Popovich's accountability plan spotlights poor play from key player

Keldon Johnson's recent struggles forced a radical move from Coach Popovich

San Antonio Spurs v Utah Jazz
San Antonio Spurs v Utah Jazz / Alex Goodlett/GettyImages

The 2023–24 season is all but finalized for the San Antonio Spurs, as they sit at the bottom of the Western Conference standings at 11–47 and are currently in the midst of a four-game losing streak after falling short again at the hands of the Utah Jazz.

With San Antonio only playing for their lottery odds at this point, it's beginning to shape up to be make-or-break time for some of the guys on the roster. One of those guys is fifth-year forward Keldon Johnson, whose entire season has been in a prove-it year since the first of his four-year contract began, where his base salary is at $20 million even for this season.

Keldon Johnson's decline is surprising

To keep it simple enough, Johnson has been extremely underwhelming this season, as it seemed that his best role would be as the sixth-man spark plug. Unfortunately, Keldon has never built up consistency as a scorer, as his averages are nothing to write home about. The former Kentucky Wildcat is putting up averages of 15.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.0 assists on splits of 45.1% from the floor, 33.2% from three, and 78.2% from the charity stripe.

At a glance, these numbers are nothing to be upset about. However, the problem isn't the averages; it's the lack of consistency and constant display of poor decision-making. Wanting to play 'do it myself' basketball, Keldon's role as a sixth man could remain steadfast if he remains with the Spurs. But he's not someone a team can rely on as a nightly threat off the bench.

After fouling former All-Star Lauri Markkanen on a catch-and-shoot three-pointer that resulted in a four-point play for the Jazz, Johnson was pulled and benched for the rest of the game after just four minutes of play for the 24-year-old. In his place was Sandro Mamukelashvili, who played fourteen minutes and was the only Spur with a positive plus/minus line after the nineteen-point blowout.

Some fans thought he was potentially injured, which could've been why he sat out, but that was far from the case. Assistant Coach Mitch Johnson provided some of Pop's reasoning as to why Keldon was benched after his short stint in last night's matchup.

The phrase 'repetitive mistakes' is what stands out the most in this quote. Fans of the silver and black aren't the only ones who've noticed Johnson's lengthy stretches of struggle, and now Pop and the coaching staff are going to hold him accountable to it as he looks to 'change the messaging' of his team.

There's a handful of players on this roster where everything is on the line for them with this final stretch of the regular season. Including Keldon, as his name is always popping up in trade rumors, and by the looks of it, it seems that maybe the time to ship him off might've been at the deadline.

Fans know that Pop has already put some threats out there throughout the season, showing that he's willing to make changes and have inconsistent players find themselves on the bench. Everyone has seen that already happen with Malaki Branham this season, who's found more time in the rotation after the trade sending Doug McDermott away and has been quietly putting together a nice stretch of games. Zach Collins also lost some of his minutes to G-League star Dominick Barlow.

Keldon should not feel safe in his position right now. The clock is ticking, and he needs to unlock the monster inside of him if he wants to continue being a cornerstone of the Spurs' future.