Lack of Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson hurting the San Antonio Spurs

San Antonio Spurs Lonnie Walker Keldon Johnson Devin Vassell (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
San Antonio Spurs Lonnie Walker Keldon Johnson Devin Vassell (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

Thursday’s affair against Atlanta saw the San Antonio Spurs succumb to another home loss in double overtime. Even on the second night of a back-to-back, the rotation remained lean, with Coach Popovich resorting to his favored weapons at the expense of two players who could have shifted the tides in the Silver and Black’s favor, namely Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell.

On the heels of Wednesday’s contest against Sacramento, which saw the starters (sans Keldon) play north of 30 minutes each, Pop may have been tempted to rest some players as he did against Milwaukee. Surprisingly though, no players rested while the court time of the team’s primary scorers were all stretched even further as the game saw two extra periods.

So far, the coaching staff has been steadfast on its 10-man rotation. While more bodies invite limited minutes and more rest, the loss against the Hawks saw the Spurs stick to a shorter rotation. More perplexing is the personnel decision of Popovich in a long game that should have seen others get more court time. The primary victims here, as well as lately, are Johnson and Vassell.

Look at the minutes’ allocation in the recent loss to the Hawks.

  • DeMar DeRozan- 47
  • Derrick White- 45
  • Jakob Poeltl- 44
  • Dejounte Murray- 41
  • Patty Mills- 32
  • Rudy Gay- 31
  • Keldon Johnson- 27
  • Devin Vassell, Drew Eubanks- 12

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Keldon Johnson has seen his court time plummet in recent games. Shockingly, his 27 minutes in the last outing is the most he has tallied in the past four contests. For comparison, the Mustang played 31.2 minutes in January. This may have been paired with his recent struggles, but the sophomore needs more minutes to relieve the scorers, especially DeRozan, who became visibly exhausted in the overtime periods.

Johnson’s fresh legs and motor could have feasted on Atlanta’s tired bodies. In both overtime periods, the San Antonio Spurs almost exclusively deferred to DeMar to pull them out of deficits, and it took a toll on him as he went 1-of-6 in the extra periods, missing his usually makeable shots. This resulted in the Hawks solely focusing on him as the offense became very predictable.

Meanwhile, Devin Vassell has recently been on a shorter leash than usual. The rookie has only played a grand total of 37 minutes in the past three games for a mean of approximately 12 each contest, an ample decrease from his season average of 17.1. The 3-and-D wing seems to the perfect weapon against the Hawks’ wings, notably Bogdan Bogdanovic. Still, his measly court time raises a lot of eyebrows, especially when considering the options that Pop took in his stead.

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Patty Mills is the Spurs’ usual closer, but he was not himself in this game. The Aussie guard registered a paltry 1-of-10 shooting from the field, including 1-for-8 on treys in 31 questionable minutes.

In 32 minutes, Rudy Gay had 18 points, but only on middling efficiency at 6-of-16 while getting blown by the Hawks on multiple occasions. This is where Vassell could have helped with his excellent defense and solid shooting from downtown.

Both Johnson and Vassell have been key components in the San Antonio Spurs’ 24-22 record.

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However, given the team’s mini-slump lately to the tune of six losses in the past eight games and a brutal schedule looming, the Silver and Black would surely benefit from Pop shuffling more of his cards rather than sticking to his usual guns.