San Antonio Spurs Keldon Johnson Lonnie Walker Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
The San Antonio Spurs look improved from last season, but each of the key guys could use a New Year’s resolution to help the team succeed.
With the most unusual and unpredictable year of our lives finally coming to a close, we can finally say good riddance to 2020. After the NBA finally returned from its hiatus in the Orlando bubble, the San Antonio Spurs saw themselves with an unlikely path to the playoffs. For the first time in over two decades, the Silver and Black missed out on the postseason. A strange, strange year indeed.
Five games into the 2021 season, the Spurs find themselves in the playoff hunt at 2-3 (it’s early, and those numbers mean close to nothing at this point in the season). With that being said, we have enough game film from the bubble and from the beginning of this season to give our New Year’s Resolution for each player. We start with the team’s leading scorer.
DeMar DeRozan – Gain 3-point consistency
This is the least shocking one on the list: Continue to develop the three. DeMar DeRozan has attempted 13 treys so far this season, converting on seven of them. Those aren’t crazy numbers by any means, but it’s encouraging for DeRozan, who is notoriously allergic to the triple.
It’s important not to get ahead of ourselves with DeMar. In his first season in San Antonio, he attempted nine triples through the first three games of the season. He launched 32 of his 45 attempts that season through the first 22 games and then only attempted 13 threes in the last 60.
If DeMar continues this pace, he’ll attempt the third-most threes of his career. It’ll help his game age better as he enters the twilight of his career, and it’ll help the spacing for his teammates this season immensely. The Spurs have shot the fourth-least long bombs to start the season. Any consistency he can sustain from beyond the arc will clear up driving lanes and inevitably more open looks from deep for their better shooters in Lonnie Walker IV, Patty Mills, and Keldon Johnson.
Next: Derrick and Dejounte
Derrick White – Get healthy
This one is simple as well: Get healthy. Derrick White earned a four year, $73M extension before this season, making him a focal point in the Spurs’ future for the next few seasons. We saw what White could do as the focal point of the offense during a seven-game stretch in the bubble.
In Orlando, White averaged 19 points and shot 39 percent from deep, all while running the offense and neutralizing the opposition’s best scoring threat. The Spurs have looked good so far, but there’s a reason the sentiment amongst Spurs’ faithful is “They’ve looked great, even without Derrick White.”
He played well in his debut against the Lakers but has already been ruled out against the Jazz. They need to see how all of their pieces fit together, and White is at the center of that.
Dejounte Murray – Reduce Turnovers
Dejounte Murray was probably the biggest question mark for the Spurs’ youth movement coming into the season. He’s in his fifth season, although he missed the entire 2018 season due to a torn ACL. He has silenced the haters with a strong start to the season thus far, posting career-high averages in points (17.2), rebounds (7.6), assists (6.0), and field goal percentage (52) through five games.
His usage is also at the highest it’s ever been at 25.8, which is probably contributing to an uptick in turnovers (up 1.5 from last season). Murray looks a lot more comfortable with the ball in his hands and is still disruptive defensively on the wing. He’s looking more and more like a triple-double machine, but he needs to take care of the ball more and shoot it better from deep (25 percent on 3.2 attempts per game).
Next: Keldon and Lonnie
Keldon Johnson – Get comfortable playing big minutes
Keldon Johnson might be the most likable Spur right now. He plays hard and looks like he’s having a blast doing it. He gave us a glimpse of what he’s capable of in the Orlando Bubble, posting four double-digit scoring efforts in eight games.
The Mustang has been nothing short of incredible to start this season. He’s averaging 15 points, seven and a half boards, and a steal and a half per game, all while shooting 60 percent from the floor and 43 percent from beyond the arc.
His offense has been a pleasant surprise because his calling card up to this point has been his defense and physicality. But don’t worry, that hasn’t taken a step back in this new season. He’s faced some tough tasks recently, including guarding both LeBron James and Anthony Davis during various spurts of their back-to-back. And he’s done a heck of a job:
Keldon Johnson has only allowed a combined 25 points on 8-27 (29.6%) shooting when defending LeBron, AD, Zion and Siakam this season.
