When it was announced that San Antonio's breakout talent Devin Vassell was going to have arthroscopic knee surgery on his left knee, Spurs fans' hearts sank. The third-year wing from Florida State was having the best season of his young career, and now it's unclear as to when or if he will return.
The Spurs are listing Vassell as out indefinitely, and while that might raise some optimism that he could return this season, it's still better to come to terms with the fact that we've seen all of Devin that we're going to get this year. Recovery from a knee surgery like this can take months, and with the Spurs actively undergoing a rebuild, it makes no sense to rush Vassell back to the court.
This means we will likely have to wait until next year to see the Spurs trio of Vassell, Keldon Johnson, and Jeremy Sochan take the floor together. But will the Spurs keep this group together in the starting lineup?
Should the Spurs keep starting Johnson, Sochan, and Vassell together?
On the surface, it makes sense to start Sochan, Vassell, and Keldon Johnson together. They're three of the Spurs' best players, and all seem to be centerpieces of the team going forward. But the fact of the matter is that the three youngsters haven't found much success thus far.
It's important to keep in mind that the Spurs, as a whole, have been historically awful on the defensive end of the floor. That's important context when considering how this trio has performed on that end of the floor. It doesn't improve the numbers, but it's still important to acknowledge.
Before Devin's injury, he, Keldon, and Jeremy were racking up playing time together. They've logged 275 minutes together this season, the 10th most of any Spurs trio. But across that range, they've had a net rating of -10.2. They've been both subpar on offense, with an offensive rating of 106.8, and horrendous on defense, with a defensive rating of 117.
Box score numbers suggest the trio doesn't belong together
Again, it's important to contextualize that defensive rating. As poor as that is, none of the Spurs' other frequently used lineups are much better.
To improve that rating, the Spurs are going to need Keldon to get his three-point shot back and for Sochan to improve as an interior defender. Johnson started the season hot from behind the arc but has been horrendous as of late, shooting just 27 percent from deep over the Spurs' last ten games. San Antonio is going to need him to be more consistent from deep if they want to be able to space the floor effectively on a night-to-night basis.
Meanwhile, as impressive as Sochan's defensive versatility has been, he hasn't done an outstanding job of protecting the rim. He's letting opponents shoot almost 66 percent within five feet of the basket. I believe he can improve on that as he bulks up and can hold his own better, but the Spurs are going to need him to improve as a post-defender quickly, especially if they're unwilling to pay the $20 million per year that Jakob Poeltl is going to reportedly ask for this summer.
One critical factor in whether the Spurs keep this trio together or not is going to be who San Antonio ends up leaving the 2023 NBA Draft with. If they're lucky enough to get the first overall pick and Victor Wembanyama, then I think the odds of Sochan going back to the bench, at least to start the season, go up significantly.
Adding Wembanyama throws a positve wrench in plans for trio
As tantalizing of a prospect as Wemby is, the elephant -- or rather giraffe -- in the room is his slight frame. He's a generational prospect, there's no debating that, but I don't think you'll find many NBA observers who think he can withstand a full game of guarding some of the more physical players like Joel Embiid or Giannis Antetokounmpo. He will need a physically imposing big man to share the court with, at least while he gets adjusted to the speed and physicality of the NBA.
Long term, though, I don't see many situations where Sochan, Vassell, and Johnson don't end up in the Spurs' starting lineup. San Antonio has invested far too much in this trio to give up on them now. And I think they'll be willing to overlook the defensive numbers for the time being, at least until they know what they have.
This group isn't done improving either, far from it. Sochan continues showcasing his versatility, expanding what we thought he was capable of as a playmaker over the last month and improving as a shooter. If Keldon can find the three-point stroke he had at the beginning of the season and Vassell returns as the same player he was this season, then there is still a lot of juice in this group.
At the end of the day, the Spurs don't have many better options for a starting lineup outside of these three. They're the players the organization has decided to build around, and it's far too early to give up on them just because of one historically bad season. Bet on growth, improvement, and seeing these three in the Spurs' starting lineup next season.