3 Unexpected Spurs who will be key in a return to the playoffs
San Antonio Spurs Derrick White David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
The San Antonio Spurs have had a rather interesting season. The casual fans’ perception of the Spurs has typically leaned toward viewing the team as boring or dull (both unfair assessments, in my opinion). The experts at ESPN predicted the Spurs would rank in the bottom five in the Western Conference standings. This years’ team is different.
San Antonio has exciting young players that are productive in the present and have star potential in Dejounte Murray and Keldon Johnson. They have savvy veterans who Coach Gregg Popovich can trust in Patty Mills and Rudy Gay. They also have probably the biggest snub from this year’s All-Star game leading the way in DeMar DeRozan.
San Antonios’ blend of youth and experience, along with a top 10 defense and penchant for taking care of the ball (they’re number one in assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.15), are the reasons they’re in the thick of the playoff hunt.
However, to hold on to their playoff hopes, the Spurs will have to play better at home, where they’re 12-14 on the season. They’ll also need the help of three players on their roster, in particular, to help solidify their playoff chances. Let’s take a look at who the team needs to step up.
Next: Player No. 1
1. San Antonio Spurs – Derrick White
It’s been almost two years since Derrick Whites‘ first-round coming out party against the Denver Nuggets in which he scored 36 points, dished out five assists, and collected three steals.
It was a special night for the 6-4 guard out of Colorado. The performance had a lot of us wondering if the Spurs had found their next superstar. And while White is a good defender with intriguing upside, he has not dominated a game in the same way since.
? NEW CAREER-HIGH FOR DERRICK ? pic.twitter.com/j8nqk8ZwmM
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) April 19, 2019
White only averaged 9.2 points per game the rest of that series and had a pretty underwhelming 2019-20 season. After inking a four-year, $73 million contract extension over the summer, he’s played in only 20 games this season due to a pretty bad toe injury.
But there’s a reason the Spurs signed White, the 29th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, to that deal. He’s a lockdown defender when he’s healthy and a malleable offensive player who can run the offense or play off the ball.
His shot still has a ways to go as he only connects on 34 percent of his triples and is posting a true shooting percentage of 53 percent.
If he can get into a shooting groove for the stretch run, the Spurs, who’ve already outplayed expectations, might pull off a surprising playoff run. Maybe “Game 3” Derrick makes another appearance this year.
Next: Player No. 2
2. San Antonio Spurs – Jakob Poeltl
Jakob Poeltl is an unsung name in NBA circles when discussing the more impactful centers in the league.
The biggest reason? He’s not flashy, and neither are his stats. Poeltl is averaging 7.7 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, numbers that don’t immediately grab your attention. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll see the value in a player like Poeltl.
Poeltl averages 1.7 block per game, which is 10th in the NBA. He also averages 1.8 assists per game which is close to centers like Marc Gasol and Kelly Olynyk, who are praised for their abilities to keep the ball moving in half-court sets, and that part is key.
The fifth-year man out of Austria doesn’t try to venture outside of his comfort zone and consistently keeps the ball in motion. Now that’s a quality this entire roster has, but it’s always a bonus when your team has a center who can go from a hand-off to collecting the ball in traffic off of a dump-off pass to swinging the ball to the perimeter for an open three.
Poeltl could be less robotic in some of these actions, but he’s taken a mini leap this season, and he deserves credit. But where he’s made the biggest impact is the defensive side of the ball. Poeltl is one of the better defensive centers in the league who makes the most of his 7-1 frame.
He’s the anchor for a top 10 defense and has shown an impressive propensity for recovering after a switch.
"Jakob Poeltl is just being Jakob Poeltl." ? pic.twitter.com/S49t45ELh9
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) February 13, 2021
The Spurs don’t need Poeltl to be anything more than he is right now. He’s a solid center who can bang with bigger players down low and recover when he’s left on an island. The Spurs don’t need him to stretch the floor. They’ve already made a move to add that dynamic into their lineup, which brings us to number three.
Next: Player No. 3
3. San Antonio Spurs – Gorgui Dieng
The Spurs parted ways with LaMarcus Aldridge, who’d fallen out of favor in San Antonio, but ended up with who I think will be one of the more impactful buyout additions.
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Gorgui Dieng is a great signing because he is a 6-10 big man who can stretch the floor (48 percent from 3 on just over two attempts per game) and plays within the teams’ gameplan.
While Dieng isn’t a gamechanger on the defensive end of the court, he will undoubtedly be an upgrade over Aldridge.
The 31-year-old center out of Senegal is a great option to spell Poeltl, and we might even see Dieng close some games because of his free throw shooting.
Dieng has connected on 88 percent of his attempts at the line this season, which means putting him in to close games won’t put the team at a disadvantage from a free throw perspective.
Poeltl, on the other hand, is an abysmal free-throw shooter at 38 percent this season.
Dieng isn’t a showy signing. However, he objectively makes the Spurs better when you look at the players who were getting the backup minutes at the center position before his arrival.
If Dieng can integrate himself into the Spurs’ system and connect on his triples, he adds a new dynamic to a team that needs to improve on the offensive end of the court if it wants to keep its playoff hopes alive.