San Antonio Spurs potential cornerstones 2 and 1
2. Dejounte Murray
I'm happy to see that the narrative on Dejounte Murray is starting to shift just a tad finally. Instead of pure "he's our guy" blinders where Dejounte could do no wrong, people are starting to worry about his weaknesses and wonder if he's actually the franchise player people indiscriminately thought he was as recently as a season ago. That's partially due to repeated struggles from deep, the emergence of other young potential cornerstones on the Spurs, and limited team success.
However, Murray is still very much part of the Spurs' blueprint and I argue that's the right call. For starters, Murray was most impacted by last year's DeRozan-led offense. And it's not DeRozan's fault, but when your biggest offensive weapon in the halfcourt is best off the dribble drive and in the pick and roll, that only works if you are the one with the basketball.
Instead, Murray spent much of last season relegated to a secondary or even tertiary playmaker role, depending on how much offense was being run through LaMarcus or Derrick, where aside from some secondary drives, and cuts inside, Murray was limited. With DeRozan and Aldridge both gone and increased shooting around him in the form of Landale, Vassell, Doug McDermott, and others, there will be more space and opportunity for Murray to shine on offense.
And that's just offense. Defensively Dejounte is still Dejounte, a perennial All-Defense Team threat who also typically finishes around the top 5 among point guards in rebounds per game and among the league leaders in steals. So in essence, Dejounte only works for the Spurs if he is one of the guys they are building around. Luckily enough for Murray and the Spurs, a cornerstone is exactly what he should be.
Number 1 - Keldon Johnson
I'm really hoping this one is not too much of a surprise. Coming off an Olympic Gold Medal, the youngest member of Team USA is also the Spurs' brightest cornerstone. Keldon Johnson possesses all the intangibles the Spurs value and combines those with physical strength and genuine basketball skill.
Johnson's six rebounds per game last year don't tell the whole story, as many of them came from boxing out and overpowering significantly taller players and skying out of nowhere to grab boards from opposing bigs. Offensively, while Keldon is still a work in progress, he's already displayed the versatility that every team craves.
Keldon's 12.8 points per game were also misleading because he got them in so many different ways and often without a play being called for him. Keldon punished bigs and smalls alike on the offensive glass with his putbacks, attacked the paint both off explosive cuts and off dribble drives, and showcased just enough shooting to warrant optimism for future progress.
While I do think Keldon could evolve into a Draymond Green style 4-5, I am really, really excited to see him play more small forward this year. I feel like this is the position where Keldon could best excel defensively, and since he was already overpowering most bigs inside with his finishing and rebounding ability, NBA small forwards wouldn't have a prayer against Keldon inside.