Don't look now but the San Antonio Spurs have quietly entered the playoff race -- sort of. While the Spurs aren't exactly surging, other teams in the Western Conference have also struggled, leaving the door open just enough for San Antonio to potentially make the playoffs.
The Spurs will need to start stringing together some wins to make that happen eventually, which could be delayed by the recent COVID-19 protocols striking them. If they're able to do that and actually make the postseason, then it could have big ramifications going forward. With that being said, let's examine how making the playoffs would affect the Spurs rebuild.
Assuming the Spurs make the playoffs, it would certainly qualify as a surprise considering this season was supposed to be the start of a potentially long rebuild. Instead, it could be shortened, and the Spurs could take a different route to try and get back into title contention. After all, San Antonio has Dejounte Murray, who has emerged as an All-Star-caliber player, which should help expedite the rebuild and give them options.
For instance, San Antonio doesn't necessarily need to rebuild through the draft lottery. Instead, they can look to remain competitive while also waiting to see if players like Keldon Johnson or Devin Vassell can also develop into stars.
That would obviously be the best outcome, with San Antonio being able to build around them as opposed to having to find their next stars. There is a downside to that approach, however. It could limit the Spurs' ceiling once they're a consistent playoff team again. Other teams that have skipped a traditional rebuild and gotten too good too quickly have often run into issues getting better after peaking early.
Fortunately, the Spurs have a history of using the NBA Draft to consistently find talent late in the first round, which could prevent that from happening to them. That makes this approach more viable for the Spurs, but it still hinges on another player on the roster elevating their game to All-Star levels. That isn't a given, which also makes this approach risky as well.
Why the Spurs could be worse off for making the playoffs
Making the playoffs would definitely provide a big boost to morale, but there is a major downside. The Spurs would miss out on a potentially high lottery pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, and instead, end up with a pick in the mid-teens.
Even factoring in San Antonio’s success drafting, a higher pick comes with the opportunity to select someone with a much higher talent level than they have in the past. While no one is asking to or expecting them to tank, just imagine a top pick joining the likes of Murray, Johnson, Vassell, Joshua Primo, Jakob Poeltl, and Derrick White next season.
That would give the Spurs another option in case they don’t already have a second star on the roster. On the other hand, it could possibly give the team yet another potential star. That would certainly be a great consolation prize if they were to miss the postseason but could help the Spurs out significantly in the long run.
Ultimately, the Spurs have managed to remain competitive this season during a rebuild. While they've also been inconsistent, other teams in the West have played poorly enough to give San Antonio hope that they could make the playoffs. After all, the Spurs are currently within the play-in tournament range.
Conversely, they have the 9th-worst record in the NBA, putting them at sort of a crossroads. Depending on how they finish the season, they could find themselves back in the playoffs or back in the lottery. No matter the result, San Antonio could be in a good position going forward if they're smart.