These aren't your father's boring old Spurs. They have some youth in that locker room.
The Spurs have 15 players on their roster. 7 of them, yes 7, are 23 years old or younger. There are a lot of interesting aspects to this youth movement. Tonight, I just want to contemplate the age and how many of these young guys we are likely to have when the 2011 season tips off. Here we go:
- George Hill: 23
- Malik Hairston: 23
- Garrett Temple: 23
- Ian Mahinmi: 23
- Curtis Jerrells: 23
- Alonzo Gee: 22
- DeJuan Blair: 20
Only George and DeJuan have guaranteed contracts for next season. Malik, Garrett, Curtis, and Alonzo are non-guaranteed. Ian is a free agent in the summer. We know George and DeJuan are good. We know they will be in a Spurs uniform for the next few years. It's the other guys who are interesting when we think about what the Spurs roster will look like next year.
I'm not sure what Ian's future holds, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him sign for the minimum and be back in a Spurs uniform. But, who knows.
Six of the seven youngsters, everybody but CJ, are very good athletes. Remarkable athletes even. Temple is a very long point guard. Alonzo is a big, strong guy who can jump through the roof. Malik is a very strong, quick guy also with substantial hops. Ian, at 6-11, is a graceful if not explosive athlete. George is ridiculous. DeJuan is also ridiculous. CJ is a solid athlete, don't get me wrong, he just doesn't jump over guys and he's not a burner. I really think he's a Derek Fisher type. Strong, quick, smart, clutch. Not bad attributes at all.
The Future Is A Different Direction
At season's end, Bonner, Mason, Bogans, and Mahinmi are free agents. Tony, Tim, Manu(YAY!!!), RJ, Antonio, George, and DeJuan are under contract. That's 8 roster spots open. Odds are we will see several from the unguaranteed bunch on the team next season. Even if we only bring back 3 of the 5 (including Ian), we are looking at 5 players 24 or younger next year. Plus, we have our first round pick.
I think it might be the case that the Spurs are changing strategies and going the route of the young bench instead of the old bench. They are using the Toros to give guys time to develop and learn the system so that they can have young athletic veteran role players in roster spots 10-15 instead of old veteran guys. Ime, Jacque, Fab (last year), Theo, Mason (this year), Finley (this year), etc. It's like the decision was made to develop young veterans into the roles previously filled by old veterans. It's an interesting strategy.
We've seen how hard it is for veteran players to come in and learn the Spurs system. Plenty of guys have struggled for a season getting used to it. Instead, the Spurs are training the guys in-house and getting younger more athletic guys as well. I don't think it is a coincidence that Malik Hairston logs a lot of his time in end-game situations. He plays in close games on the defensive end because Pop seems to trust him to know what to do. Or, in Spurs speak, do the right thing.
We know that Popovich has always put an emphasis on system over athlete when it comes to how the team was built around the big 3. That being in the right spot at the right time is more important than being able to jump or shoot or run. That being able to hit the corner 3 is more important than being able to beat your guy off the dribble.
I doubt that any of these guys will be all-star caliber players, but they just may be the core of the team for the next few years. Hardhat guys that come in and do their job, do it well, and keep the team fresh and energetic. It should be nice to watch.