July is finally upon us. That means the first half of an incredibly turbulent 2020 is in the rearview mirror, and the resumption of the NBA season at DisneyWorld is less than 30 days away. For those who’ve been keeping up with our league restart coverage, consider this a refresher. For those in need of a full debriefing on the slew of details surrounding this return to action, we’ve got you covered.
The Spurs and 21 other NBA teams are heading to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando to play out an abbreviated version of the remainder of the regular season. And while each organization will partake in eight games to determine the final playoff seeding, San Antonio will have a pronouncedly precarious path to qualifying for a record 23rd consecutive postseason appearance.
Below is the Spurs bubble schedule:— Noah Magaro-George (@N_Magaro) June 26, 2020
July 31: Spurs vs. Kings
Aug 2: Spurs vs. Grizzlies
Aug 3: Spurs vs. Sixers
Aug 5: Spurs vs. Nuggets
Aug 7: Spurs vs. Jazz
Aug 9: Spurs vs. Pelicans
Aug 11: Spurs vs. Rockets
Aug 13: Spurs vs. Jazz
How many games will San Antonio win?
Not only will the Silver and Black square against sleight opponents in 14 days, but their competition includes four surefire playoff locks in the Sixers, Nuggets, Jazz (twice), and Rockets. Oh, and the rest of their contests are against the Kings, Grizzlies, and Pelicans, three teams who will be directly jockeying with San Antonio for the eighth and final spot out West.
With how things stand, with the Spurs missing their best player and all (more on that below), they face a tough road in making a playoff push. To wit, ESPN gives San Antonio a 2.9% chance of besting the field for the eighth seed. So what must happen for good guys to make history with a 23rd straight playoff appearance? Outside of a miracle, just try their hardest with who and what they’ve got. A play-in series versus the eighth-place team is possible, though the likelihood of that happening is so low I won’t bother boring you with the intricacies of that scenario.
As if the unfamiliarity of a condensed schedule after months away from competitive play wasn’t stressful enough, the health risks of participating in a contact sport in the middle of a global pandemic will be yet another obstacle for players to navigate. Thankfully, it appears the league is taking several precautions to ensure the safety of all involved. These measures include social distancing alarms, coronavirus screenings, and smart rings allegedly capable of detecting COVID-19 symptoms up to three days in advance.
San Antonio Spurs Season Recap:
To put it nicely, San Antonio wasn’t having a particularly successful season before the league came to a screeching halt back in mid-March. The wildly inconsistent Spurs were in the process of putting together their first losing record since head coach Gregg Popovich took over for Bob Hill in December of 1996, and a trip to the draft lottery was beginning to look inevitable.
It’s easy to forget the many narratives that surrounded the team during the regular season when the Spurs’ last game was nearly four months ago, so allow me to remind you. Though I won’t dive into every extraneous detail, I’ll make sure to touch on the pertinent storylines.
LaMarcus and DeMar
LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan were always going to be a curious fit from the second San Antonio inked a deal to send Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors, and the All-Star duo has only come under more scrutiny in year two. Despite struggling to keep the Spurs afloat in the tough as nails Western Conference, the masters of the midrange have shown considerable individual growth.
Aldridge has stretched his game out to the three-point line, and while his partner in crime failed to follow suit, DeRozan became hyper-efficient around the rim. Still, they couldn’t carry the Spurs to victory when it mattered most, and it has become increasingly apparent neither guy is capable of being the best player on a championship team. Their best days are almost certainly behind them, and the fanbase hasn’t been afraid to vocalize their frustration with their outdated style.
The Young Core
Just a few years ago, San Antonio was among the oldest teams in the association, with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker spearheading a veteran-driven roster. Now, Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Jakob Poeltl, and Lonnie Walker IV lead the charge for an exciting youth movement that hasn’t quite launched in the Alamo City. Much to the chagrin of the Silver and Black faithful, this quartet hardly found minutes together despite the Spurs’ defensive shortcomings.
