3 Lineups the San Antonio Spurs and Gregg Popovich need to try
Lineup #1: Tre Jones, Lonnie Walker, Devin Vassell, Luka Samanic, Thad Young
While the debuts of top draft picks such as Jalen Green and Cade Cunningham captured most of the coverage at the Vegas Summer League, Spurs fans were taking note of second-year point guard Tre Jones' performances. In one contest against the Charlotte Hornets, Jones recorded a very impressive line of 34 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds, showing off exactly why we were calling him one of the steals of the 2020 Draft shortly after he was selected.
Limited to a very minor role in his rookie season, Jones will be coming into this year with an excellent opportunity to take over the role formerly occupied by Patty Mills as the leader of the Spurs' second unit. He has the playmaking chops to run the offense and a varied-enough scoring profile to be dangerous in the half-court. That being said, he still has an obvious hole in his game in his three-point shooting and it will be critical that the coaching staff surrounds him with shot-makers.
Playing Jones with Lonnie Walker and Devin Vassell would give him the shooters he needs on the receiving end of his passes. They shot 36 and 35 percent from behind the arc, respectively, and while those certainly aren't outstanding numbers, they're some of the best that the Spurs are working with right now.
Bryn Forbes could be slotted in at the other guard spot if the Spurs are really intentional about spreading the floor around Jones, but a backcourt of Jones and Forbes simply doesn't have the size it needs to be competitive on the defensive end.
Rounding out the lineup is Luka Samanic and Thad Young, each of whom brings a combination of scoring and playmaking ability that would, at the very least, make this lineup quite fun to watch.
The biggest concerns with this group are on the defensive end, but frankly, I'm not too concerned with the backcourt and the wing. Even though he's on the smaller side compared to other NBA point guards, people are quick to forget how good of a defender Jones is. He's a hound on the defensive end of the floor and was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year for a reason. Devin Vassell is just as capable on that end of the floor and probably even has the higher defensive ceiling.
My concerns lie with Walker, Samanic, and Young. Of the Spurs to play over 1,000 minutes last season, Walker had the worst defense according to 538's RAPTOR rating. There is some belief that Samanic can become a defender capable of guarding multiple positions at an above-average level, but I'm waiting to see that in live game action before I believe it. Sure, there have been flashes of defense from him in his limited NBA minutes but let's see him do it consistently before calling him "Lockdown Luka."
Finally, my issues with Young's defense are less about him as an individual defender and more with what would happen if he's the man protecting the rim. Last year, Young allowed opposing players to score at the rim on 68.3 percent of their attempts, just a hair better than Aleksej Pokusevski. That's not exactly the level of rim protection that you'd hope to see from the man who would be tasked with playing center in this lineup.
On offense, this lineup has the potential to be explosive. But with that comes considerable weaknesses on the defensive end. It might work out, it might not. But finding the answer to questions like that is what this season should be all about.