Small sample size and a ton of games left to play but it'll be tough to keep him off an All-Defensive Team if he maintains these sort of results.
— Noah Magaro-George (@N_Magaro) January 2, 2021
He’s doing all of his damage on offense from the catch because of the number of ball-handlers this team has. He’s quickly making a name for himself as a top-tier 3-and-D wing, and his next step is simply to get game experience and continue to grow.
Lonnie Walker IV – Develop as a Creator
Lonnie Walker has taken some nice steps this season as well. Like I said for Keldon and Dejounte, I really like how they’ve developed from last season to the current one. Lonnie hasn’t been called on much as a creator, taking a back seat to both DeRozan and Murray. That isn’t all that surprising, but I’d like to see what he can do as a creator.
Walker’s usage rate is identical to what it was last year. Most of his damage from beyond the arc, where he’s shooting a calm 42 percent on five attempts a game, is off of the catch-and-shoot.
He’s done an excellent job of getting into the paint and has improved his scoring from within 10 feet. Statistically, he’s transitioning into more of a 3-point shooter than inside scorer (the numbers are so close with the sample size being as small as it is).
Though the difference is tiny, there’s a slight decrease in the percentage of his shots from the paint and a slight uptick in his percentage on those shots. He’s the quickest and probably the most athletic threat they have on the wing, so I’d like to see him be more aggressive and get to the line (only one attempt per game).
Next: LaMarcus, Rudy, and Jakob
LaMarcus Aldridge- Get back on track from deep
What to do, what to do. It’s too early to tell if the Spurs are better without LaMarcus Aldridge. They’ve lost both games he’s missed, but those losses have both been to the defending champion Lakers.
He’s only hit two of his nine attempts from beyond the arc in the three games he’s played. Aldridge and DeRozan’s fit on this team have been a hot topic of discussion for the past year and change, and the tide surprisingly seems to be turning in favor of DeRozan.
If Aldridge can effectively space the floor and have his defensive woes covered up by the team’s athletic wings and Poeltl’s rim protection, he fits in quite nicely with the rest of the team. Unfortunately, the second he struggles from deep, the spacing is thrown for a loop.
Regardless of if you want to trade Aldridge away or if you’re in favor of keeping him for the season and trying to resign him in free agency, the Spurs need him to find his range again.
Rudy Gay – Elevate his trade value
Rudy Gay is the easiest trade chip out of all the expiring contracts the Spurs have. He can still score with the rest of them, and his versatility as a stretch four (he’s played 89 percent of his minutes at power forward this season) should make him a commodity at the trade deadline.
He hasn’t found his range to start the season, making just 30 percent of his threes off the catch while going a less than ideal 1-of-9 from the corners. Gay is a 14-year vet, so teams know what they’re getting from him. If Rudy can prove he can still be an efficient scorer and solid perimeter shooter for a contender (which I truly believe he can be), the chances are high he’ll be wearing a different jersey in a few months.
Jakob Poeltl – Find a way to score
Jakob Poeltl’s job is simple: Defend the paint, clean up the glass, and score easy points. Scoring has never been his calling card, which is quite the understatement, considering he’s never averaged more than seven points per game. However, his defense this year has been great.
Poeltl’s defended field goal percentage is 11th amongst centers that face more than 10 shots a game. His defensive rating (101.0) is a career-best. His rebounding isn’t elite, but his percentage is just a hair under what he’s given the Spurs the last two seasons, and his average would actually be a career-best 6.8 rebounds per game.
I would like to see Jakob gain more confidence inside and get his scoring average up a few points. His 4.8 points per game would be the lowest since his rookie season, but considering how early in the season we are, a 10-point game would quickly change that to the second-best scoring average of his career.