PATFO added Luka Samanic, Keldon Johnson, and Quinndary Weatherspoon to their exciting assortment of young pieces during the 2019 Draft, and Chimezie Metu and Drew Eubanks joined in on the fun a year prior. As you probably know, this group hasn’t seen much action with the big league club, and though they dazzled in the G-Leauge, it’s difficult to know if they’re NBA ready. Eubanks and Metu have laced up for a handful of games to some rather uninspiring results.
Excluding Patty Mills, who performed admirably throughout the season, few players frustrated fans more than San Antonio’s role-playing veterans. Marco Belinelli, Rudy Gay, and Bryn Forbes took significant steps back across the board in this season, yet they maintained a stronghold on their minutes for a majority of the campaign even with their promising young counterparts knocking at the door.
Marco eventually ceded his role to Lonnie, and Rudy stepped up his production and efficiency in a huge way in the six games before the hiatus. Forbes, on the other hand, consistently found the hardwood for the Spurs. His defense limitations shown as brightness as ever, and his long-range shooting was streaky, but Pop believes in him, and there’s no sign he’s losing faith in the undersized combo-guard anytime soon.
Marcus Morris should’ve been in this section, but he reneged on his verbal agreement with San Antonio, and they were left to settle for Trey Lyles. DeMarre Carroll would be in the discussion too, but he never got on the same page with Pop and ended up down I-10 and in a Houston Rockets jersey by February.
Lyles may not have been Plan A, but the stretch-four from Saskatoon Canada panned out relatively well for the Spurs. Although he started the year ice-cold from three-point land, he tickled the twine from late December on and provided an underrated boost on the boards.
A Look at the Players
Aldridge underwent season-ending shoulder surgery back in April, and his absence will leave a huge hole for San Antonio to fill when they travel to Orlando later this month. LaMarcus nailed a career-high 61 three-pointers this season, and his new-found floor spacing should entice the Spurs to keep him around while they continue to rebuild.
Belinelli was the unfortunate scapegoat of a disappointing season, and while he was undoubtedly ineffective on both ends, it’s hard to place the bulk of the blame on his shoulders. I’m not sure how much or little we can expect to see of Marco in the bubble, although his 16-point outing was huge in Spurs’ most recent defeat of the Mavericks.
With LaMarcus sidelined, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pop turn to DeMar to pick up the slack in the scoring department. Barring any surprises, DeRozan should lead the Spurs in both points and assists. The four-time All-Star set an NBA record for most consecutive 20 point outings shooting 50% or better from the field (13) by a guard earlier this season.
Drew looked lost in his few appearances with the Spurs this season, but he could feasibly find his way back onto an NBA court with LaMarcus out of the mix. His athleticism and defensive motor are undeniable, but the fundamentals need work. Eubanks has averaged 2.2 blocks per game in his time with the Austin Spurs, and his size and strength could come in handy when San Antonio faces Utah.
There’s not much to say about Forbes that hasn’t already been said. The guy is an elite shooter when he gets in a rhythm, and he works hard every second he’s out there. I doubt he sees a change in his minutes, so hopefully he shoots the lights out in Orlando. Despite a slow start from downtown, Bryn’s 46.7% three-point percentage is the sixth-best mark in the league since January 20th (minimum 100 3PA).
Gay started his career at small forward, transitioned to the power forward, and may now find himself in a position to play a little center. The 14-year veteran has played center in small-ball lineups in the past, and he wasn’t half bad. Though his stats are down in virtually every category this year, Rudy averaged 15.5 points per game on 50.7% shooting over his last six contests.
Keldon Johnson was starting to carve out a role for himself when the pandemic put everything on hold, and it’ll be interesting to see if he retains his limited spot in the rotation when basketball returns. The rookie is a gritty defender, determined finisher, and a ball of energy. While it may have been a singular play, Keldon looked like an all-world stopper when he put the clamps on Luka Doncic.
Aside from Jakob Poeltl, Lyles may stand to gain the most from LaMarcus’ untimely injury. The six-nine marksman will almost definitely receive more touches without Aldridge, and he was starting to heat up before the stoppage. Over his last six games, Trey was averaging 15.3 points per game on 47.8-47.1-90.9 shooting splits.
