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It’s time to pump the breaks on Luka Samanic

The young power forward has filled in great in the absence of some veterans, but relying heavily on him going forwards might not be the best idea.

NBA: New York Knicks at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Luka Samanic impressed with his play recently. Should the Spurs make room for him in the rotation over Rudy Gay and the other bigs, either by heavily reducing their minutes or trading them?

Marilyn Dubinski: I don’t think we’ve seen enough from Luka to justify moving along from Gay. It feels like Gay still has something to give at this point, and with LaMarcus Aldridge now gone, reducing the playing time of others to ensure Luka maybe gets at least 7-10 min per game to stay fresh and confident is possible. But removing both Gay and Aldridge from the equation right now would be quite the leap of faith without a larger sample size. Don’t get me wrong: I’m as much on the Luka-mania Bandwagon as anyone (click here and here for examples) and have been rooting for him to reach this point, but I don’t believe replacing Gay with Samanic would be the wisest move if the Spurs’ goal this season is still to make the playoffs. However, next season will be another story. He should be ready for a rotation spot by then.

Mark Barrington: I’d like to see more of Samanic, but maybe it’s time to pump the brakes a bit before we declare him a full-time rotation player. He’s still developing, and while he’s had a few outings where he showed impressive progress, he’s still not finishing at a high rate, and is still making some mistakes on defense despite showing huge improvement on that end. I’m not opposed to moving on from some of the vets, but that’s not linked to giving Luka more time on the court. Luka definitely should play more the rest of the season, but he’s more likely to be taking away minutes from Trey Lyles than Gay. He will become an important part of the Spurs rotation, and he’ll get plenty of playing time with all of the back-to-backs in the schedule, but he won’t be the first option off the bench until next year.

Bruno Passos: I agree with all the main points Marilyn and Mark raise above—as fun as it has been to watch Samanic peel away some of his premature bust label. He’s looked increasingly comfortable on offense and the game on the whole seems to be slowing down for him, but I’m also not convinced he would help the Spurs in their primary goal of reaching the postseason. Furthermore, I’m not sure any sort of redistribution may be required for him to still see reps. Given the compact nature of the season ahead for San Antonio (which I think includes 10 back to backs), plus any other COVID-related hurdles (knocks on wood) that may be on the horizon, there should be spot moments for Samanic to keep getting the seasoning he needs on the NBA level regardless.

Jesus Gomez: It’s a tough situation. The tension between focusing on development and playing more reliable veterans has defined this season. I’d imagine that if the Spurs had not been this surprisingly solid, the front office and coaching staff would have likely leaned more heavily towards reducing the roles of most of the older players in the second half of the season, but I don’t really see them doing that now. At least not with someone like Gay, who seems content in his role and has been productive.

Personally, I’d love to see the Spurs fully embrace the next generation. I’d be fine with Samanic getting regular minutes over Gay, just as I’d be with Devin Vassell getting minutes over DeMar DeRozan, even if it means potentially missing the playoffs. But I know I’m probably in the minority among fans and I’m almost certain PATFO doesn’t agree with me. I can’t really blame the Spurs for being a little conservative this season, even if I wish they weren’t, so ultimately I’m fine with the veterans continuing to be above the more untested young players like Samanic in the hierarchy.

J.R. Wilco: The only reason he’s on the team is because PATFO believed in his potential. That was true on draft day, and it was true through every one of his unimpressive NBA outings up until he started looking pretty good while filling in guys recuperated after going 12 round with Covid. So if Luka stays nailed to the bench for the rest of the season and only sees action during garbage time, I’m fine with it. The only period of time that I seriously questioned Pop’s judgement was last season up till the bubble. Now that period is over, I’m good ... I’m good.