With the San Antonio Spurs' season now over, we have a much better understanding of the team's young roster. We know Dejounte Murray is an All-Star, Keldon Johnson is a rising star, and Jakob Poeltl is one of the best in the league at his position.
Those players were instrumental in keeping the Spurs competitive this season, despite it being the first year of a rebuild, resulting in another NBA Play-In Tournament appearance. That's encouraging, especially considering San Antonio has several tools to work with to get better in the offseason, including three first-round picks, a high second-round pick, and up to $36 million in cap space.
Despite that, internal improvement could prove to be a more valuable asset than anything. After all, with such a young group, as individual players get better, so should the team. The Spurs have relied on this approach in the past and should count on their young players upping their games next season in hopes of making a big jump in the standings.
Murray did just that this season, managing to increase his scoring by 5.4 points, his assists by 3.8, and his rebounds by 1.2. Better yet, during the second half of the season, Murray took his game to another level, averaging 25.1 points, 8.2 rebounds, 8.8 assists, and 2 steals.
Next season, I fully expect him to put up similar numbers but over an entire season. That would be huge for San Antonio considering they were a .500 team in the games that he played after the All-Star break, much better than the 34-48 record that they ultimately finished with.
Keldon Johnson's continued growth will be vital
Another big part of the Spurs' late-season success was the emergence of Keldon Johnson, who averaged an impressive 20.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.9 assists post-All-Star break. Johnson’s second-half surge illustrates just how quickly young players can evolve. In fact, over the first 20 games of the season, he averaged just 14.9 points, but he later averaged 22.5 points per game in April.
Pair that dramatic jump in production with Murray's, and San Antonio could have good enough next season to make the playoffs outright. No more of this play-in nonsense. That’s not to mention Devin Vassell, Jakob Poeltl, and Joshua Primo. Vassell ended the season on a high note, averaging 17 points over the team's final six games while shooting a blistering 44.1 % on 7.1 3-point attempts. He also led the team with 23 points in their play-in game loss to New Orleans.
Vassell still has plenty of untapped offensive potential and he'll enter year three as a full-time starter, which should only help speed up his development. Meanwhile, Poeltl went from being an underrated offensive player to being the team's third-leading scorer. He averaged 13.5 points on 61.8% shooting in just 29 minutes per game. Still, there's plenty of room for improvement, most glaringly, at the free-throw line, where he shot just 49.5%, thus making him a late-game liability.
As for Primo, he was thrown into the deep end this year, and, while it wasn't always pretty, he should be much better for it. That bodes well for San Antonio, who could use his shooting and emerging playmaking ability next season. They'll also need Tre Jones who came on late and proved that he's an NBA point guard, one who’s more than capable of backing up Murray, as well as playing alongside him.
Rounding out the team's improvement candidates are Josh Richardson and Zach Collins. Richardson was acquired midseason as salary filler in the trade that sent Derrick White to the Celtics. Ironically, he proved to be a better fit for the Spurs than White, providing the team with a sharpshooter who can also defend. Collins, on the other hand, will finally enter an offseason healthy, allowing him the chance to build on a solid first season with the team.
Ultimately, San Antonio should be much better next season regardless of what they do this summer. Led by souped-up versions of Murray and Johnson, and factoring in other players such as Vassell, Poeltl, Primo, Jones, Richardson, and Collins, it's possible that San Antonio could win 50 games next season. Internal improvement is the Spurs' biggest offseason weapon.