Chimezie Metu looked just about as lost as Eubanks did when he found minutes in the NBA this season. Much like his G-League companion, Metu offers a high motor and tantalizing athleticism, but he is far from ready to fill the shoes LaMarcus left in his wake. His G-League numbers of 22.3-11.0-3.1 were impressive, and fans should be happy if he can generate a quarter of that production when the Spurs return to action.
Regardless of what the boxscore might say, Patty impacts the game in more ways than piling on points off the pine. Sure, he can knock down three-balls with the best of them, but where Mills truly shines is in the locker room. His leadership has been huge for the Spurs all year long, and it’ll be integral to keeping this squad together in Orlando. The Aussie point guard is on pace to average a career-high 11.7 points per game this season.
I was anxious to see how Dejounte would perform coming off an ACL injury, but so far, I’m impressed with what I’ve seen. No, he hasn’t been a particularly good finisher, and his playmaking leaves a little something left to be desired. That being said, the spindly guard has been awesome on the defensive end, and his growth as a shooter can’t be overstated. Murray was the sixth-most efficient midrange pull-up shooter in the NBA, and he notched the eighth-most deflections in the league
The Austrian big man was once again outstanding for the Silver and Black this season. He played his role to perfection, and though his minutes curtailed before an MCL sprain, it wasn’t because of a lack of production. Quarantine gave Poeltl time to recover, and by all indications, it looks like he’ll be joining San Antonio next month. At 4.0 blocks per 100 possessions, Jakob was the sixth-most prolific shot-blocker (min. 40 GP) in the league this season.
Lonnie Walker IV:
A lot has happened with Lonnie Walker IV over the break. He peacefully marched against police brutality while also helping clean up the mess vandals left behind. He also chopped his signature hairdo and shared his painful and inspiring story about overcoming childhood sexual abuse. The 21-year-old was electric off the bench for San Antonio before a left leg injury took him out of the game against Brooklyn in early March. He appears to be perfectly healthy at the moment, so we’ll just have to wait to see how Pop handles the rotations.
As much as we might like to see Quinndary get some NBA action, I doubt we’ll get much of the rookie combo guard in the bubble. He could become a Forbes replacement if Bryn takes his talents elsewhere this offseason, but I wouldn’t bank on Weatherspoon earning a role this year. The second-rounder led the Austin Spurs in assists per game (4.8) this season, so there might be some untapped playmaking potential to along with his stingy defense.
After multiple breakout performances in the 2019 playoffs, Derrick was tabbed as one of many players around the league poised for a breakout season. The third-year guard may not have exploded onto the scene this year, but don’t let that fool you into thinking he wasn’t a much-improved player in 2020. The Colorado alum led all guards with 55 blocks this season, and he ranked in the 90th percentile in pick-and-roll efficiency as a ballhandler. Fans have been asking for more Derrick-Dejounte lineups all year, and these final eight games would be a great time for experimenting.
Luka Samanic is very much in the same boat as Chimezie Metu and Drew Eubanks. While it’d be nice to see the Spurs top pick get some run in Orlando, with one game to his name thus far, it’s tough for me to envision Pop throwing him into the fire. He may be a building block for the future, but I’m not sure he can help San Antonio win in the present if that’s their goal heading into the bubble. Luka is still looking for his first professional points, and he may get them if the good guys find themselves in a blowout.
Well, we’re down to the latest addition, and the final player on the roster. Tyler Zeller is most likely an injury insurance piece signed for some added depth, but who knows, maybe he’ll suit up for San Antonio when the season restarts. He doesn’t offer a ton on the defensive end, and he won’t wow you with any post moves. At worst, he may provide a tinge of veteran leadership.
That's the lowdown on the current state of the 2019-20 Spurs for anyone who needed a refresher. We may just see the Spurs for eight more games, or it could be more, but one thing is for sure: awkward as the situation may be, it’s safe to say everyone could use some sports right about now.