The Spurs snapped their eight-game losing streak by beating the Knicks, but followed the win with two home losses. Their starting lineup change and the tweaks to the rotation have unfortunately not provided an immediate solution to the many problems that have plagued the team this season.
The playoffs are still a possibility but it will take a quick turnaround to get there, which might require further adjustments. The question now is if San Antonio has the pieces to make tweaks that can reverse the current course or will have to make trades that embrace the possibility of a lost season.
In this week’s edition of our staff round table, In The Bonus, PtR contributors Marilyn Dubinski, Mark Barrington, Bruno Passos and Jesus Gomez join Editor-in-Chief J.R. Wilco to discuss the changes the Spurs have already made, the ones they could make going forward and the ones the league might implement in the future. Let us know what you think in the comments.
Do you agree with Gregg Popovich’s decision to start Derrick White and Jakob Poeltl over Dejounte Murray and Trey Lyles?
Marilyn Dubinski: There was zero doubt that a change (or two) had to be made. I did not expect Murray to be one of the first to be benched, but part of returning from injury is the dreaded “recovery wall” after the initial adrenaline rush, and he has clearly hit said wall, and stagnated. Overall it’s not surprising to see Pop go back to a line-up that worked for last year’s playoff team, but I honestly expected (or at least hoped) the first benching would be Bryn Forbes for Rudy Gay or DeMarre Carroll, with the goal being to get bigger and better defensively without having to start the only two true bigs on the team, but I understand Pop wanting to keep Forbes starting considering he is the lone outside threat.
Mark Barrington: I think the results speak for themselves, and the nice thing is that Lyles has taken it like a pro, playing really well off the bench and staying aggressive on offense. I like the change at the guard spot too, since Dejounte seems to haven taken a step back since his injury. I think his speed and recklessness works better against bench players for now, anyway.
Bruno Passos: In that something needed to be done, yes. That lineup wasn’t exactly a juggernaut last season in terms of net rating, and I don’t love the Poeltl-Aldridge pairing, but they should start stronger overall, and the team knew they had to address that. I’m also fascinated by how Murray will fit with the bench and how it shapes his development.
Jesus Gomez: Those were the safest changes to make, so yes. Something needed to be done about the starting lineup and going back to a unit that actually played together before was less risky than, say, starting DeMarre Carroll at power forward. I’m not sure this new starting lineup has a high ceiling, but it might have a higher floor than the previous one, so I’m willing to be patient with it for a while.
J.R. Wilco: As much as I loved Lyles’ fit with the starters, that unit’s results were consistently horrific enough that even a return to last year’s starting five can be hailed as a massive win. As to DJ’s demotion, every set of stats I saw agreed with the eye test that was screaming about his ineffectiveness. Now I just hope he keeps his chin up and continues to improve.
Marco Belinelli has seen his minutes dwindle and received his first DNP-CD against the Lakers. Do you expect him to drop out of the rotation completely?
Dubinski: It’s possible. Pop had been gradually giving Carroll more minutes than Belinelli leading up to the Lakers game, and looking at other defensive-minded approaches he took against them (like never rolling out a munchkin line-up), it appears Pop is trying to shore up the defense as a means to improve, not add shooting. That would most certainly make Beli the odd man out, seeing as Forbes is still hitting shots and at least tries on defense.
Barrington: No, Pop doesn’t work that way. He will sometimes take games off, but he’ll be there lots of minutes trying to defend guys a lot quicker and bigger than him . . . although to be fair, a lot of those minutes, he’s actually NOT trying that hard.
Passos: I think so? It seems like Pop is ready to make bolder moves with the rotations, and that could have Carroll supplanting Belinelli, which I know will make a number of people happy. I’m not of the mind that he was one of the team’s biggest problems, but tightening a rotation with better defenders is not a bad thing either.
Gomez: Belinelli has been a disaster so far and Pop’s patience is clearly running out, but he’ll only be permanently benched if the guys competing with him for minutes definitively prove to be better options, which so far they haven’t. Carroll has not looked like a viable rotation wing in admittedly low minutes and Lonnie Walker IV has oscillated between tantalizing and infuriating. I’d personally would love to see what Walker does with 15 minutes a night but he’ll have to keep earning playing time by actually making a positive impact when he gets opportunities.
Wilco: Whenever guys have started the season in a slump, I’m in the habit of telling myself that it’s not like they forgot how to shoot (or play basketball) over the summer, so things will get better. But we’re nearly 20 games into the season, and our Italian is shooting 28.8/29.6/62.5, and regularly seems incapable of making anything that looks like an halfway-coordinated play. If he hasn’t forgotten how to play, at least all evidence is currently pointing strongly enough in that direction that I’m ready to see him take some kind of break from the rotation.
There have been vague trade rumors surrounding the Spurs lately. How likely do you think a mid-season trade really is?
Dubinski: I feel a trade of any sort is more likely than it has ever been under Pop (which isn’t saying a lot). If they can’t reach a contract agreement with DeMar DeRozan or decide not to extend him, I can see them moving him for something in return (hopefully a package that includes a starting-caliber small forward who can space the floor). Ultimately a smaller trade wouldn’t surprise me at all, and I wouldn’t even be shocked by a blockbuster one.
