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DeMar DeRozan has taken a timely backseat in Orlando

The lone Spurs star who made the trip to Orlando, DeRozan’s willingness to accept a smaller role is giving San Antonio’s youngsters the chance to stretch their legs.

Brooklyn Nets v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

If the main storyline for the Spurs’ time in Orlando becomes the youth showcase for players like Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Lonnie Walker IV, the flip side for that is the guy who will have helped free up those opportunities. After leading the team in points, field goal attempts, assists, and usage for each of the past two seasons, DeMar DeRozan has taken a notable backseat thus far, giving the team an important look at what his younger teammates can do with the opportunity.

Despite relatively high minute totals in each of the first two scrimmages, DeRozan was 6th in shot attempts on the team both times, behind Walker, Murray, White, Bryn Forbes and Rudy Gay. In the final scrimmage versus Indiana, he took a few more—13, 2nd only to White’s 14—but the supporting cast still shouldered much of the playmaking on the afternoon. Murray, White and Walker combined for 15 assists, to DeRozan’s 2, connecting on a number of highlight-worthy dimes.

DeRozan is one of three core veterans that have made the trip to Orlando, with LaMarcus Aldridge recovering from his April shoulder surgery. Save him, Gay and Patty Mills, the Spurs are especially, almost uncharacteristically young at the moment—a likely factor that’s influenced their philosophy. (On Tuesday Pop was also asked about Mills, who was absent entirely in all three exhibitions despite no disclosed injury. “He’s kind of got the Manu Ginobili makeup,” said Pop. “His body is aching from head to toe.”)

Beyond freeing up meaningful usage for the youngsters, this development has interesting implications on a few levels specific to DeRozan, namely:

  • DeRozan is an established star in this league (and father of two) who agreed to be quartered in the bubble for at least 50 days—Spurs fans should appreciate his willingly giving up touches and taking on a larger mentoring role, especially because:
  • DeRozan has a $27.7 million player option for next season;
  • You would assume DeRozan intends to pick up that option given the shaky financial ground that the pandemic has put the NBA on heading into next season;
  • Even if the expectation is for DeRozan to opt in, an important part of next season would be knowing how guys like Murray, White, and Walker can play off him, not the other way around;
  • The last point assumes there’s no predetermined goal to try and move him this offseason, in which case the notes above make a bit more sense in the bigger picture.

There may not be much value into reading into the wider implications at this time—the uncertainties of the NBA offseason are magnified by questions on what a 2020-21 season (and salary cap) may look like. Still, with the team appearing to use this time to cast both eyes towards the future, it’s hard for us to not follow suit.

I asked Pop ahead of Tuesday’s scrimmage about DeRozan’s role in letting his younger teammates do more. Here’s his response:

“We wanted to take a look at (them) playing together, and we want them to be more aggressive. We want them to be shooting more quickly, shooting from three, knowing where they’re at. Just being more aggressive offensively that expands the offense. So, DeMar’s bought into that and has done a really good job of letting people develop more than anything, so that’s what we’re going after.”

The Spurs coach wouldn’t speak on certain terms regarding DeRozan’s role going into the 8 upcoming restart games—“I can’t anticipate what’ll happen in those games when the real thing starts,” he said. Still, if we’re to assume the team’s priority remains giving a good look at the White-Murray backcourt pairing or a more freewheeling Walker, it’s worth assuming we’ll see more of the same—and less of DeRozan—throughout the Bubble.