Sports seem to be on its way back, but as of now, fans around the world are still waiting with bated breath for the return of NBA basketball.
During this stoppage, one area of the Spurs’ organization that has not stopped working is the front office. Franchises are always looking towards the future in one way or another, and executives are constantly trying to make sure that either have the right pieces to maximize their rosters or are in position to acquire them.
So far we have looked at the Spurs’ guards, and over the next few days we’ll look at the forwards and centers, and walk through what the future likely holds for each player in a Spurs uniform.
(Note: All stats come from NBA.com, Basketball-Reference, or Cleaning the Glass)
Contract: Signed thru 2020 (Player Option for 2021)
DeRozan’s time with San Antonio has been interesting to say the least. Designated as the Kawhi Leonard replacement, fans hoped that DeRozan’s All-Star pedigree could take on Leonard’s role to some degree and keep the Spurs train chugging. Through almost two years, DeRozan has been at the forefront of San Antonio’s overhauled offensive system, resulting in one first round exit and a (likely) lottery appearance.
DeRozan’s put up good counting numbers, but there is a dilemma having him on not only the Spurs, but any team in the NBA. He gets you isolation buckets both at the rim and (of course) in the mid range at an efficient clip and has become a solid play-maker for his role over the past 3 or so years. But how valuable is that in a team construct? DeRozan’s play style only works in very specific settings, and he needs the ball to succeed. He’s too good for a rebuilding team and takes away crucial development minutes from young players. If he is on a contending team, he loses effectiveness because he would not get the on ball usage required to maximize his game.
It seems as if DeRozan’s time with the Spurs is nearing its end. Whether he decides to forgo the last year of his contract and enter into free agency, or picks up his option and is subsequently put on almost every trade rumor imaginable, there are very few scenarios where it makes sense for the two parties to continue their partnership.
Lonnie Walker IV
Contract: Signed thru 2021 (Rookie Deal, Team Option for 2022)
One of the most exciting players on the Spurs, Walker’s athletic abilities and flashes of skill provide intrigue that almost no else on San Antonio’s roster possesses. After a year of mostly G-League development in Austin and a breakout Summer League where he averaged 24.1 points per game on 55% shooting, fans were expecting him to provide impactful minutes through out the season.
For whatever reason, the skills that Walker showed in Summer League did not translate this season. He spent the first few months of the season on the bench, and when he finally got put into the rotation, his minutes were inconsistent. It was not until well into 2020 when he was getting the necessary opportunities to progress his development.
Walker should be a much better finisher than his 57% conversion rate around the rim. He’s doing a good job getting to the rack, but he has a tendency to force the issue instead of finding open creases, mainly due to his right hand dominance. Sharpening his shot IQ and improving dexterity should help boost these percentages. On the positive side, Walker has shown promise as a three-point shooter, and the next step is a matter of increasing the volume so defenses are disinclined to help off him. Furthermore, the potential he has shown as a cutter this season once he got run was very intriguing due to his physical profile.
Despite these issues, his insertion into the rotation was the spark plug the bench unit needed. While he still seems to be learning the true principles of team defense, the flashes of on ball disruption were a joy to watch at times this season. (You guys all remember that game against the Rockets, right?) He’s still 21 years old and not even close to a complete player, but Walker has proven that he deserves the chance to get real NBA minutes. And until he shows otherwise, Walker should at the very least be a contributing member of San Antonio’s wing rotation.
Contract: Signed thru 2021 (Early Bird Rights)
After rupturing his Achilles in 2017, Gay was brought to San Antonio as a low risk, high reward investment. Gay has recovered well enough to become one of the few positive recovery stories when it comes to arguably one of the most destructive injuries in basketball. However, that says nothing about his on court production.
It is tough to accurately assess Gay’s value due to the vast difference he has shown in terms of productivity from 2019 to 2020. Last season, Gay set career highs in two and three-point percentage, multiple shooting efficiency metrics, as well as rebounds per game and arguably had his best defensive season of his career. This season, his three point shot has fallen significantly despite an uptick in volume, and both his defensive effort and production has taken a step back as well.
Early in his career, Gay was an inefficient volume wing scorer for teams that offered little to no other ancillary skills. Despite the inefficiencies, he is a much more complete player now. The question is whether his game is the right fit for San Antonio. While the perfect version of Gay fits the team as an off the bench scorer and decent ball mover and defender, he’s played almost 14 seasons and essentially has had just one season where he provided that kind of value. It makes sense for the Spurs to try and move Gay. But can tey get good value for him, or will it have to wait until 2021? Unlike DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, Gay is on a vastly cheaper contract, and while his production is obviously no where close to the aforementioned players, if the front office can net a promising young player or draft asset, they should gladly accept. There’s no guarantee that this type of offer will ever come, but if it does, the basketball operations department should be rejoicing.
Contract: Signed thru 2021 (Rookie Deal, Team Option for 2022 and 2023)
Most Spurs fans have not had a chance to see an extended sample of Johnson during his rookie year. but 2019’s 29th pick is an intriguing athlete with a wide array of skills that San Antonio is hoping will turn into a consistent two way wing.
In Austin, he took on a massive scoring role, primarily through attacking the basket in the half court. In the G-League, he shot an insane 152 for 214 inside five feet, giving him a baseline skill that he can expand his game on. Using the threat of his drive, the hope is that he develops a passable enough three-point shot as well as the ability to find open teammates, two areas which need MAJOR improvements. Three of Johnson’s four months in the G-League saw him shoot below 25% from deep, and his assist-to-usage ratio would have put him in between the 10th and 11th percentile compared to NBA wings.
On defense, although not the most technical or quick laterally, Johnson is able to use his strength and tenacity to keep his man from getting to his spots. As he gets more experience, his feel in terms of off ball and team defense should improve significantly.
It’s too early to tell what kind of player Johnson will be, but early indications show that he is important to the Spurs future. Seeing as San Antonio does not usually move young pieces, there is no reason why Johnson should not be on the Spurs over the next few years.