Gregg Popovich knows how to go on rants, but sometimes it only takes one sentence to tell you everything you need to know. The San Antonio Spurs have been free-falling without their All-Star candidate, Dejounte Murray, and the guy who's perhaps been struggling the most in his absence is Keldon Johnson.
Since his season-high 27 points against Detroit in Murray's first game out, Johnson is shooting just 25% from the field and 20% from downtown while scoring 9.3 points per game. Over the last four games, he's made only five of his 20 attempts from beyond the arc and has had three turnovers in each of the last three games.
Against Toronto, Johnson scored six points and grabbed four boards in 29 minutes, going 3-of-13 from the field and 0-of-5 from three. After the Spurs' fourth loss in a row, Coach Popovich was asked about Johnson's recent struggles.
"Keldon's not playing well," said Popovich before abruptly walking off.
Popovich didn't need to expand any further, and I feel like Keldon himself would probably agree with the assessment. Without creators like Murray and Lonnie Walker, he's been forced into uncomfortable positions on the court and turning the ball over as a result. He's also forcing the issue too often when opponents know exactly the move he's going to make, resulting in poor, awkward shots.
Keldon's Struggles Further Emphasize One Thing
It's clear by now that the Spurs aren't built to do well when missing a key component. It happened when Jakob Poeltl was hit by health and safety protocols and happened again in Murray's absence. Against decent competition, it doesn't appear that Tre Jones is quite ready to fill in for all Dejounte brings to the court, although that's expected given his limited experience.
The Spurs' 1-4 record without Murray further emphasizes just how valuable he is to the team and why he should be considered as an NBA All-Star for the first time in his career. It also shows us San Antonio isn't nearly equipped enough in the shot creation department.
When he was shooting nearly 50% from downtown with Murray on the court, Keldon was benefitting from drive-and-kicks and ball movement -- something the Spurs are also missing from Doug McDermott.
While Coach Popovich was correct in his assessment, I think the absences of Murray, McDermott, and Walker are the main cause of Johnson's struggles, and he should return closer to the mean starting with Dejounte's return on Wednesday.
Still, this rough stretch should serve as a reminder that Keldon is still very much a work in progress.