19 games into the season, let’s draw the curtains on small sample size theater. A bit more than 20 percent of the games of the season have been played, and the Spurs have won a bit more than 30 percent of their games. It’s time have a look at how the core rotation players have done so far statistically, and what that could mean for their future. (All figures per basketball-reference.com except where mentioned.)
Dejounte Murray, 34.8 minutes per game
Dejounte is averaging 19-8-8-2 in his sixth year in the league. At first glance, that’s very impressive. But his true shooting of 50% at 27% usage isn’t so much. How does it come about? Almost 30% of his field goal attempts come from between 10 and 16 feet. He converts close to 47% of those shots. That makes him one of the better mid-range shooters in the game. It doesn’t make his mid-ranger an efficient shot, though.
Interestingly, there are only four other players in the league who take more than 25% of their shot attempts from 10 to 16 feet. One is Kevin Durant, who takes about 31% of his shots from that area, making 52%. Another one is DeMar DeRozan, taking 28% and making 55% of those. The other two are Lou Williams (34%, making 38%) and Chris Paul (33%, making 48%).
Still in a Spurs uniform last season, DeRozan also took 28% of his shot attempts from 10 to 16 feet, but he only made 46%, 1% less than Dejounte this season. Yet DeRozan needed only 15.1 field goal attempts per game to score 21.6 points per game for the Spurs last season, while Dejounte needs 18.1 to average 19.1 points this season. The discrepancy in terms of efficiency largely comes from DeRozan’s 48% free-throw attempt rate. This is an area of concern for Dejounte, whose free-throw attempt rate is only at 15 percent.
But Dejounte’s not only the team’s primary scoring option, he’s also the primary ballhandler, a role in which he excels in. Per Cleaning the Glass, his turnover percentage is only at 10% this season, which is in the 93rd percentile among point guards. That means he’s taking good care of the ball. And though he might not able to make “point god”-like reads, he’s doing good things with the ball in his hands, increasing his assists per game from 5.4 to 8.1. He’s even better at getting the ball into his hands. His 2.6% steal percentage is league-best among point guards per Cleaning the Glass; and his defensive rebounding percentage ranks in the 98th percentile in his position.
In short, Dejounte might be miscast as a primary scoring option. But there are 63 games left for him to improve his shooting percentages. He’s not at all miscast as a primary ballhandler, rebounder and defensive disruptor. I fully expect him to be the Spurs’ point guard going forward, but I don’t think he’ll be the primary scoring option for long.
Keldon Johnson, 31.4 minutes per game
Keldon is averaging more than 30 minutes per game in only his third season, the first Spur to do so since Kawhi Leonard (to be precise, Kawhi averaged slightly less than 30 minutes in his third year, but more than 30 in his second). Let me emphasize straight away, I don’t expect Keldon to become a Kawhi-calibre player. On the other hand, I won’t hold his negative net rating (minus 4 this season) and box plus/minus (minus 2.3 this season) against him. He’s only played 104 NBA games so far. Judging by that he hasn’t reached his ceiling, though it’s not clear in how far he has improved from last season to this one. From a box office stats perspective, he’s largely the same player he was last season, averaging 15-7-2. But one thing stands out. His three-point shooting has improved significantly. He’s taking 2.7 attempts per game, slightly more than last season, making 40 percent, significantly more than last season. Still, I wouldn’t as yet consider him a winning player in the NBA. And, averaging 30 plus minutes per game with a usage rate north of 20%, he will have to improve his true shooting percentage to more than 54% to be one. What I’m looking to find in him, but haven’t as yet, is one skill he’s elite in. Preferrably on offense.
Derrick White, 31.3 minutes per game
Averaging 12-3-5-1, Derrick’s performance so far has been a disappointment. I expected his offensive contribution to take a hike following DeRozan’s departure, but the opposite has been the case. Not only is he down 3 points per game, he’s also down in terms of usage, which has nosedived from 22% to 19%, three-point attempts per game, from 6.8 to 4.9, three-point field goal percentage, from 35% to 30%, and true shooting, from 55% to 49%. Though his assists per game are up from 3.5 to 5.2, his offensive role has diminished overall. The question is why. I must admit I don’t have an answer. But I’m still hopeful Derrick will give the answer himself. He has seen an uptick in form recently, best exemplified by his third-quarter explosion in the win over the Wizards, which, reportedly, was his highest-scoring quarter ever in the NBA. Let’s hope he can do that more often. Because when him and Dejounte combine for 40 points or more, the Spurs have a 3-1 record.
Jakob Poeltl, 28.7 minutes per game
Averaging roughly 13 and 9, Jakob is having a career year in terms of points and rebounds per game. He’s also one of the better rim protectors in the league, and the fact that his blocks percentage is down to the 62nd percentile among bigs per Cleaning the Glass (he was at least in the 89th percentile in the last four seasons) is likely due to deterrence. I consider him a clear plus on the defensive end. But the question about him has always been how much he can contribute on the other side. Fortunately, he has taken major leaps in this regard, with his usage up to 17.5% from 13.4%, and his points per 100 possessions up to 20.9 from 15.6. However, his continued struggles from the charity stripe, down to 33% from 51%, are keeping his true shooting percentage at around 60%. Which is roughly the same as it was in the last two seasons – and, admittedly, less than you would expect from a non-shooting center. Improving his free-throw percentage therefore remains a must. Other than that, Jakob’s a keeper.
Devin Vassell, 25.8 minutes per game
Of all the players on the roster, there’s no one I’m as confident about as Devin Vassell. Players are expected to do better in their second year in the league, second-year Spurs in particular. Still, Devin’s improvement is nothing short of staggering. He has doubled his field goal attempts from 4.9 to 9.9 while increasing his field goal percentage from 41% to 47%. He has also doubled his three-point attempts to almost 5 per game while increasing his percentage from 35% to 39%. Looking at his shot distribution, there isn’t an area from which he’s poor – he’s 71% from 0-3 feet, 58 % from 3-10 feet, 46% from 10-16 feet, 44% from 16 feet to the 3-point line, and 39% from the 3-point line (from which he’s taking almost 50% of his shots). Devin came advertised as an off-ball 3 & D guy. Interestingly, he’s making 49% of his 3.2 pull-up jump shots per game, team-best among those who pull up at least 3 times per game. Verdict: Devin has a good chance of becoming the face of the franchise.
Doug McDermott, 25.6 minutes per game
Playing in only 12 games so far due to injury, McDermott has a low usage of only 16%, but he’s hitting on 44% of his 4.8 attempts per game form beyond the arc. That’s not exactly value for money considering his 13.75-million-per-year contract. On the other hand, he’s not taking away from the developing younger players. I’m neutral on him.
Lonnie Walker, 22.6 minutes per game
After an encouraging start that saw him average 15 points over the first five games, Lonnie’s season has taken a turn for the worse. And it’s not due limited opportunities, with his usage rate at 23%, it’s due to poor execution. His true shooting is down 5% to an abysmal 47%. Right now, he’s giving the front office little reason to extend his contract past this season. Which might be good news for a certain Josh Primo, whom we haven’t seen much of, but 3 of his 4 shots from beyond the arc were “nothing but the bottom” makes.
…but he was only an extra in small sample size theater. Let’s see what the following acts hold for us Pounders, while we’re hopefully waiting not for Godot, but Primo.