The San Antonio Spurs managed to end their 2021-22 season on a high note, winning nine of their last 15 games and making the NBA Play-In Tournament. While they did ultimately lose to the New Orleans Pelicans, winning 60% of their games over the final month of the season is certainly the bigger takeaway.
In fact, were they to play at that level for an entire season, they'd win nearly 50 games. That may seem far-fetched considering they finished 14 games below .500, but the Spurs appear to have unlocked something that could help them going forward.
If they were to build on their successes, they could be ready to follow in the steps of another young team in their division, the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies took the rest of the league by surprise this season after winning 56 games, led by third-year guard Ja Morant, who averaged a stellar 27.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 6.7 assists.
Better still, they finished with the second-best record in the NBA and could be poised for a long playoff run. They're definitely the model for a young team to follow, but are the Spurs ready to make a Memphis-like jump next season? Let's find out.
Much like Memphis, the Spurs are led by an All-Star point guard in Dejounte Murray, and while Morant is quickly emerging as a superstar, so is Murray. Murray, after all, put up historic numbers in the first half of the season and kicked his game into high gear in the second half.
He posted an eye-popping 25.1 points, 8.2 rebounds, 8.8 assists, and 2.0 steals over 15 games, and it's entirely possible that he could replicate that play over an entire season.
What's more, his teammate, Keldon Johnson, also made a similar leap in terms of production and could very well emerge as an All-Star in his own right. Johnson averaged a terrific 20.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.9 assists, and proved key in the Spurs' late push for the play-in. Murray and Johnson will be key to San Antonio's success next season, and given how rapidly both have improved in a relatively short amount of time, it's possible that they can again.
Actually, if they play like they did post-All-Star break, they combine to average 45.8 points, 14.7 rebounds, and 11.7 assists. That would put them in the conversation for one of the best duos in the NBA and position the Spurs for playoff contention. It's not just them, however, and San Antonio has other players likely to take their games to the next level next season.
The Supporting cast can provide a boost
Jakob Poeltl could be one of those players who evolves further, particularly after averaging 13.6 points and shooting a red-hot 61.7% from the field, but he could be even more effective as a scorer if he improves as a free throw shooter. Additionally, he evolved into more of a playmaker, averaging 2.7 assists per game, and should be even better next season with more offensive options.
Poeltl also formed a highly effective pick and roll pairing with Murray, which helped both players get easy shots as well as draw attention from defenders, freeing up shooters.
Players such as Devin Vassell, Doug McDermott, and newcomer Josh Richardson benefitted and should continue to do so next season, as both Murray and Poeltl continue to finetune their pick-and-roll partnership. Vassell had an up and down sophomore season but ended the year strong, averaging 17.8 points over the team's final seven games.
He did so by shooting a blistering percentage on a high volume of 3-point attempts, something he's definitely capable of doing going forward. And considering that he also scores efficiently inside the arc, Vassell could emerge as the Spurs' third-best offensive player next season.
As for McDermott and Richardson, McDermott played well but struggled to stay healthy while Richardson was acquired midseason and shot the lights out, drilling 44.4% of his threes. With both back next season, along with Johnson, Vassell, and Joshua Primo, the Spurs will have much better shooting to surround Murray with. That bodes well for San Antonio’s offense after they finished 18th in both offensive rating and 3-point percentage.
The Spurs should still improve defensively
Defensively, San Antonio massively underperformed based on their talent, finishing below league-average after many expected them to finish inside the top-10 in defensive rating. Despite likely having mostly the same roster next season, they should be better and were better over the last month of the season. Actually, they had the 8th-best defensive rating in that span, showing that they have the potential to be great, even if they weren't for much of this year.
Overall, the Spurs are in a position to dramatically improve next season, led by Murray and Johnson. They should be much better on both sides of the ball and will need to be if they want to replicate what Memphis has done. Memphis managed to finish in the top five in both offense and defense by having efficient and balanced scoring and a collection of solid defenders.
San Antonio could have a similarly balanced offensive attack with Murray, Johnson, Vassell, and Poeltl as counterparts to Morant, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, and Jaren Jackson Jr. for Memphis, and the Spurs also have an array of good defenders.
Therefore, they should be in the top 10 in both categories, and if they are, then the Spurs will definitely be ready to make a Memphis-like jump next season.