Catastrophic Rodeo Road Trip should put pressure on Spurs most polarizing player

Things have gotten pretty bad lately for the San Antonio Spurs after going 1-8 on the Rodeo Road Trip, but for Keldon Johnson, it's even worse.

Keldon Johnson, Jeremy Sochan
Keldon Johnson, Jeremy Sochan / Ronald Cortes/GettyImages
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Keldon Johnson is considered the elder statesman on the San Antonio Spurs roster, as the longest-tenured player on the team, with five years under his belt. Usually, guys who have been on the team for that long have built up loyalty within the fan base. The support system in the 210 is a strong one and the fans really love their team. Unfortunately, it seems people have turned on Keldon Johnson, and things have only been getting worse based on his poor play.

There is something to be said for still being a young player at 24 years old, but that only gets you so far when you have been a professional in the NBA for five years. Having access to personal trainers who can teach the nuances of basketball at this level and help one craft a respectable game for half a decade breeds expectations. Granted, he has had to adjust to a new role, but the Rodeo Road Trip is supposed to be a time when things fall into place, but unfortunately, that has not happened for Johnson.

Johnson's gone from bad to worse

Keldon's output has never been zero. He offers intangible things to the team that can't be measured and should not be taken for granted. Despite that, the team needs more than just passion and positivity from the former Kentucky forward. He still takes bad shots, turns the ball over, and misses defensive assignments too often, frustrating fans no matter where he starts the game.

As a starter, Johnson took too many looks away from Wembanyama and Vassell—the players that the coaches want to take the lead on the floor—but at least he was producing. As a starter, Keldon averaged 17.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, and four assists per game. Since his move to the bench, his numbers have naturally dipped to 14.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game.

His move to the bench was an attempt to bolster the starting and bench units. By putting a spot-up shooter in Champagnie on the floor, more space could be afforded to Wembanyama and Vassell while adding a high-usage, bully ball-style player to the second team in hopes of making things easier for the rest of those guys. It has not worked out that way for the bench, and Keldon looks to have lost his confidence.

It is difficult to pinpoint if the move to the bench has gotten in his head, the losing has finally taken a toll, or if something else is bothering Keldon, but things have gotten worse during the Rodeo Road Trip. In the games played, Johnson's numbers took another hit as he posted 11.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, and two assists per outing. The poor stretch saw KJ relegated to the bench after four minutes of play versus Utah in a game he would not return to.

Coach Popovich has used the benching technique on players many times over the course of his illustrious career, but the deviation was his refusal to put Johnson back in the game. Ordinarily, a move like that for a key player only lasts for a quarter or less.

Keldon can still salvage his season. Fans have seen him put together strong stretches in the past. But Pop's willingness to leave the fifth-year forward out of the entire game suggests his patience is wearing thin so that turnaround needs to happen quickly. If nothing else, he needs to show his value to whatever team he ends up on next season.

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