Just five games in, the San Antonio Spurs have already made improvements from last year, but there’s still one major weakness to address.
While the San Antonio Spurs accumulated a 4-1 record at this time last year, this season’s team seems to have made some drastic improvements despite starting 2-3. Defensively, the Spurs find themselves more towards the middle of the pack in terms of defensive rating, but that is far better than last season’s 25th-place finish.
Offensively, the team is playing at a faster pace and sharing the ball tremendously. Currently, they are tied for fifth in the NBA in assists per game at 27.6. Their versatility in the backcourt has made them a tough matchup for anyone, with multiple players on the court at all times that can penetrate and kick and space the floor with their shooting.
Keldon Johnson and Dejounte Murray have already put up career-highs in scoring. Lonnie Walker is slowly starting to tap into his full potential, and DeMar DeRozan has the second-highest 3-point percentage on the team. This all while Derrick White just returned and is already taking charges and swishing threes. So what’s been the problem?
For decades, the Spurs always had one of the best frontcourts in the league, thanks in most part to Tim Duncan. That is no longer the case, and this year more than any, the frontcourt has been the biggest issue.
More specifically, a few players have been struggling in that area: LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay, and Jakob Poeltl.
Next: Dissecting the issues
What’s going on with the San Antonio Spurs’ frontcourt?
The Spurs have been one of the worst teams in the league in both rim protection and points in the paint so far this season. As it stands, they are currently 20th in the league in points in the paint given up.
Rebounding has been an issue as well. Offensive rebounds played a huge factor in last night’s loss, as they gave up 16. Those second-chance opportunities led to a lot of Laker points, which in the end made all the difference.
Offensively it’s been a struggle as well. LaMarcus Aldridge is currently averaging 12 points on 42 percent shooting in the three games he’s been available. Rudy Gay has fared no better, averaging 12.6 points on 39.3 percent shooting and 25 percent from three (currently 8-of-32).
Jakob Poeltl is more limited in his offensive abilities, but he struggles to finish at the rim.
Trey Lyles has hardly seen the floor at all this year. When you consider he started most of the 2019-20 season, that’s a little weird. Perhaps his preseason struggles are still lingering.
There still is hope for this season that these guys will improve. It’s just five games, after all, and that’s a tiny sample size. LaMarcus has had a history of starting seasons slowly and then coming on strong towards the middle and the end.
It’s unlikely that Rudy Gay will continue to shoot at a career-low 25 percent from three for the rest of the season. Jakob thrives more as a backup, and once LaMarcus comes back, he can return to that role where he’s more comfortable.
Next: The Future of the Spurs' frontcourt
What will the San Antonio Spurs do going forward?
The bigger overall concern regarding San Antonio’s frontcourt has to do with the future. LaMarcus and Rudy are two guys that take up a lot of the minutes in the frontcourt, and they are both on expiring deals.
After next year, there could be a huge void to fill at the four and five positions. It’s unlikely that Luka Samanic will come out of nowhere and step up and thrive as a stretch four. It may be a season or two before we even see him crack the rotation.
The fact that Trey Lyles hasn’t played a second the past two games when LaMarcus has been hurt is very telling. Even if Jakob were to step up as a starter next season if LaMarcus were to walk, foul trouble has been a huge issue for him as we’ve seen both this season and in the bubble.
Drew Eubanks is mainly being used as a filler guy until they find someone else either via the draft, free agency, or trade to fill that backup role. Drew works extremely hard and does fine in his role, but he will struggle against most bigs in the Western Conference if he is placed in a full-time backup role.
The frontcourt issues should steadily improve as the season goes on. Going up against the Lakers, who have the best frontcourt in the league, twice already is a pretty tall task, no pun intended.
It’s probably not worth getting too worked up about who the bigs will be for the Spurs in the coming years at this time, but it’s definitely a situation worth monitoring.