With every unfortunate situation comes a new opportunity, and the San Antonio Spurs have plenty of guys with something to prove. As the team heads into Oklahoma City to take on the Thunder in their “road trip” finale, many familiar faces won’t be in the building.
As the Spurs announced on Monday, they’ll be without the services of Derrick White, Devin Vassell, Rudy Gay, Keldon Johnson, and Quinndary Weatherspoon due to health and safety protocols. DeMar DeRozan will also be unavailable following the passing of his father.
The situation comes at a time where the Spurs were playing some of their best basketball of the season, winning five of six before facing four postponed games. While the NBA is doing the right thing by taking every precaution, it will leave the team in a tough spot Wednesday and potentially beyond as they look to get back into rhythm.
With these nine (and possibly 10) players available to suit up Wednesday, now is a golden opportunity for some guys to make a real statement they haven’t yet been able to make. When the Spurs tip off for the first time in 10 days, I’ll be paying special attention to these three guys to make a statement.
Next: No. 1
San Antonio Spurs Lonnie Walker Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
1. San Antonio Spurs – Lonnie Walker
Lonnie Walker hosted his official breakout party on December 3rd, 2019 when he nailed multiple clutch threes to lead the Spurs back to a huge comeback victory over Houston. He then followed that up by scoring four points or less in five of his next seven games.
While he’s already added a lot to his game, such as the ability to facilitate, consistency has still eluded the 22-year-old. While he’s averaging a career-best 10.8 points per game, his game log is full of single-digit performances raised up by the occasional 14-16 point game.
Walker’s best stretch came in January when DeRozan was sitting out against Minnesota and Oklahoma City. In those games, he scored 25 and 24 points, even following those up with 16 points against Houston with DeMar back in the lineup.
We know Lonnie is capable of taking over games. We’ve seen it before. However, with other big-time playmakers on the court, he tends to get shy and much less aggressive on offense.
Wednesday, the Spurs won’t have three of their best drivers in DeRozan, White, and Johnson. If anyone is primed to carry the load and show he can lead a team when needed, it’s Lonnie. His shining moments are becoming more and more frequent — maybe another breakout performance will be enough to propel him to the next level when the gang is all back together.
Next: No. 2
2. San Antonio Spurs – Trey Lyles
Losing your job is never easy. That’s essentially what happened to Trey Lyles when his starting gig was no more as the new season began. From last season to now, Trey’s minutes have been nearly cut in half and he’s had 13 DNP’s to 14 games played. That’s not exactly how anyone wants their sophomore season to go with a new team.
Still, Lyles has been a consummate professional in handling the whole situation. After his best effort of the season against the Warriors on February 9th, the team noticed his commitment, as the Express-News reported (subscription required):
“He doesn’t complain,” Patty Mills said. “He does all the necessary things to stay ready.”
Trey has certainly handled the dropoff in playing time in stride, but you can’t make it to the NBA without being competitive. He’d like a bigger role on this team, and he’ll need to make as many positive impressions on the coaching staff as he can to make that happen.
Trey once told the media he’d love to remain in San Antonio long-term and is very comfortable. A breakout performance with an undermanned squad could be a big step in making sure both sides remain happy.
Next: No. 3
3. San Antonio Spurs – Luka Samanic
No one can move the needle on their career trajectory more than Luka Samanic this Wednesday. After being selected 19th overall in 2019, the Croatian power forward has only cracked the lineup seven times total as he continues to develop his game and adapt to the NBA style.
While he hasn’t made a mark in the big leagues yet, his G League play has been something to behold. In his six-game stint with the Austin, Spurs Samanic put up 21.8 points and 11.3 rebounds per game while also becoming the team’s go-to guy in crunch time.
Luka’s dominant play in the G League has quieted some people who’ve maintained that he’s a complete bust, but he’ll need to translate some of that confidence to the NBA eventually. Virtually everyone should have a green light in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, which should be perfect for someone not very gun-shy in Samanic.
At 6-10, Luka’s raw skill set at his size can still set him apart from anyone else on the team if he’s able to find a way to utilize them properly.
It’s not gonna happen in a day, but having a good game Wednesday could be a big step toward his progression and potential as a rotation player with the true Spurs.