For the San Antonio Spurs, 2021-22 was a season where expectations were exceeded and statements were made. But at the same time, it was a year where the ultimate goal of rising to the level of a playoff contender was not yet reached.
From an outsider's perspective, it may look like the Spurs are still a few years away from making it back to the playoffs. After all, the Western Conference is as deep as ever. But I believe based on their play this year that they're already on the precipice of being a playoff team once again. Here's why San Antonio is just one piece away from a 2023 return to the postseason.
The Spurs Had Inconsistent Power Forward Play
It's pretty obvious that the Spurs got the least consistent production this year from the power forward position. Doug McDermott, Keldon Johnson, Keita Bates-Diop, and Zach Collins all started games at the four, with McDermott starting in 51 of the 82 regular season contests. While Doug did have an above-average year for the Silver and Black, he didn't end up being exactly what the team needed from an overall standpoint.
The team brought him in last summer to improve their shooting, and he certainly did that. 108 threes on 42% shooting from outside is nothing to sneeze at. But as well as he shot the rock, he was far too often a negative on the other end of the floor. When his shot wasn't falling, he could become unplayable fast. And that's not totally McDermott's fault either, seeing as he's probably more comfortable playing small forward, and not being asked to guard more hefty wings on the interior.
One of the Spurs' biggest priorities this offseason will certainly be to find a long-term fixture at the four, whether that's in the draft or in free agency. McDermott's shooting would be an offensive plus for any team, but he's just not physically equipped to be a reliable power forward for a contending team. When Doug went down with a sprained ankle on March 12, the team went 8-6 to close the regular season in his absence. It's fair to say moving him elsewhere this summer would be a wise move.
San Antonio Was Better Than They Appeared
Another big reason the Spurs should be in position to get back to the playoffs soon is that they were already closer than it seemed this year. As the playoff race ticked down to the final few regular season games, they ended up just two games behind New Orleans to host a play-in game. This happened despite it being a strange season for San Antonio where several young players were thrust into new and bigger roles.
When the team was struggling to stay afloat midway through the season, Dejounte Murray elevated his play even more and the Spurs won eight out of 10 games heading into April to clinch their play-in berth. They ended the year performing like a playoff team.
The numbers also agree that the Spurs were better than their record this year. Of the bottom eight teams in the Western Conference, the Spurs were the only team with a positive point differential at +0.2, higher than the Clippers and Pelicans, who both finished ahead of them. San Antonio also finished eighth in points per game, ninth in rebounds per game, and second in assists.
If the Spurs enter this coming season with a true rotational power forward, I would be hard pressed to think they won't make the playoffs outright. There are several potential stars waiting in this year's draft and free agency pool that could easily fill that role.
As has been previously stated, the Spurs will need to put a co-star next to Dejounte Murray to be a true playoff contender in this league. Making the right addition this offseason could be the final puzzle piece in finally ending a three-year playoff drought.