Preseason: After the COVID-19 shortened and adjusted season, is anyone really ready for the new NBA season. For the first time in 22 seasons, the San Antonio Spurs missed the playoffs. This fact has many pulling out all the old cliches to state that the Spurs are done. Many of the preseason predictions are along those lines.
Of the rankings posted (and not all of the usual sites have posted anything yet), several based our rank on what they perceived to be San Antonio’s biggest “mistake” - not upgrading the defense. What’s going unnoticed is the idea of “addition by subtraction” - two of the team’s worst defenders who played lots of minutes are now gone (Marco Bellineli and Bryn Forbes). Bottom line, the two biggest reasons for the Spurs poor defense are now playing in Europe and Milwaukee respectively. I’d call that upgrading the defense, I don’t know about you.
Also, the Silver and Black added two rookies with some decent defensive tendencies - Devin Vassell averaged 3.8 defensive rebounds and 1.4 steals and Tre Jones averaged 4.0 defensive rebounds and 1.5 steals. And let’s not forget the defensive chops our young guns have - Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker IV and the emergence of Keldon Johnson should make it tough other team’s backcourts to score against.
Zach Buckley, Bleacher Report - 20
The Spurs no longer sit alongside death and taxes on life’s list of certainties. San Antonio failed to book a postseason trip for the first time since 1997, and that could be a sign of things to come (at least in the short term). The club could chase a playoff return in the final year DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay are under contract, but if an overhaul is inevitable, then why wait?
“I think that they should pivot and rebuild,” a scout told ESPN’s Tim Bontemps.
The pinnacle of San Antonio’s season was when Gregg Popovich gave the keys to the youngsters in the Orlando bubble. Everyone from Derrick White and Dejounte Murray to Keldon Johnson and Lonnie Walker IV enjoyed a moment, and Spurs fans should’ve spotted enough potential in this nucleus to want to see if it would sink or swim with a full season of exposure.
Andrew Lopez, ESPN - 22 (posted 10/18/2020 - prior to the draft)
For the first time since 1997, the Spurs watched the playoffs from home. Of course, their fortunes changed in the 1997-98 season as they drafted Hall of Famer Tim Duncan. It’s unlikely the Spurs will get that sort of talent this year with the No. 11 pick. The Spurs had some success playing small with DeMar DeRozan, who is expected to opt in to his $27.7 million player option, at power forward in the bubble with LaMarcus Aldridge and Trey Lyles out. Is that something San Antonio will try to use again moving forward? — Lopez
John Schuhmann, NBA.com - 13 (Western Conference Rankings - posted 11/28/2020)
Key addition(s): Devin Vassell
Key departure(s): N/A
Three numbers to know...
• The Spurs were the 34th team in the 41 years of the 3-point line to rank in the top 5 in field goal percentage (47.2%, fifth), 3-point percentage (37.6%, fourth), and free throw percentage (81.0%, second). They were only the second of those 34 teams to miss the playoffs, joining the 1979-80 Jazz (first year of the 3-point line).
• Only 57.7% of their shots, the league’s lowest rate by a wide margin, came from the restricted area or 3-point range. The Spurs were the only team that ranked in the bottom five in the percentage of their shots that came from the restricted area (25.9%, 30th) and the percentage of their shots that came from 3-point range (31.8%, 28th). It was the fifth straight season they ranked in the bottom five and second straight season ranking last in the percentage of their shots that came from the restricted area.
• Dejounte Murray’s 2.4 steals and 4.4 deflections per 36 minutes were both the fourth highest marks among 300 players who played at least 750 minutes. He accounted for 40.7% of the Spurs’ steals while he was on the floor, the highest rate among those 300 players.
Key question: How much do the vets play?
The Spurs’ playoff streak is over and LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay are all in the final year of their contracts. The page is being turned. Bryn Forbes and Marco Belinelli are no longer in the way of the young wings, but will Aldridge and DeRozan see a reduction from their 33.1 and 34.1 minutes per game in this year of transition?
The Bubble Spurs went 5-3, with Dejounte Murray and Derrick White — playing more minutes together (137) than they did prior to the hiatus (102) — paired alongside starters Lonnie Walker IV and Jakob Poeltl and with Keldon Johnson in the rotation. It would be fun if most of that carried over to this season.
SI.com - ?
No rankings posted.
James Herbert, CBS Sports - 15
Last season: 32-39, 10th (T) in offense, 24th in defense
In: Devin Vassell (drafted No. 11)
SportsLine projection: 31.4 wins
A Spurs-y 3-and-D wing fell to them in the draft, and they retained two young bigs on team-friendly deals. This is enough to make it a good offseason, but fundamentally they’re still occupying the weird middle ground where they’ve lived for the past few seasons.
Sometimes, the most important offseason moves are the ones that aren’t made. In San Antonio’s case, its four medium-to-high-priced vets on expiring contracts are all returning. This organization almost never makes in-season trades, but that could change this year.
So are these rankings too soon to tell or have they got the Spurs’ number? Let us know in the comments.