The San Antonio Spurs, perhaps more than any other team, rely heavily on their bench. But unlike in years past, the bench faces a lot of uncertainty following the departure of Patty Mills and Rudy Gay. Considering the team has ranked fourth in bench scoring three of the last four seasons, losing their two leading second-unit scorers from last season is certainly a blow, at least at first glance.
While San Antonio's reserves lack the continuity, experience, and even talent of many of the previous versions of the Spurs had, they can exceed expectations. With key players gone, other players will have the opportunity to step up in their absence. With that in mind, let’s examine why the Spurs' bench could surprise this season.
Why the Spurs' bench depth is important to their success
Bryn Forbes, Lonnie Walker, Devin Vassell, Thaddeus Young, and Drew Eubanks are expected to make up San Antonio's second unit and could be impactful both individually as well as a collective unit.
Forbes, during his previous stint with the team, started at shooting guard, where he was frequently attacked on defense.
This time, however, he'll be a reserve and playing a more limited role. With the second unit, he'll still provide the team with a sharpshooter who's capable of getting hot and scoring in quick spurts while being less of a liability on defense.
Lonnie Walker has similar potential as a microwave scorer, though can also develop into a capable playmaker and even a good defender. With Mills gone, Walker appears to be the most likely candidate to emerge as the team's next sixth man. Last season, he averaged a solid 11.2 points in 25.4 minutes per game. With the ball in his hands more, he could be even better this season.
Devin Vassell will likely join Forbes and Walker in the second unit and appears ready for a big season following an impressive showing in Summer League and in training camp. After being selected 11th overall in the 2020 Draft, he immediately joined the Spurs' rotation and provided the team with a smart defender and capable shooter.
Now in his second season, he’ll likely get a chance to expand his offensive role and showcase his underrated shooting ability. As for Young, who was acquired from Chicago in the DeMar DeRozan trade, he could prove to be a key player off the bench this season. In fact, given his versatility, he is likely an upgrade over Gay at backup power forward.
After all, he can score in a number of ways, defend multiple positions and also serve as a secondary playmaker, helping other Spurs get open shots. As a result, he could even join several starters in the closing lineup of close games while playing at center.
Eubanks could also be another important bench option as the team’s backup center. Now entering his fourth season with the team, he has worked on incorporating a 3-pointer into his game while still providing the team with a dangerous roll-man and lob threat. Were he able to become a stretch five, he could ultimately become the team's best offensive big man.