Stocking stuffers aren’t real presents. They are mini-presents that can be opened and played with, and often aren’t even wrapped.
This is my fourth Stocking Stuffer post for Pounding the Rock. I wrote the first one in December 2014, the second in 2015, and the most recent post two years ago in December 2019. In the 2019 post, I put something special into the stocking of each player – plus a little something extra for Coaches Tim Duncan, Becky Hammon and Gregg Popovich.
Five of the players from that 2019 Spurs team are still with us this year: Lonnie Walker IV, Dejounte Murray, Jakob Poetl, Derrick White and Bryn Forbes. With two years gone by, I thought it would be good time to see how those gifts worked out. And for the holiday, perhaps we can give each of those players a little gift for their stocking this year too. Just as in 2019 (and as we always do at home with Christmas gifts), we will start with the youngest:
Lonnie Walker IV
2019 Gift: “Easiest gift of all. I am gifting more time on the floor, which will help the game slow down for the speedy young SkyWalker.”
With the off-season departure of the vets, Walker has belatedly received the gift from 2019. He is often the first player off the bench, and is averaging over 22 minutes, the second most of the bench crew (Devin Vessell plays over 24 minutes per game). While Walker’s skills are tantalizing, he is not quite there yet.
2021 Gift: This year, I gift young SkyWalker consistency. Not only consistent minutes (which he is already receiving), but consistent performance – shooting, passing, defending. We all know he can do it. He just turned 23 this month, and my hope is that Walker achieves consistency — and the stardom that will follow — with the Spurs. It would be painful for me and other Spurs fans if 27-year-old Walker wins Sixth Man of the Year, or makes an All-Star team, with any other organization.
2019 Gift: “I gift more time on the court with Derrick White. Admittedly ‘more time’ is a low bar because almost any time Murray gets on the floor with White will be more than they get now. At the present, they generally are on the court together only as they pass each other subbing in or out of the game for the other.”
While again it took two years to get here, Murray and White are at last starting together in the backcourt. They also lead the team in minutes played – Murray first at 34 minutes, White second at 31 minutes per game. Because I don’t live in San Antonio, I watch a fair number of Spurs games with the other team’s announcers. They are effusive in their praise for Murray’s game this year. He is generally highlighted in the Keys to the Game.
2021 Gift: My gift this year for Murray is something he richly deserves – an All-Star Game nod.
2019 Gift: “Other than an ‘R’ in his last name to match the English pronunciation, all Jakob needs to be even more productive is a bit of respect from the referees. He is a remarkably good rim-protector who can block and alter shots without fouling — he just needs the refs to recognize it. Over time, they will.”
Hey, this one worked out — meaning the respect from the refs, not the “R” in his name. While Poeltl still makes the “I never touched him” face once or twice a game, that can be expected because he contests every shot at the rim. And does it extremely well. He has also cut way down on the moving ball screen fouls that have plagued him. As a result, he averages about one foul per nine minutes — meaning that he is rarely in foul trouble and can stay on the floor, which helps him and the team as he might be the team’s Most Indispensable Player.
2021 Gift: This year’s gift: A higher free throw percentage. Admittedly a low bar — but let’s get up to 50%, and go from there. I don’t understand how he can make almost all of his push shots from 13 feet — over a defender — but can’t do the same thing from 15 feet with no defender in the way.
2019 Gift: “See Murray’s gift.”
Like super-daughter Alissa, White is a proud Colorado Buffalo alum. Yet another reason I root for him. When he was barely recruited out of high school, or playing Division II basketball before transferring to Colorado, I am certain White did not even dream of playing in the NBA, let alone developing into a solid starter. But the best NBA coach in history has decided that Derrick White deserves to be exactly that. As such, he already has his gift for this year.
2021 Gift: Except it is not a gift. He earned it.
2019 Gift: “Once Pop implements my gifts to Dejounte and Derrick, Forbes needs to embrace the role of sharpshooter off the bench. Perhaps the Spurs have an Aussie and an Italian on the roster who can assist in teaching Bryn the right mind-set to thrive in that role.”
This gift also came true, though it took a hiatus in Milwaukee (and a championship ring while away!!) for Sparty to transform into an instant offense Shooter off the bench. He is shooting almost 43% from three, over 50% from two, and 89% on free throws. While Forbes must be frustrated with the occasional DNP-Coach’s Decision, he has shown the remarkable ability to shake that off when Pop puts him in, sometimes for the first time in the second half. While Forbes would like me (and Pop) to gift him more minutes, I don’t know who to steal those minutes from — certainly not Murray, White, Walker or Vassell. Or Tre Jones, for that matter.
2021 Gift: Forbes must continue to accept the gift of patience and take advantage of the minutes he gets as the team’s fifth or sixth guard.
Speaking of gifts, I certainly enjoyed the two gifts the team just picked up in Los Angeles for all Spurs fans: 24 and 28-point wins over both LA squads. Who would have thought that the Spurs would go 3-1 in California during December, and the one loss would be to the Kings? Yeah, me neither.
Happy Holidays to all.