Coach Popovich has had a legendary career. As the NBA’s all-time winningest coach, he’s been at the helm of five NBA championships throughout his coaching career with the Spurs, and he’s helped mold several hall-of-fame players. Fans do not always immediately understand why Coach Pop makes the decisions he makes, but those answers usually manifest themselves over time.
Pop has used some unconventional methods over his career, including having coach conferences during time outs, allowing the players to coach themselves a bit. Since the players are the ones on the court, they must understand how to communicate with each other effectively. These are opportunities for the expected leaders of the team to “step up” and rally the players.
The 74-year-old coach has always made interesting lineup decisions. He helped Manu become the preeminent sixth-man in the NBA's esteemed history and a Hall of Famer. He’s instituted minute restrictions and rest plans for players, despite the league's disdain for the practice.
One current method Coach Pop has employed this season—to mixed results thus far—is the lack of a true point guard in the starting lineup.
Jeremy Sochan was the pseudo-point guard to begin the season, and Tre Jones, a true point guard, has mostly been with the second unit. Popovich knows Jones is a starting-caliber point guard, though.
Jones started 65 games last season for the team, averaging 29.2 minutes and 12.9 points while dishing out 6.6 assists per game. Those are serviceable numbers for any point guard, especially one who’s only 22 years old and still learning the league.
If Pop knows Jones is worthy of starting, then why was he coming off the bench? Did he just want a bench player he can trust? Tre has a track record with Pop, so Pop knows he can count on him. The point guard from Duke was steady off the bench this season, averaging 8.3 points per game and 4.9 assists per game. He was playing a tick under 24 minutes per game at 23.9, helping the second unit flow and driving the pace of play at point guard.
It's clear that the Spurs are a different team with Jones in the starting lineup. A net rating of +8.6 is nothing to scoff at, especially for a team with as poor a win-loss record as the Silver and Black have. Tre is a clear difference-maker and a steady presence at the point guard position. For a young team that is continuing to find continuity in lineups, that is important and many fans believe the 6'1 guard should have been in the starting lineup all season.
Popovich has always had closers, or finishers, for his teams. At the end of games, some players weren’t starters but were finishing for the team. Players he knew he could count on to close the game out. Some of these players, like Manu, filled this role most of their careers, regardless of their starter status. Players like Patty Mills, Derrick White, and Zach Collins have all been closers for the Spurs when they were rolling, so this isn't new.
Popovich views Jones as his point guard finisher.
Tre Jones is a competent, reliable point guard who can be part of the core of the future of the Spurs. Though he's not a finished product yet, Jones, alongside other young players on the San Antonio team, is poised to make a significant impact at the point guard position for years to come.