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Power Rankings - Week 4: The Spurs youth movement is making progress

But are the vets holding the team back?

San Antonio Spurs v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs had their first non-playoff season last year, and many thought they would finally pull the trigger to a complete rebuild. But that isn’t the Spurs’ style. So far this season, the Silver and Black have been working through the integration of a young exciting core of players with the corporate knowledge and patience of some veterans. The team has had some incredible successes, as well as some disappointing flops. This week saw the young guns continue to shine, but the vets left much to be desired.

Week 4: After a disappointing loss to the Timberwolves, the landed in Oklahoma City wanting to right the ship and end their five-game road trip on a high note. The Thunder provided the team with a tough competitor and the young guys, lead by Lonnie Walker IV and Keldon Johnson, fought their way to a victory. While missing DeMar DeRozan for a second game could have stalled the offense, Walker and Johnson combined for over 40 points and the team also helped themselves by only turning it over 4 times (continuing to lead the league in that category).

The next opponent came into town after some momentous news dropped - the trade of James Harden to the Nets. Many (especially on this site) worried that the Silver and Black wouldn’t come into this game with appropriate fear. It was probably a combination of that and the fact that the remaining Houston Rockets came in with something to prove. The young guys continued to play well, but the vets failed to show in the loss. Luckily, the series style of play allowed the Spurs to adjust right away and in the second game, the good guys played with more energy and aggression. The return of DeMar DeRozan helped and some excellent play for the recently invisible Jakob Poeltl led to a strong fourth quarter to pull out the win.

Last week: 2-1 (7-6) — 112-102 @ Thunder; 109-105 vs Rockets (loss); 103-91 vs Rockets

This week: 1/19 18 @ Portland Trail Blazers; 1/20 @ Golden State Warriors; 1/22 vs Dallas Mavericks; 1/24 vs Washington Wizards

Andrew Lopez, ESPN - 13 (Last Week: 15)

It was a big week for Spurs second-year man Keldon Johnson. It wasn’t until the bubble last season that Johnson really came into his own, averaging 14.1 points and 5.0 rebounds in eight games in Florida. He has picked up where he left off, averaging 14.5 points per game and 7.2 rebounds so far this campaign. Last week, Johnson posted a career-high 29 points against Houston and committed just one turnover in three games.

Colin Ward-Henninger, CBS Sports - 11 (Last Week: 12)

After a win over the Thunder on Tuesday, the Spurs were blitzed by a defiant Rockets team in the game after the James Harden trade, but bounced back to beat them in the rematch on Saturday. Keldon Johnson averaged a team-high 19.3 points for the week, including a career-high 29 in the loss to Houston. San Antonio has the second-best defensive rating in the league over its last six games.

John Schuhmann, - 14 (Last Week: 17)

Over their last eight games, the Spurs have committed 63 fewer turnovers and averaged almost 10 more scoring opportunities (field goal attempts or trips to the line) than their opponents. Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to take advantage of scoring opportunities as well as they did last season. Only the Pistons have seen a bigger drop in effective field goal percentage, with LaMarcus Aldridge (from 53.2% to 46.4%) and DeMar DeRozan (from 53.5% to 48.6%) among high-volume individuals who’ve seen significant drops. Between them, Aldridge and DeRozan missed three shots for the tie or the lead after the Spurs blew a late, nine-point lead against the Rockets on Thursday.

But the Spurs have kept themselves in games (their last five have been within five in the last five minutes) with improved defense. They’ve seen the league’s sixth biggest drop in points allowed per 100 possessions, back in the top 10 defensively (barely) after dropping from fourth three seasons ago to 24th last season. They’ve seen the league’s biggest drop in the percentage of their opponents’ shots that have come from 3-point range and one of its biggest jumps in opponent turnover rate.

Dejounte Murray’s offense has been up and down, but he remains a pest on defense. And the interior numbers are much better when Jakob Poeltl (back among the league’s best rim protectors) is on the floor. Over their last four games, San Antonio opponents have scored less than 87 points per 100 possessions (136 on 157) in Poeltl’s 73 minutes.

Mo Dahkil, Bleacher Report - 11 (Last Week: 11)

The San Antonio Spurs are not only fun to watch, but they also win games. Each night they have a different cast member step up. Anyone from LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan, Patty Mills, Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson or Lonnie Walker IV can go off. They have a balanced attack with seven players all scoring double digits.

The big key for the Spurs is they commit the fewest turnovers in the league at just 10.3. Protecting the ball is leading to more chances to score. San Antonio’s 94.7 field-goal attempts per game puts them at the top of the league.

Michael Shapiro, - 13 (Last Week: 21)

Don’t look now, but San Antonio could very well start a new playoff streak in 2020–21 after winning six of its last eight. DeMar DeRozan continues to tally assists at a career-best rate after tossing 11 dimes in a victory over Portland on Monday, and the Spurs’ defensive profile points to sustainable success. Just one team allows fewer three-point attempts per game. Just four allow fewer free throws. The Spurs are long in the backcourt and on the wing, and their young core continues to show signs of progress after a shaky start. This isn’t the prettiest Spurs team offensively, but they have just enough firepower to survive. 2020–21 could mark another satisfying chapter in Gregg Popovich’s Hall-of-Fame career.

Kevin O’Conner, - 19 (Last Week: 22)

Vassell, the Spurs’ rookie wing, always seems to find himself in the perfect defensive position to make a play. Watch some of these slick steals:

A feel for rotations, an eye for seeing plays develop, and extremely long arms put Vassell in position to cause problems in the passing lanes. It shows up in the numbers, too. Per Stathead: Of wings to log at least 100 minutes this season, Vassell ranks second in steal percentage, behind only Matisse Thybulle from the Sixers.

But despite Thybulle’s defensive brilliance, his lack of offensive production has caused him to have a dwindling role. So Vassell’s offensive development also must start soon. So far this season, he’s shooting only 38 percent from the floor on 4.4 shots per game. But Vassell has far more talent as a ball handler and passer than Thybulle, and a better history of success as a shooter. It should only be a matter of time until Vassell is a two-way presence.

Will the young guys do well enough to compensate for the “lately” disappointing veterans? Did anyone else notice how much attention the analysts are suddenly giving the young Spurs players (a couple focused on Keldon, one on Dejounte, and one on Devin)? Let us know if you agree with the pundits or give us your take on the progress of the Spurs’ youth movement in the comments.