These four young talents deserve more playing time from the San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs fanbase can essentially be divided into two camps. And while the Tank vs. Playoff Push debate might divide us but we’ve still got plenty to unite around. No matter what your preferred long term plan is, every San Antonio Spurs fan should be excited to see the young core back in action this year.
San Antonio’s young guys are hungry, coming off of an impressive performance in the bubble, and ready to show the fans that they’re ready to carry this franchise forward.
The increased emphasis on playing at a high pace and getting more three-point shots up could mean significantly different looking rotations for the Spurs this year. Add in a few injuries that are bothering the team approaching the start of the new season and things could get interesting.
As the Spurs try to get out to a hot start to the season look for Gregg Popovich to try out a variety of lineups as he tries to find what works and what doesn’t.
Hopefully, these experiments lead to more playing time for these four players, all of whom deserve a larger role this year.
Devin Vassell deserves a large role with the San Antonio Spurs early
By virtue of being a rookie, Devin Vassell is almost excluded from being on this list. Amend it to this: Devin Vassell deserves a bigger role than any Spurs rookie since Kawhi Leonard.
That might seem like a bold statement but a closer look at the minute counts for past Spurs rookies proves it’s really not that controversial.
Since Kawhi logged 1534 minutes as a rookie, San Antonio has only had one rookie come even close to approaching the 1000 minute mark in their rookie season. It was good old Nando De Colo back in 2012. Is it too much to ask that Devin Vassell gets as much time to shine as Nando did?
Here’s to hoping everyone gets healthy soon but it sounds like Derrick White is going to miss the start of the season, and he might not be alone. These injuries are going open up an opportunity for Vassell to make his case for solid playing time.
The case for playing Devin Vassell is pretty straightforward. He’s a great shooter and was one of the best team defenders in the draft. He doesn’t help replace the playmaking San Antonio would lose without White but he fills other areas of need quite well.
The Spurs wouldn’t ask him to do too much on offense right away but this is a guy who will have no problem knocking down open threes off of kick-outs from the Spurs guards. On defense, there’s going to be a steep learning curve right away but if Vassell is ready to play there’s no reason not to test him early.
Whether it’s as a substitute for an injured player or as a member of a fully healthy rotation, the San Antonio Spurs should find ways to get Devin Vassell onto the floor early and often.
Next: More playing time for Keldon Johnson
Keldon Johnson is ready for a breakout year for San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs are looking to replicate the play and energy that they had in the bubble. It’s a good plan of attack and one that Keldon Johnson should be heavily involved in. Keldon shined as bright as anyone during his run in Orlando.
The NBA season came to a halt right as Johnson was starting to get minutes for the Spurs in March. When they picked back up in the bubble he came ready to finish what he had started in the spring.
He was lights out from deep and showed a knack for getting shots off through contact. What stood out about his game was just how willing he was to throw himself into the thick of things. Whether it was fighting for an and-one finish or scrapping for a defensive rebound you could always count on seeing Keldon close to the action.
Defenders were bouncing off Johnson last year and that was before he got months of gym time in. He’s looking bigger and joking about racking up the trips to the charity stripe. We’re all for Keldon living at the free-throw line this year.
Johnson’s size and physicality open up so many interesting lineup possibilities for the Spurs down the road. We’re hearing that the Charlotte Hornets might be using Johnson’s college teammate and 6’7 human PJ Washington as their center this year. If the league is going that small, why not try out Keldon as a power forward?
The Spurs found success in going small in Orlando. By running out a lineup that featured DeMar DeRozan as their named power forward they were able to turn up the pace and run opposing teams off the floor. Keldon could play in a similar role this season and long after.
Everyone from the fans to the coaching staff to his teammates seems to be over the moon about the track that Johnson is on. But to reach his ceiling he’s going to need room, and minutes, to grow. That can start this year with an expanded role from what he saw in the bubble.
Next: Find room for Luka Samanic
The San Antonio Spurs have to find minutes for Luka Samanic
Unless you’re an avid watcher of Austin Spurs games, you might not have seen Luka Samanic play yet. He appeared in just 48 minutes of NBA action during his rookie season, with 31 of them coming in the final game of the Spurs season.
We might not have seen much of Luka at the NBA level but his final game in the bubble and his G-League play are enough to give support to high hopes Spurs fans have for him.
In that season finale against the Utah Jazz, Samanic showed the well rounded offensive game he can bring to the Spurs lineup. He seemed hesitant at first but as the game went on he got warmed up and ended up going 3 of 5 from behind the arc. He also showed off an ability to attack off the bounce and he didn’t shy away from contact.
In the G-League, Samanic was regularly carving opposing teams up. He’s got a good handle for his size and makes smart reads with the ball.
One of the biggest things Luka was going to have to focus on during his rookie season was adding muscle. He’s shown up to training camp significantly bigger and looks like he could handle more playing time.
Unfortunately, his path to playing time isn’t any clearer this year than it was last year. With a whole gang of more experienced players in front of him, it doesn’t look like Luka is going to receive significant playing time unless someone gets injured.
Next: Trey Lyles shows out
Trey Lyles is fighting for a long term spot with the San Antonio Spurs
One of the pleasant surprises of the San Antonio Spurs rough season was the emergence of Trey Lyles as a valuable floor spacing threat for San Antonio. His late addition to the team was largely viewed as an afterthought but he ended up starting almost every game for the Spurs and started to really show up at the end of the season.
During the final two months of the regular season, Lyles averaged 11.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game while shooting 48.4 percent from behind the arc. Don’t hold him to that same level of success but if Lyles can hover around 42 percent from behind the arc he’s going to be a real weapon for the Spurs.
A lot of fans have been wondering how the team is going to replace the three-point shooting of Bryn Forbes and Marco Belinelli. It looks like the big guys are going to be stepping up to answer the call.
The talk out of training camp is that Aldridge is letting it fly from deep. If Trey Lyles can step up next to him as a consistent three-point threat this team’s going to look very different than they did last year.
Lyles consistency from deep is key if the Spurs want to have him share the floor with Jakob Poeltl more this year. The two had a +16.3 net rating across 151 minutes last year, they’re a frontcourt duo that demands more investigating.
Lyles isn’t just playing to expand his spot in the rotation. He’s going to be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2021, he’s playing for a long term deal with San Antonio.
Each one of these four players could help the San Antonio Spurs in their own way. They’re probably not all going to get the minutes they need to breakout but every one of them deserves a larger role than they had last year.