It happens every year . . .
“The Spurs are too old and slow. They will never be contenders again.”
“The Spurs are going to miss the playoffs.”
“The Spurs and Gregg Popovich have lost their touch and can’t compete in the new NBA.”
. . . And every year (at least for the last 22) the Spurs have proven them wrong (for the most part). So what are the professional analysts saying about the 2019-2020 San Antonio Spurs?
If you think this might be the season for the bell to finally toll on Gregg Popovich and the Spurs, stop and remind yourself that the Spurs are still the Spurs, and they will almost assuredly continue to Spurs.
What they did this summer
Probably the splashiest thing San Antonio did involved a player it didn’t sign. Marcus Morris agreed to a deal and then backed out of it to take a bigger offer from the Knicks. The Spurs tried to recover by adding Trey Lyles, taking a flyer on a still-young player. DeMarre Carroll was added to bolster wing depth, Rudy Gay was re-signed, and they drafted two players in the first round in Luka Samanic (No. 19) and Keldon Johnson (No. 29). Dejounte Murray’s full return is probably the second-biggest offseason development, the first being an even more seismic return: Tim Duncan is back . . . as an assistant coach.
BPI’s best-case scenario (51-31) and how they get there
The Spurs won 48 games last season despite missing critical rotation players for basically the entire campaign. They did it the way they almost always do: playing fundamentally solid, defensively strong and identity-driven basketball. Now with Murray back, a full season for 2018 first-round pick Lonnie Walker IV, extra depth on the wing and a second season in the system for DeMar DeRozan, the Spurs are more balanced than they were last season. Other teams in the West made bigger moves and have more star power at the top, but the Spurs keep on churning and 50 wins is within their aim again.
One big question: The Spurs’ place in a new West
On a micro level, the injury to Murray last season gave way to an opportunity for Derrick White, which leads many wondering if the two can play together. On a macro level, it’s about how the Spurs take the next step. They’re solid, they’re capable, and they’re going to win regular-season games. But they have been stuck in the back half of the Western playoff class and are left questioning how they can return again to the elite of the conference. Can DeRozan elevate to another level? Can LaMarcus Aldridge carry a team? The Spurs will win games -- that’s what they do -- but where do they find that next level?
USA Today had two different articles predicting how the Spurs would fair this season. The first by AJ Neuharth-Keusch came out on October 2 and Mike Eppers prediction was published on October 19. I wonder what changed in those offices.
The Spurs aren’t title contenders, but don’t be surprised if they make the postseason for the 23rd consecutive year, especially with the return of Dejounte Murray.
It’s getting repetitive at this point, but the Western Conference is loaded. Really loaded. Again. As many as 12 or 13 teams could be legitimate playoff contenders. Some good teams are going to be left out. The Spurs have made countless predictions look foolish during their 22 consecutive postseason appearances, but a lack of offensive firepower catches up to them this season.
The Spurs attempted only 2,071 3-pointers last season, the fewest in the NBA. Most of those attempts were hoarded by four players. Davis Bertans, who took 338 of them, is gone. Bryn Forbes, Patty Mills and Marco Bellineli, who combined to attempt 1,112, all remain, but with Derrick White’s breakout and Dejounte Murray’s return, are all likely to see fewer minutes. Neither White nor Murray are strong shooters. DeMar DeRozan obviously isn’t either. DeMarre Carroll is roughly league-average. The Spurs just have no feasible way of making up their lost spacing. Their offense is going to decline this season, and without an elite defense to fall back on, the Spurs are in serious trouble.
Much like the Raptors, the Spurs get an above-.500 prediction on the basis of their system and sustained excellence over the years.
FiveThirtyEight sees this as a 37-win team. And though an attack predicated on the mid-range prowess of DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge feels doomed in today’s NBA, San Antonio did finish fifth in points per possession last season.
It was the defense that was uncharacteristically below-average. Perhaps the return of Dejounte Murray and the continued emergence of Derrick White will remedy that.
And San Antonio will probably want that done prior to its annual rodeo road trip. This year’s is wild. From Feb. 3 to Feb. 23, the Spurs play the Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, Denver Nuggets, Oklahoma City Thunder (twice) and Utah Jazz away from San Antonio.
So what do you think, Pounders? Are the predictions realistic due to the unknowns on this season’s team? Are they all guff because they are Spurs haters? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.