As it stands, the San Antonio Spurs are on the outside looking in when it comes to a potential return to the NBA playoffs.
We can rule out a straightforward appearance without a play-in tournament scenario, as San Antonio would have to make it to the sixth seed in the Western Conference for that to happen. Catching the seventh or eighth seeds also seems like a stretch, as there's just too much of a gap there to make up in less than 25 games.
Still, the ongoing collapse of the Los Angeles Lakers and key injuries to guys like Zion Williamson and Damian Lillard are helping the Spurs' odds of finishing somewhere in the top 10 out west. The Pelicans, Trail Blazers, Lakers, and Kings will probably be the four other teams battling for seeds 9 and 10, and only two can make it to the tourney.
With all that said, although many fans want the Spurs to guarantee as high a chance for a top lottery pick as possible, that's just not how the team operates. "You can't go to your team and ask them to lose," said Coach Popovich earlier this month. Like it or not, San Antonio is at least going to try to make a postseason run even if the writing seems on the wall that contender status is still at least a year away.
Besides overall consistency, the play of one starter could make the difference in such a run.
Doug McDermott is the biggest key to a playoff push
Since the team has an All-Star like Dejounte Murray, it might come as a surprise that I think Doug McDermott is the key to the Spurs making a run. But we already know what we're going to get from Murray on a nightly basis. He's a star for a reason. Even if he struggles with his shot in a given game, he does so many other things on the court that his presence is still felt.
A similar argument can be made for Jakob Poeltl and Keldon Johnson to a lesser degree. They both have offered consistent production with increased roles since the trade of Derrick White, even if they still have some off nights.
Overall, McDermott has played well enough to warrant being a starter, even if he's an unconventional power forward. He works particularly well with Murray and Poeltl as a floor-spacer, and his game relies heavily on being on the floor with them. In Saturday's loss to Miami, he scored just four points on 2-of-6 shooting from the field when they were all absent.
Offensively, Doug is usually good for about 12 points a night and a couple of knock-down threes. He also helps keep the offense running smoothly with his frequent cuts and curls. But it's the other things that might determine the Spurs' fate as the season winds down.
At 6-7. McDermott doesn't exactly have the size and strength to battle down low with many of the league's other power forwards. As a result, the Spurs give up more offensive boards, low post buckets, and drives to the cup than they'd like.
This is where the continued growth of 6-11 Zach Collins might start to come in handy. There will be matchups in which McDermott's size will be too exploitable by bigger frontcourts. Collins more resistance inside on both sides of the ball.
Essentially, the Spurs know what they'll be getting from most of their starters, but with so many close games, it could come down to whether or not McDermott is able to hold is own as a frontcourt player over the final stretch.
With the power forward position frequently being the biggest gap in matchups with the Spurs, his importance becomes that much more critical when the margins are so thin.
If San Antonio ends up making a real push for a postseason appearance, Doug's play might just be the biggest reason they do.