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The Spurs’ youth movement could kick into high gear

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San Antonio will still be led by veterans next season, but the young players should have plenty of opportunities to play their way into the rotation.

NBA: Summer League-Charlotte Hornets at San Antonio Spurs Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs are attempting to do something many teams fail to pull off. Using the draft to reload without fully bottoming out is arguably the ideal path out of the middle of the NBA but it’s extremely hard to do.

San Antonio has done the hardest part already, identifying talented prospects with low picks. Actually finding playing time for the potential young core on a roster filled with veterans, however, has proved hard to do. The Spurs have so far preferred to roll with their more experienced contributors over the untested kids.

This season, that could change. The roster has gotten younger around the fringes and part of the young core seems ready for a bigger role. The 2019/20 iteration of Spurs will almost have no choice but to finally embrace its youth movement.

As you may already know, the Spurs currently seem to be on a two-year timeline in which the veterans are expected to lead the way while younger players develop and wait for their turn. LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Patty Mills and now DeMarre Carroll all have contracts that expire in the summer of 2021. Unless there’s an unexpected trade, all five should be a part of the rotation for two more seasons. Marco Belinelli, who is in the final year of his deal, should also get minutes thanks to his shooting and familiarity with the system. The youngest of those six is DeRozan, who will be 30 years old when the season starts.

A projected rotation that includes all the aforementioned veterans plus Bryn Forbes, Derrick White, Jakob Poeltl and Dejounte Murray will likely represent San Antonio’s best chance of starting the season strong, thanks to continuity and familiarity. This group has an average age of 29, which is fairly normal for the Spurs in the Gregg Popovich era, not exactly known for young teams. At least to start the season off, the 2019/20 Spurs should probably be classified as a veteran team. We probably won’t see the rookies getting minutes immediately and even some more seasoned prospects might not get a role right off the bat. But it doesn’t mean they won’t get their chances to secure one later on.

No veteran besides from Aldridge and DeRozan should be considered untouchable. As mentioned, none of them are on long term contracts or figure to be on the team’s future plans. If some of the younger players prove ready for a bigger role, the Spurs should have no problem finding minutes for them even at the expense of bigger names. We saw Popovich’s willingness to make that type of adjustment last season, when Poeltl unseated Pau Gasol. Pop might be partial to veterans, but he’ll play whomever he feels gives his team the most value, even if it means benching and eventually trading an aging future Hall-of-Famer. What’s exciting about this next season is that essentially any tweak will mean getting immediately younger.

The 11th to 15th men on the roster are all under 25, with recently signed Trey Lyles being the oldest. There are no Dante Cunninghams in Silver and Black anymore, which means that as soon as a change is introduced, it’ll be a young player getting the nod, possibly lowering the average age of the rotation to an unprecedented low in the Popovich era. If Belinelli, Mills or Forbes disappoint in any way, either Lonnie Walker IV or Keldon Johnson are primed to step in. If the Spurs decide they need more size at the power forward spot, one of Lyles, Chimezie Metu, or Luka Samanic will get playing time over a veteran combo forward. Any injury, big or small, will also mean an opportunity for a prospect to prove his worth. Even two-way players Quinndary Weatherspoon and Drew Eubanks could get some run, if they are needed.

This is one of the reasons why the botched Marcus Morris signing could potentially have a silver lining. It could force Pop to either check to see if Lyles has some untapped potential or throw a young player into the fire earlier than anticipated. Developing rookies in Austin while veterans sop up minutes has been effective for the Spurs for nearly a decade, but as the youth movement gains steam it might be helpful to see what the new additions can do sooner rather than later and discover whether the prospects on the fringes are keepers. If one of the less heralded or more raw young players unexpectedly excels or shows enough potential to secure a place in the future core, it would open up an opportunity to move a veteran for a future asset, as well.

The Spurs might start with a veteran rotation, but could easily get progressively younger as the season wears on. Their roster has recently been constructed with an eye towards preventing the prospects from facing the pressure to perform immediately, but this upcoming year they will have the opportunities they need to play their way into the rotation.

We’ve seen the Spurs patiently put together an intriguing young core which has been largely waiting in the wings as high character veterans carry the team. In 2019-20, those roles could reverse. The youth movement, mostly theoretical so far, is about to become an on court reality.