Two awards left give out, so let’s dive in!
Surprise of the Season
Zachary Colwell: The emergence of Keita Bates-Diop as a good role player and a serviceable starter for this team has seemingly come out of nowhere. I will say I was a bit surprised when the Spurs used a roster spot on him in this past offseason, with me thinking that if he would return it would be on another two-way deal. But as it would seem the front office knows more than me, would would have thought! Keita has had to start 12 games so far this season and has done an admirable job when doing so. You can tell Pop trust him with the fact Bates-Diop has been the primary defender on players such as LeBron James & Kevin Durant. On offense he knows where to be and is a great cutter. He doesn’t try to do too much and to top it all off he is hitting 36% of his threes.
Noah Magaro-George: I have to second Zach on Keita Bates-Diop being the surprise of the season for San Antonio. There wasn’t much to indicate Keita would be much more than depth insurance heading into the year, but the former Ohio State Buckeye has carved out a role for himself as a spot starter and a staple of the bench unit. Although Bates-Diop doesn’t do anything at an elite level, he does all the little things for the Silver & Black. Keita rarely makes mistakes on either end of the court, which is precisely the type of guy any team would love to have on their roster. The fourth-year forward keeps the ball moving around the horn, and his so-so three-point stroke and timely cutting give him enough offensive utility to keep him on the floor in most lineups. Plus-minus is a tricky stat that is heavily dependent on who you play alongside, and as such, it requires the proper context to interpret accurately. But for what it’s worth, San Antonio has outscored opponents by a team-best 40 points in the 603 minutes Keita Bates-Diop has suited up for them thus far.
Devon Birdsong: Good surprise? Primo getting real minutes definitely has to be in consideration. But I think I’d have to go with the rise of Jock Landale. I know the Australian League has really become more reputable, and I was sure he’d shoot lights out, but he’s proven to be much more serviceable on the defensive end than even I thought he would be in his first season, which seems to be why Pop is giving him some run. It’s definitely well-earned in my opinion.
Bad surprise? Thad Young not getting Eubanks’ minutes after showing off some serious big-man passing skills. Unless PATFO do already have a deadline deal in place, it just seems like a waste of resources.
August Bembel: I have to say I agree with Zach and Noah. Keita Bates-Diop went into the season as a third-stringer, and he’s become a serviceable part-time starter. He looks to me like another great Spurs reclamation project. Maybe not a future starter. But I think we’ll see him in the Silver & Black for years to come. Per basketball reference, his on-off plus/minus is at plus 6.6, best among any Spur to average at least 17 minutes. It’s not the be-all/end-all stat, I know. But Keita isn’t expected to be the be-all/end-all player. But he’s exceeding expectations. And I love it.
Casey Coggins: I haven’t been the biggest Keldon Johnson believer, and out of all the young core, felt he was the most expendable. He’s not tall enough to play the four and hadn’t really been great enough on either end of the court to play the three. I absolutely love the energy and character he brings to the team, which is important, but you can get that out of the likes of a towel-waving Aussie at the end of the bench. The improvement he’s shown from three this year has most people talking about it being unsustainable (won’t touch on this as both sides have been noted above), but he’s improved in other areas of the game. I sit here typing this now firmly in the keep Keldon camp.
Jeje Gomez: Keldon Johnson becoming a knockdown shooter was not something I was expecting to see. Before the season it seemed like he was going to get a higher usage with the veterans gone, so the focus for him was to be more efficient with the ball in his hands. The Spurs tried giving him more touches for a while, it didn’t really work out, and instead of forcing the issue on offense, Keldon just became the perfect weakside player by adding a deadly shot to his already great catch-and-drive game. It was definitely not the skill I thought he’d add next, but it’s been a welcomed surprise.
Keita Bates-Diop - III
Jock Landale - I
Keldon Johnson - II
Winner: Keita Bates-Diop
Player of the Season (so far)
Zach: All you have to do is look at PtR’s SVP rankings after every game to know the answer to this one. It’s unequivocally, Dejounte Murray.
Noah: I told Spurs fans Dejounte Murray would approach All-Stardom during my season preview podcast, but the sixth-year point guard has exceeded all of my greatest expectations. Murray has bloomed into a patient pick-and-roll facilitator who thrives off pinpoint pocket passes, he paces the NBA in steals per game, and his vocal leadership has been paramount to keeping the youngest team of the Gregg Popovich era competitive. He might not ever become the best player on a title contender, but he is one of the few pieces the front office should feel married to as they begin navigating this rebuild.
Devon: I mean, if it’s not Bryn Forbes, I don’t know who it is. He sets the defensive tone, he’s dynamite in the post, and he draws fouls at a rate reminiscent of DeMar DeRozan. He’s the glue that holds this whole thing together. (Obviously it’s Dejounte Murray, y’all. But I’m in quarantine and thought it would be fun to start a fire in the comment section.)
August: Dejounte Murray. He’s maybe 10% in true shooting away from being in the actual MVP discussion, if we go by box score stats. That said, he’s been around 50% in true shooting all season. That’s not good enough for a first option, nowhere near to be honest. But I think he can be the third-best player on a champion, maybe even the second-best. Chapeau, Dejounte!
Casey: After last season, I felt Dejounte Murray was ready to take the reins of the franchise from DeMar DeRozan. I wrote about how good he might be last July, and after seeing him play in-person in the Spurs last preseason game, I felt confident tweeting he would average 23/7/7 this year. While his 19.1 PPG isn’t quite the 23 I thought he could get to, 8.8 assists and 8.3 rebounds more than makes up for it. On top of that, he tops the league in steals at 2 per game. I’m just glad all that “trade him for Ben Simmons” nonsense is finally done with — that might even be enough for him to win this award for me.
Jeje: I want to make the case for Jakob Poeltl, a workhorse on defense and the boards, but I just can’t. The player of the season so far has to be Dejounte Murray. His numbers are impossible to ignore and his leadership is palpable. Ideally Murray wouldn’t have to do so much on offense, but on this team he has to and has taken on the challenge without losing his edge on defense. All the effort he put into improving and all the patience the Spurs had with him has paid off.
Dejounte Murray - IIIIII
Winner: Dejounte Murray
Thank you all for reading Part III our mid-season awards. Don’t forget to let us know below who you would have given the last two aforementioned awards too! We appreciate all your support on the three part mini-series, this was a lot of fun for us to do, and we hope you all had a good time reading it! Go Spurs Go.