Jan 27, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) in huddle with starters before the game against the Boston Celtics at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
The San Antonio Spurs are going to need more from these players
Don’t look now but here come the San Antonio Spurs, quietly very much in the hunt for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Holders of the fifth spot in the West, the Spurs are looking to make good on their preseason goal of starting another streak of playoff appearances.
The Spurs have had to endure their fair share of injuries along the way. They started this season missing Derrick White, saw his return delayed, and now, just as White is returning to the team, San Antonio loses LaMarcus Aldridge.
Aldridge has been out dealing with some hip soreness and it sounds like this could be fairly serious. He’s seeing specialists this week and, depending on how that meeting goes, could have to miss some time.
The most immediate implications of an Aldridge absence will be over these next two games against the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors’ frontcourt gave the Spurs problems in their matchup earlier this season was one of the main reasons Golden State won that game.
No one has seen their role change more in Aldridge’s absence than Jakob Poeltl. He’s started in both of the games Aldridge has been out and is one of the players who the Spurs will continue to look to over these next few games.
Can Jakob Poeltl continue to hold down the San Antonio Spurs defense?
Poeltl has done an admirable job filling in for LaMarcus Aldridge over the past two games. The San Antonio Spurs are going to need him to keep riding high if they want to slow down the Warriors.
The matchup to watch here will be between Poeltl and Draymond Green. Green has been on fire over his past two games, dishing out an incredible 30 assists. I promise you that is not a typo. Over the course of the past two games, both against the Dallas Mavericks, Green racked up 30 total assists. He’s averaging 7.5 assists per game on the season and has been carving opponents up with his precise passing.
He was never really a threat from behind the arc but Green’s three-point shooting has fallen off a cliff this year. Opponents are backing off and daring him to shoot and given his paltry 19 percent shooting rate who could blame them. But all that space is giving Green plenty of time to survey the floor and find an open man.
If Poeltl is guarding Green, he’s going to have to balance staying back to protect the rim and not letting Green have all the time in the world to pick out his next move. Balancing those two priorities won’t be an easy task and will be a key point to watch during this next quick series.
Next: Big Body
Feb 6, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson (3) pulls down a rebound between Houston Rockets forward P.J. Tucker (17) and forward Jae’Sean Tate (8) during the first half at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Michael Wyke/Pool Photos-USA TODAY Sports
Keldon Johnson must lean into a rebounding role even more for the Spurs
Keldon Johnson has already taken on a key role for the San Antonio Spurs in just his second year in the league but the team could ask even more of him if Aldridge misses extended time. Who knows, the added responsibility could finally get Johnson on the national radar.
Johnson’s endless motor and wild fearlessness have helped him become the Spurs’ most proficient rebounder this season. He seeds the top spot to Jakob Poeltl when you look at things on a per 100 possession basis but game to game, Johnson is the man getting things done for San Antonio on the boards.
That willingness to throw himself into the thick of things is getting Johnson some of the recognition he deserves. He was recently gushed about by two of the most popular names in basketball media, The Ringer’s duo of Kevin O’Connor and Chris Vernon.
“This guy is a dog”, started Vernon. “When I watch them, I sit there and go, ‘give me that dude.’ He plays hard as hell. He rebounds like crazy.”
“He has no fear of going to the basket,” said O’Connor. “It’s just a heck of a lot of fun to watch him play. He’s just a straight-up fun player to watch play the game of basketball. The Spurs have a number of those guys. They’re fun.”
A player’s listed position doesn’t mean quite as much as it used to, especially for a team as free-flowing as the Spurs, but Johnson has played just 7 percent of his minutes at the power forward spot. It’ll be interesting to see if that changes if Aldridge is out.
I’ve quickly learned that the easiest way to avoid being wrong about Johnson is to not limit your expectations for what he’s capable of. Could he average double-digit rebounds while Aldridge is out? Possibly. I’m certainly not going to bet against it.
Next: A former starter
Jan 30, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Trey Lyles (41) warms up before the game against the Denver Nuggets at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
Trey Lyles could return to the San Antonio Spurs starting lineup
It hasn’t necessarily been surprising but how drastically Trey Lyles’s role on the San Antonio Spurs has changed from one year to the next has certainly been noteworthy. He went from starting 50+ games last year to being barely able to get off the bench this year.
To be clear, Lyles hasn’t done anything to merit a demotion, there are simply too many mouths to feed and someone was going to get left out. Up until now, that’s been him. But if Aldridge is forced to miss significant time it could mean Lyles returns to a more prominent role.
Coming into the season, Lyles was one of the players we thought would excel in the newly tweaked San Antonio Spurs offense. He’s a tenacious rebounder, really had his three-point shot going after the All-Star break last year, and moves the ball well.
From all that we’ve heard from his teammates, Lyles has been nothing but professional and amicable throughout the entire season. He’s owning his role as a positive presence on the bench but it could be time for a change.
He will have to compete with Drew Eubanks for some minutes but if Aldridge misses more than a few games, look for Lyles to return to something more resembling the role he had last season.
It’ll take a full team effort to weather any extended absence from LaMarcus Aldridge but these members of the San Antonio Spurs will have to shoulder a heavier load than most.