San Antonio Spurs: 3 Reasons for optimism after first month of season
Jan 22, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Rudy Gay (22) dunks in the first half against the Dallas Mavericks at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
San Antonio Spurs fans should be excited about the rest of the season
After missing the playoffs for the first time in over two decades last season, there was some fear that the San Antonio Spurs would be making back to back trip to the lottery this year. They’d made improvements over the offseason but the Western Conference looked to be tougher than ever.
We’re just over one month into the regular season and so far the San Antonio Spurs have made good progress on their preseason goal of returning to the playoffs. They’re sitting one game above .500 and are tied for the eighth spot in the West.
There has been a lot to like about how the Spurs have played so far. They’re moving the ball well, everyone is contributing on offense, and we’re seeing younger players involved more than ever before. With how well the young core of Lonnie Walker, Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson, and Dejounte Murray has played it’s hard not to be optimistic about the future of this team.
With postponements taking place across the league, it’s easy to be pessimistic about the outlook of the rest of the season. But as long as the NBA is up and running – and it looks like the league is determined to make that happen – the Spurs will be out on the floor giving it their all.
In hopes of adding a little light to the uncertainty, here are three reasons to be optimistic about the rest of the San Antonio Spurs season.
The San Antonio Spurs are still missing one of their best players
It can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day storylines around the team but it bears reiterating that the San Antonio Spurs are contending for a playoff spot in the West while missing one of their best players. Derrick White is one of the three most impactful players this team has and we’ve only seen him for just 23 minutes this season.
We still don’t have a firm timetable for White’s return but the estimation we got two weeks ago puts it somewhere in the next 2-4 weeks. There are a lot of games, and a lot of tough opponents, between now and then but if the Spurs can tread water around .500 they should be in a good position to make a playoff run when White returns.
What the team looks like when Derrick does return is a different question. He came off the bench in his first game back and it’s safe to assume Pop will use him in a similar way, at least to start off with.
In the bubble, we finally got to see the Dejounte – Derrick backcourt we’d been hoping to see for months. You’ve got to imagine that the Spurs return to that lineup when White is fully reintegrated. That’ll push someone, likely Lonnie Walker, to the second unit.
No matter what the specifics look like, getting Derrick White back is going to be a huge boost for this team. He’s going to give them another excellent playmaking option in the starting lineup and their league-leading bench unit is going to get even better, what’s not to love about that?
Next: Devin Vassell continuing to improve
The best is still in store for San Antonio Spurs rookie, Devin Vassell
We’re only 17 games into his rookie season and already Devin Vassell has made quite the impression on San Antonio Spurs fans. He’s owning his role as a three-and-D contributor off the bench and consistently makes winning plays for the Spurs.
Going off of 538’s RAPTOR metric, Vassell is already heads and shoulders above the rest of the rookies in terms of his impact. Don’t take our word for it, or 538’s for that matter. Just listen to what his teammates and coaches have to say about him.
After the Spurs win over the Washington Wizards, Lonnie Walker had nothing but positive things to say about Vassell and encouraged him to stay ready.
“”He’s doing what he can. Every single day I’m telling him to stay aggressive. To stay ready and when he’s wide open to catch and shoot. He’s a terrific three-point shot maker. It’s (his 3P%) only going to continue to go up.”
Vassell is already one of the best three-point shooters on the roster. It was a role we expected him to fill right away but it sounds like his teammates want more out of him.
He’s shooting 42 percent from behind the arc but is only averaging 6.6 attempts per 100 possessions. For perspective, two of the Spurs’ other top shooters, Patty Mills and Lonnie Walker, average 12.4 and 8.2 3PA per 100 possessions, respectively. Being more aggressive in his minutes and having a quicker trigger from behind the arc could help both Vassell and the Spurs.
What we’ve seen from Vassell has been great, but with the encouragement from his teammates, we could see even more from him over the coming months.
Next: Trades more likely than ever
The San Antonio Spurs are poised to make a trade deadline move
Depending on how you view the San Antonio Spurs right now, making a trade could be a good thing. If that’s the camp you’re in, you’re in luck. The Spurs seem more likely to make a trade this year than ever before.
Saying that the Spurs are more likely to make a trade this year than ever before isn’t saying all that much. The team is notoriously uninvolved in the trade market. But if there were ever a year to change from that, it’s now.
The San Antonio Spurs have four veteran players under contract who are all approaching unrestricted free agency this summer. Patty Mills, Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan, and LaMarcus Aldridge have been key pieces of the Spurs for the past few years but it’s not a certainty that the team will make it through the season with all of them on their roster.
If there is one of the veterans you can effectively lock out of trades it’s Mills. He’s in the midst of a career year and is one of the most beloved players in San Antonio Spurs history. Barring an otherworldly haul of players and picks, Mills is finishing this season, and hopefully his career, in San Antonio.
That leaves DeRozan, Aldridge, and Gay as the remaining three “available” veterans. Of the three, Gay and Aldridge seem the most likely to be moved. They’re both skilled veteran players who would surely love to contend for a ring.
There are a few teams out there who could put together compelling offers for Gay. Aldridge is also sure to garner some interest as we approach the deadline and teams prepare to make final tweaks for a title push.
I wouldn’t recommend holding your breath and waiting for something to happen but pay attention to the rumors around the Spurs veterans this year. There could be more truth to them than in years past.
There’s still a lot of basketball to be played and a lot to like about the San Antonio Spurs. Fans should feel good about their playoff chances, even as the uncertainty of the rest of the season looms.