Barrington: I think the Spurs are seriously exploring trades for DeMar and possibly LaMarcus. Whether or not they’ll pull the trigger depends on whether they can get another team to give them enough assets to meet their price. I don’t know how to estimate that probability, but I would guess that it could very well happen soon.
Passos: A bit more likely than usual, but still improbable given the team’s M.O. and the chance — because there still is one! — that things turn around organically. That said, nothing should be off the table for this team.
Gomez: If things don’t turn around soon, I’d say the chances are high. There just would be no reason to keep the veterans in place for a miserable non-playoff season. What scares me is the possibility of a win-now move in which the Spurs send out one of their young players for a more proven rotation player. Hopefully they’ll start winning with their current roster soon, but if they can’t I hope they take the down season in stride instead of going for quick fixes that could jeopardize the future.
Wilco: The team is currently tied for the 6th worst record in the league (surrounded by teams stricken by the injury bug and those tanking for draft picks) despite actively trying to win every game they’ve played. If that’s not enough for PATFO to start exploring trades, then I don’t know what is.
DeMarre Carroll has barely played and Trey Lyles has one of the worst net ratings in the team. Is it too early to call the Spurs off-season a failure?
Dubinski: Carroll is just starting to enter the rotation and, as previously mentioned, appears poised to take Belinelli’s minutes. I’m willing to give him more time to find chemistry with his new teammates before calling his signing a failure. I’m also not ready to give up on Lyles. He has come on lately and is looking more confident by the day, even when coming off the bench. So I would say yes: it’s too early to call the offseason a failure (if you ignore the whole Marcus Morris saga, and it’s not hard to see why the Spurs wanted him so badly and remained publicly annoyed with him for quite a while).
Barrington: It seems obvious that Carroll’s minutes were limited just because he was still learning the system on offense. Lately, his minutes have been increasing and he’s been making solid contributions, I expect he will be in the core rotation from midseason on. I do think you have to assess the overall offseason as a negative because of the Marcus Morris debacle. They lost Davis Bertans for nothing, and the lack of three point shooting has hurt the team so far this year. I have faith that Trey Lyles will eventually be a pretty good player, but he’s not making the kind of contributions this year that Morris would have.
Passos: Lyles’ numbers are a bit unfair given his overlap with the maligned starting unit, and Carroll’s minutes appear to be coming around, too. If you’re looking for a reason to give the offseason low marks, it’s probably more about what Davis Bertans is doing in D.C., although the circumstances around losing him are obviously a bit more complicated.
Gomez: Well, it definitely wasn’t a success. The Marcus Morris fiasco aside, signing an aging Carroll just to have him at the end of the bench and settling for Lyles is just not a good offseason. No one can deny that. Hopefully Carroll will find his way in San Antonio and get more minutes and Lyles will contribute on a smaller role going forward, but considering the team’s record and the additions’ lack of a positive impact so far I wouldn’t blame anyone for calling the 2019 Spurs free agency a failure.
Wilco: It’s far too soon for that. Both Lyles and Carroll have 80% of the season to find their fit in the rotation and perform in something resembling the form they’ve shown previously in their careers. I’m still hopeful for both of these guys.
The NBA is reportedly considering shortening its schedule and featuring a mid-season tournament. Do you agree that a change is needed?
Dubinski: I don’t see a problem with shortening the season a bit, although I know it’s a logistical nightmare to figure out. I admittedly don’t see the point or appeal of the mid-season tournament beyond it making up for those lost games, but then what’s the point? I will say playoff play-in one isn’t bad, especially during those seasons when the conferences are so lopsided, but I honestly expected the league to diminish conferences all together or just ignore them when it came to playoff seeding first. I never thought they’d actually add games via tournaments.
Barrington: Anything that shortens the season would be welcome, even if it’s only a few games, and some of the innovations like the mid-season tournament and play-in games sound like they are going to be great for the fans. Silver is doing a great job as commissioner, instead of standing pat on the great success they’ve been having recently, he’s coming up with new ideas to make the game more exciting.
Passos: Most people at this point would agree the season is probably too long, which leads to, among other things, midseason fatigue, minimized importance in individual games and, especially lately, the tactical resting of star players. Because of that I was generally open to the idea of what a shortened season might look like, although the number I’ve heard proposed (78?) doesn’t do much to alleviate those issues.
I’m not as high on the midseason tournament, which I’ve had most exposure to in Brazilian soccer, which opens the season with intrastate championship. One of the most fun aspects of it there is not only seeing unlikely teams make runs, but matchups between, say, a top-flight club and a much smaller one that plays in a lower division. I’m not sure how much of that fun will transfer over, or if fans will care, but I’m at least interested to see what “prize” if any is awarded to the winner.
Gomez: I’m not a fan of shortening the season too much, but I’m all for tweaking the schedule a little. Even small changes would help reduce the number of back-to-backs. The other ideas discusses seem a lot more radical, but could be fun. A play-in tournament for the lower seeds in particular could really add some excitement to the league. I’m not so sure the mid-season tournament would be as successful in that regard, but it might be worth a try.
Wilco: Apart from the issues surrounding the consistency of season and career records, I’m for shortening the season. A mid-season tourney being the best way to accomplish that isn’t something I’m yet convinced of. But I love the fact that they’re having a conversation about something that would doubtlessly have a positive impact on player health and a negative impact on the league’s coffers — that’s to be respected and commended.