The San Antonio Spurs went from being one of the oldest teams in the NBA to having a wealth of young talent, but who will be their star over the next 10 years?
The San Antonio Spurs were the NBA’s pillar of stability for over 20 years beginning in 1998, winning five titles and establishing a playoff-or-bust mentality every season. The dynasty was made possible by the one-two punch of Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich, who were supported by some stars and a few of the greatest role players the league has ever seen.
As expected, the Spurs haven’t been the same since Tim Duncan’s departure, going from a perennial shoo-in as a top-four seed to a team that’s now widely expected to miss the postseason.
As the team continues to evolve, a new era of Spurs basketball is taking over — one built on a foundation of sharing the ball among its diverse cast of vets and new blood. Entering their ninth game of the season, San Antonio is sixth in the NBA in assists per game while turning the ball over a league-best 11.5 times per game.
With a top-notch coaching staff led by Gregg Popovich and Becky Hammon, the Spurs are bound to develop some of the young guys into All-Stars and potential centerpieces of the team once DeMar DeRozan either moves on or gets up there in age.
The good news for Spurs fans is there’s plenty of potential on the roster already. Throwing aside the idea San Antonio could potentially land a star in free agency or through a trade in the upcoming few years, here’s my ranking of the likelihood of each guy being the man in San Antonio for years to come.
Next: No. 5
5. Lonnie Walker (age 22)
Kicking off the countdown is one of the most fun-to-watch players in the league, Lonnie Walker. Lonnie has shown a tremendous work ethic since being drafted in 2018. Even though he only showed up in 17 games and played seven minutes per in his rookie season, Walker stuck with it, developing his game to earn more minutes.
It was easy to see Walker’s potential from the jump when he landed in San Antonio, but it was clear he needed to fine-tune some areas and harness his frenetic, athletic nature to be most effective.
Lonnie has now become a full-time starter in Derrick White’s absence, averaging 12.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game in 28.6 minutes. On top of that, his defense has improved significantly this season, as he’s cutting down on his missed rotations while also putting up more resistance against the LeBrons of the world.
Lonnie has much more to prove before entering the conversation of being a franchise player, which is why he lands at number five on my list. With the Spurs suddenly being so loaded at the shooting guard position, there’s a real possibility their next centerpiece comes from that spot, but my gut tells me there are a few candidates that are more likely to take that role instead of Walker.
Next: No. 4
4. Devin Vassell (age 20)
I know, it’s probably crazy to have an unproven guy like Devin Vassell already ahead of Lonnie as a potential franchise guy, but that just shows how much of a believer he’s made me already. Although he’s shown up in just seven regular season games in the NBA so far, Vassell’s basketball IQ has been his most impressive quality.
It’s rare to see a 20-year-old already covering up for teammates’ mistakes on defense, and Devin has been making that a habit in his 15.7 minutes per game. Vassell is also hard to beat off the dribble, using his agility and 6-5 frame to effectively stay in front of his man.
When I watch Vassell on the court, I see a guy that just knows how to make winning plays. While defense is his specialty, it is by no means his limit. Devin has also buried eight of his 15 attempted threes this season for 53.3 percent and is shooting 43.3 percent from the field overall.
To see a guy so polished at such a young age and with so little professional experience is rare, but Vassell is one of those guys. While he’s currently more likely to become a Bruce Bowen type role player, Devin still has his entire career ahead of him to develop more of an all-around game to compliment his already stellar defense.
Although Rudy Gay has picked it up as of late, there’s a reason I believe Vassell will be eating more into his minutes before too long.
Next: No. 3
3. Dejounte Murray (age 24)
It’s beginning to look like Dejounte Murray is turning into the consistent point guard many of us knew he could be. Save for his one bad game against the Utah Jazz, Murray has been superb for the Spurs so far.
Murray has scored in double figures in all other games this season and is currently averaging a career-high in points (16.1), assists (5.3), and rebounds (6.8). Equally as important, he’s starting to read the floor as a true point guard should, and that’s resulting in mutual trust between him and his teammates to make the right decisions.
Another part of Dejounte’s hot start to the season has been his improved ability to finish at the rim, an area he’s struggled with in the past. Although we won’t be seeing the second coming of Tony Parker in that regard, having a point guard capable of attacking the paint and finishing at a decent rate will do wonders for an offense built on even distribution.
Murray has always been a dependable defensive player, which has remained true this year. It’s hard to be a centerpiece without being a two-way player, and Murray is looking more and more like one as his career goes on.
As of now, I can’t see Dejounte becoming an unstoppable scorer, which would propel him into real centerpiece talk. So for now, he lands at three.
Next: No. 2
2. Derrick White (age 26)
He’s the oldest one on this list, but at just 26, Derrick White‘s best years are still ahead of him. Like I said with Dejounte, the key to being a franchise-type player is being able to be effective on both ends of the floor, and White can do just that.
White has become the Spurs’ best two-way player over the last couple of seasons. On offense, White has developed a spot-up 3-pointer to complement his fierce drives to the basket. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Derrick’s role on the team would be the most important it’s ever been this season. After his play in Orlando, it was clear this team was slowly transitioning into Derrick’s team.
Unfortunately, Derrick’s ongoing toe issues are keeping him out for the foreseeable future, so we haven’t been able to see what an unleashed White would be doing when surrounded by other capable defenders and effective shooters.
Shifting to the defensive side of the court, White has developed into one of the best position defenders in the NBA. Derrick just always seems to know when a potential charge is about to take place, and he gets to that spot in a hurry.
White is also extremely difficult to beat on the perimeter, and if he is beaten, you better believe he’s coming after you for the chase-down block. It’s easy to forget just how dominant White has been recently when it comes to making big-time plays. Hopefully, the Spurs can get their guy back soon to remind everyone.
Next: No. 1
1. Keldon Johnson (age 21)
Call me a Keldon-stan, Mustang crew, whatever you want to call it, but I am all-in on Keldon Johnson. He’s easily been the brightest spot for the Spurs since their restart when you consider San Antonio got him essentially as a trade throw-in.
Keldon is showing teams one-by-one that they have to crowd the paint with more than just one seven-footer or they want to stop him. Along with DeMar DeRozan and Derrick White, Johnson is showing a fearless ability to attack the basket with reckless abandon.
As teams begin to figure out they can’t let Keldon get to the cup, they’ll need to adjust accordingly, but oftentimes that might not even matter. Spurs fans have seen it plenty of times already, and the national media is starting to take notice as well.
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In a recent ESPN+ column (subscription required), Zach Lowe had high praise for Johnson’s fearlessness when attacking the basket, naming him one thing he’s liked so far this season.
Keldon has already victimized guys like Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas inside as well, both of which are no slouches in the paint.
The Spurs haven’t had someone so dead-set and devastating at getting to the basket since Manu Ginobili, and we all know how he worked out.
Johnson is currently sitting at 50 percent shooting from beyond the arc, which should only open up the driving and passing lanes even further if he can hover even close to that mark in the future.
He’s also nabbing 5.6 boards per game and showing an infectious energy every time he’s on the court.
Here’s to hoping the front office makes Keldon Johnson a Spur for life and he rewards them with continued outstanding play.