There has been some understandable apprehension about the return of the NBA, but it seems like it’s going to happen. The Spurs are in Orlando. The schedule is out. The protocol seems to be working so far. If all continues to go well, at the end of July the league will be back in action, so this might be the best time to talk about basketball I’m the past three months.
What are your expectations for the Spurs in Orlando, record-wise? And what are you the most excited to see from them when they return to the court?
Mark Barrington: I think there’s a good chance that the bubble will last long enough for the Spurs to complete their 8-game schedule, but I think that it’s unlikely that it lasts the entire length of the playoffs. But that’s not a concern for the Silver and Black, because they will be going home after 8 games (and a few scrimmages).
I’ve been pretty excited with the reports of practice lineups with Lonnie Walker IV and Keldon Johnson in the starting lineup. It’s time for the young guys to take over. If Pop goes full youth movement, the Spurs could win as many as 3 or 4 games and be exciting to watch, showing fans the future of the team. I, for one, am going to be excited to see Bryn Forbes coming off the bench and torching the other team’s reserves.
A lot of teams will be missing key players during the 8 game tournament, so it’s possible that the Spurs even pick up an unexpected win or two against a playoff team. But I think their chances of winning a playoff berth are right up there with Orlando being hit with a comet, which is to say, not very likely.
Marilyn Dubinski: I know expectations have dipped considerably without LaMarcus Aldridge, and why shouldn’t they? Although the play-in tournament for the 8th seed raises their chances considerably, the schedule is brutal, and this team has not proven it can handle missing him for games at a time. (Although in fairness, all teams will be at the same disadvantage from a “rust” standpoint.) That being said, it does remove some of the pressure to make the playoffs since there is now an “excuse” in place, but the players remain adamant that they are ready to go and prove they are better than the team showed throughout the rest of the season.
Whether they can really show that or not is another story, but I’m excited to see if they have that gene in them, and even if not, I’m excited to see if Pop loosens the reigns on his rotations and just lets the young guys play. I want to see what Lonnie Walker IV does with consistent minutes and a seemingly renewed focus. I want to see what Keldon Johnson and Luka Samanic bring to the table and how far each are from being full-time rotation players. Finally, I want to see how the Spurs look with Jakob Poeltl as their full-time starting center and make a determination on if he’s worth paying as he plans to explore his options this off-season (despite being a restricted free agent).
Bruno Passos: My gut reaction is to lean negative here, especially given how thin the frontcourt will be and because Aldridge’s absence, despite what some detractors may say, hurts. But a look at the schedule game by game offers some hope: they’ve got the Jazz twice who lost their third-best player in Bojan Bogdanovic, which puts pressure on a team that already struggles to generate offense. The Kings have had some early-bubble hiccups, including an ankle injury to De’Aaron Fox. Philadelphia is a challenge but may not have much to play for given their huge cushion in the standings. Consider the Grizzlies and Pelicans games closer to coin flips and 4 super-fun youth-heavy wins seems in the cards.
Jesus Gomez: The schedule is pretty brutal and LaMarcus Aldridge is done for the year, so the expectations are extremely low. There is, however, a chance that the profound weirdness of the entire situation favors a team like the Spurs, with nothing to lose and young players trying to prove themselves. I think there’s no chance San Antonio makes the playoffs, but I wouldn’t be completely shocked if they surprised some teams and got a few wins.
Beyond the results, I think there will be two things that will be exciting to track: first, how the veterans perform. We all want to see the young players get some burn, but I’m interested to see if DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay are committed and focused or just playing this thing out and looking forward to the summer, when DeMar could opt out and Gay could ask for a trade to a contender. Second, it will be interesting to see if out of all the backup bigs the Spurs have anyone who can look like an NBA player. Samanic is a rookie, so he gets a pass, but if Drew Eubanks and Chimezie Metu get outplayed by Tyler Zeller in any way, that might be a sign that it’s time to move on from them.
J.R. Wilco: The team’s performance so far this season has my expectations for them at an all-time low, but even so I can find an optimistic angle: if they win more than a game or two, I get to be pleasantly surprised.
Bonus points if White and Murray get significant playing time together. Extra bonus points if Luka plays more than a few garbage-time minutes. Super extra bonus points if everybody makes it home healthy.