Start, Bench, Cut: Sorting out the small forward pecking order on the Spurs

San Antonio Spurs v Toronto Raptors
San Antonio Spurs v Toronto Raptors / Mark Blinch/GettyImages
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The San Antonio Spurs played things safe this summer after striking gold in the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes, opting to make minor moves on the trade market rather than shelling out a boatload of money to big-name free agents. While this franchise is still in the early stages of a full-throttle rebuild, its front office must decide which players are worth holding onto and who should get the boot.

With training camp fast approaching, the Silver and Black will soon have to sort out their depth chart at each position. However, that chore could become particularly challenging once they look through all the talented small forwards under contract this season. Who should start? Who deserves backup duties? And who won't make it to opening night when the Dallas Mavericks come to town?

Start: Keldon Johnson

Keldon Johnson has done nothing but exceed expectations since the Spurs chose him with the 29th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, transforming himself from an unpolished prospect into the leading scorer for one of the most promising young teams in the league. For all his development, he has been a polarizing figure for the fanbase over the last couple of seasons.

The 23-year-old combo forward became the de facto face of the franchise for San Antonio after the front office traded Dejounte Murray last summer, and he averaged a career-high 22.0 points and 2.9 assists per game during the 2022-23 season. Despite increased touches for Johnson, his shooting efficiency fell across the board as opponents committed more resources to stopping him.

Though Keldon fought through slumps to make progress as a finisher and playmaker, he struggled to make an impact on the other end of the court. He struggled to stay in front of his man off the dribble, and habitual ball-watching, miscommunications, and late rotations made him a liability to the integrity of the team defense. The effort was there, but his discipline must improve.

Gregg Popovich has shown a lot of trust in Johnson, and he has earned the right to retain his spot in the starting lineup. The Spurs overburdened the slasher with too much offensive responsibility on a rebuilding ball club. However, the arrival of Victor Wembanyama presents a perfect chance for him to slide into a lesser role and shift the narrative around his empty-calorie production.