clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Breaking down the Spurs' point guard rotation

In the first of a three-part series, we'll look at the Spurs lead guard rotation to see if the position will be a strength or a weakness in the upcoming season.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Training camp is just around the corner and it seems the Spurs have a set roster. Not only do they have 14 guaranteed contracts on the books but they have also extended camp invites to several players. So let's go down the list of guys under contract and see how stacked or lacking the Spurs are at the three basic positions: small or lead guard, wing and big man. Let's start with the small guards.

Key rotation players

Tony Parker

(68 games played, 29.4 MPG. 16.7 PPG, 2.3 RPG 5.7 APG. 18.9 PER, 5.9 Win Shares, 2.71 Real Plus Minus)

Parker had a bit of a down year in 2013-14, in no small part due to a number of nagging injuries he never quite shook off. But he is one season removed from arguably his best year as a pro and took the summer off from international competition, so he should be healthy as the team tries to get the elusive repeat. And if he is, another All-Star berth and All-NBA nod seem in the cards.

Parker has been an elite scorer for a while now but has evolved greatly as a playmaker, displaying improved court vision and unselfishness over the past few years. During last year's playoffs, he even seemed content to defer to Kawhi Leonard. If he is fine doing that in the regular season, he might be able to save his energy for the playoffs, which would certainly improve the Spurs' chances.

Tony has a lot of miles on those legs but he is still only 32 years old, so don't expect his production to drop off. He is still one of the top point guards in the West, alongside Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul and a step above Stephen Curry and Mike Conley.

In the rotation

Patty Mills

(81 games played, 18.9 MPG 10.2 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 1.8 APG. 18.7 PER, 5.6 Win Shares, 4.00 Real Plus Minus)

Mills would be a key rotation player if not for the fact that he will miss at least a couple of months after having surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. Because of his injury, the Spurs were able to sign him on the cheap despite him having a breakout year. Now the hope is he will recover in time to build on that great season and take some of the scoring burden off Manu Ginobili in the second unit.

What could derail his path towards becoming one of the league's premier bench spark plugs is complacency. Mills needs to want it more than others to offset his limited physical tools, to use every ounce of energy he has to hound ball-handlers and come off screens with purpose. So, provided he recovers fully, how this next season plays out is up to Patty. He can look at his first long-term deal and the built-in sympathy he'll get coming off an injury as an excuse to coast or see this upcoming season as an opportunity to establish himself as a hot commodity entering his prime. Let's hope he chooses wisely.

Cory Joseph

(68 games played, 13.8 MPG, 5 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 1.7 APG. 14.7 PER, 2.9 Win Shares, -3.68 Real Plus Minus)

Joseph will have his first real shot at playing time, a genuine opportunity to claim that back up point guard slot for good or at least put pressure on Pop to juggle minutes around to make room for him. He spent his first three seasons in the league as injury insurance, a deep bench guy whom no one expected much from other than a steady hand whenever his number got called. It's time for him to prove that he's evolved past D-League standout and into reliable NBA contributor.

Two things will have to happen for him to be able to do that: first he will have to learn how to play with the second unit. Last season, Joseph shared the court with Manu and Boris Diaw (and without Leonard and Duncan) for only 38 minutes. He might surpass that number in the first five games of the season; that's how small the sample size is of him playing with the Spurs' two key bench players. And to be able to fit with the second unit, he will have finally become a league average spot-up shooter or a deft creator. He hasn't been either in his time in the league.

For Joseph, this is a make-or-break year, as he will become a restricted free agent next off-season. Hopefully, he will make the most of the opportunity and put the Spurs in a bind as they decide whether to keep him or let him go.

On the outside looking in

Bryce Cotton


While not exactly shocking, it was a little strange to see Cotton secure a training camp invite before he showed the Spurs what he had on Summer League play. In hindsight, it wouldn't have mattered if he went to Vegas without the invite because he likely would have earned it anyway. Cotton's jumper - his biggest strength in college - was off during his time in Nevada but he managed to make an impact anyway by driving to the rim and doing the little things.

Was his performance enough to make him a favorite to make the roster? Absolutely not. Can he impress the coaching staff in training camp and get that last guaranteed roster spot? It seems extremely unlikely. So unless something strange happens, Cotton will likely be one of the last three training camp cuts and will end up in Austin, where the Spurs can monitor his growth while praying no other team snatches him up if he becomes an NBA player.

Position outlook

With a healthy Mills the Spurs would have, in my estimation, the third-best lead guard rotation in the league, behind the Westbrook-Reggie Jackson duo and closely trailing Stephen Curry and Shaun Livingston. But without knowing when and how Mills will return and with the doubts about Cory Joseph's fit with the second unit, it's hard to consider the position a big strength. Ultimately, Parker will have to carry the weight early on, which I think he's more than capable of. But after a season in which it seemed the Spurs had finally, finally solved their backup PG conundrum, we are back to square one.

So what say you, Pounders? Are the Spurs set at small guard or should they be looking to add someone else to their training-camp roster, like recent work out recipient Julyan Stone? Am I underrating Joseph or could the Spurs truly miss Mills to start the season? Let me hear your thoughts in the comments.