For Spurs, young core and defense are key to a play-in win over Grizzlies
The San Antonio Spurs' young core and DeMar DeRozan need to step up
While the Spurs will surely need to defend well in order to win their first play-in game, the Spurs' offense should not be overlooked. Coming into the play-in tournament, the Memphis Grizzlies have the seventh-best defensive rating in the NBA and are the fourth-best rebounding team in the league.
The Spurs will have to make every offensive possession count. That said, several things will need to happen for the Spurs to move onto a second play-in game to face the loser of the Lakers-Warriors matchup on Wednesday.
First, in terms of scoring, the Spurs will need to make a concerted effort to take smart shots and let those shots come from the right players. In my opinion, the two primary options on offense this coming Wednesday need to be DeMar DeRozan and Lonnie Walker IV.
DeMar is having yet another fantastic offensive season with the Spurs to the point that his stats should speak for themselves. He is far and away the most reliable and efficient scorer on offense for the Spurs and I would not mind him being selfish on Wednesday when it comes to scoring.
On the other hand, I also don't want him to force offense when there are other options on the team that could (and should) attempt to make something happen on that side of the floor. While I've been thoroughly impressed with Dejounte Murray's increase in scoring production this season, on Wednesday, I want the team's number two option on offense to be Lonnie Walker IV.
In the absence of Derrick White, Lonnie has had some fantastic scoring performances, has shown that he's improving at finishing through contact, and has displayed some serious playmaking upside. With that in mind, in a recent article, I pointed out that Lonnie is trailing seven other Spurs players in touches per game, but that he's also leading the team in points per touch.
If there is ever a good opportunity to let Lonnie loose and see what he can do in a high-stakes, playoff-like game, this Wednesday will be the perfect opportunity. Amid Dejounte's still less-than-ideal shooting efficiency, Patty Mills' shooting slump, and Rudy Gay's tendency to be hot or cold depending on the game, Lonnie by far makes the most sense to me as the second option on offense coming into the play-in game.
While Lonnie should be a primary scorer on Wednesday, it would definitely be a mistake to leave Dejounte Murray and Keldon Johnson out of the equation. Personally, I want the two of them to focus on getting rebounds and creating second-chance opportunities.
Both Dejounte and Keldon have already proven themselves to be the two best rebounders on the team outside of Jakob Poeltl and are continuing to prove themselves as some of the best rebounders at their respective positions in the whole league.
In this way, I think that they will both be able to do the most damage to the Grizzlies on Wednesday by grabbing boards and either finishing strong themselves around the rim (especially for Keldon) or by creating a scoring opportunity for someone else. In going up against the fourth-best rebounding team in the league, fighting for rebounds and extra opportunities will be crucial in a win, and the Spurs centers will need all the help they can get.
Lastly, and no less importantly, Jakob Poeltl needs to be as physical in the paint as he can possibly be. While Jakob has developed quite a bit over the course of the season, in the Spurs first matchup with Memphis in December, Valanciunas posted a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds, and Jakob has notably had some issues with defending other larger bigs this season like Rudy Gobert and even Alex Len.
On Wednesday, he will have to do everything he can to bully Valanciunas in the paint while not getting into foul trouble himself. Ultimately, I think it will be Jakob's performance that will dictate how well the Spurs' defense runs on the inside and on the perimeter and how many second-chance opportunities both the Spurs and Grizzlies have. How he is able to play could make or break the Spurs' chances on Wednesday.