The start of the San Antonio Spurs’ 2021-22 regular season arrives in 12 days and I, for one, am as excited as ever to watch them. The vibe going into the conversation is completely different than any other year, most likely due to the fact that analysts and oddsmakers alike have put the Spurs near the bottom of the Western Conference. Wherever they do end up in the standings, there are a few situations that could happen where this season could be deemed a success.
Bottom 5 in the League
Some may feel like this is the most likely outcome of this season. The Spurs are relying on a roster comprised of players that have to play a bigger role than they ever have, outside of moments here and there. Dejounte Murray is the highest ranked player on the team, but he’s stepping into the role vacated by DeMar DeRozan: a player who had years of experience leading a team. Derrick White is coming off a year in which he only played 36 games due to injury and is expected to play the most he ever has in his career. Lonnie Walker has been inconsistent in the minutes he’s played. Keldon Johnson is coming into his third year and is still learning and developing his game. The team doesn’t have a proven backup for Jakob Poeltl, which can be a problem when he gets into early foul trouble.
These types of comments can go on and on when it comes to this roster. Let alone the fact the Western Conference is littered with star players and high-quality teams, and as a result many question how could the season be a success if the Spurs end up being this bad of a team. Well, that answer is solely based on the development of the younger players and the way in which the Spurs play.
Over the last two seasons with DeMar, the team became one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the league despite being a team that didn’t shoot many to begin with. The signings of Doug McDermott, Bryn Forbes, and Jock Landale, as well as playing Devin Vassell more, should help the shooting. There’s also the chance that Derrick, Lonnie, Dejounte, and Keldon increase their shooting percentage. Seeing the change to becoming a more modernized offense with better shooting from three would be somewhat of a success. On top of that, seeing those younger players get better as well as Tre Jones, Luka Samanic, and possibly Josh Primo, would set the team up for seasons to come.
Finally, there’s the most obvious reason for the season ending with the team being in the bottom 5 being considered a success: it gives them a much better chance at drafting a future superstar higher in the draft, something even Coach Gregg Popovich admits the team is lacking.
Just Missing the Play-In
This scenario may be the most likely for this rendition of the Spurs franchise. While it would be disappointing not getting the chance to fight for a playoff spot, they would be in line for a top-10 draft pick. This is where the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings landed last year, the Kings drafting 9th and the Pelicans drafting 10th (traded to the Memphis Grizzlies). As noted above, the higher the draft pick, the higher the chance the team will have at drafting a superstar (at least that’s how it works in theory).
At the same time, landing in this spot probably means that the team competed hard every night to put them in position to potentially snag a 9/10 seed late in the season. Ending here would be a step back from where they ended the 2020-21 season, but fans would have to feel pretty good they could still hang around given the roster and game plan changes. It would likely also mean a few players gradually improved.
(As an added bonus, this level of achievement — which would likely require 30-35 wins — should mean the Spurs succeeded in winning 26 or more games to get Pop to the top of the coaches board in all-time wins, surpassing Don Nelson.)
The good thing about each of these first two scenarios is that they should provide clarity as to which direction PATFO needs to go when it comes to the roster. Even if every player got better, they would have a clearer picture of who works well together and who they should continue to build around.
Regardless of whether they’re eliminated after one game like last season, they win the first game before being eliminated in the second, or they earn the 7th or 8th seed, being able to stay in the ranks of potential playoff teams would be outperforming expectations. For this to happen, the Spurs would need to see improvement from the players like Keldon this season. Given the nature of how players develop throughout their careers, it’s not outlandish to think multiple players on this team will improve enough to push them into the play-in.
The scenario that’d be the easiest one to deem a success would be if they shock the world and bypass the play-in altogether, earning a 5th or 6th seed. This scenario might be the least likely, but but it’s their absolute ceiling, as even if everything breaks right and multiple younger players take a leap, they most likely still don’t have the talent to get a top-4 seed in the loaded West.
Regardless, just about any Spurs fan would be ecstatic about the earning the 6th seed. Landing in this spot means the roster gets true playoff minutes, which is incredibly important when it comes to developing players, and it means the roster PATFO has currently constructed is on he right track. There will still be trade rumors about how the team could pry a superstar away from another team, but that’s the nature of the business. But heading into the future, there would be fewer questions about the team, and such an achievement would improve their status among free agents heading into a big offseason.
Nobody knows for sure how this season will turn out, but we do have ideas about where the Spurs will end up in the standings and which players they should build around. No matter what their record ends up being, there are more scenarios that would make this season a success than not because this season is all about development and determining what the team has on their roster going forward. Even if every player falls flat and proves the most fervent doubters and skeptics of PATFO right, they’d still be able to call this season a success. After all, that would just answer questions surrounding the roster. Here’s looking forward to a successful season!