at the level of play we see from this team and specifically these three players this year.