The Spurs went into last season with plenty of depth at point guard, with Dejounte Murray starting, Derrick White running the second unit, and Tre Jones ready to step in when needed. Things have changed since then.
Only Tre Jones remains from that platoon, and the closest thing the team has to a second pure point guard is rookie Blake Wesley. It’s clear the ball handling and shot creation is going to have to be done by committee, but the Spurs seem fine with that.
“Jakob Poeltl is our 5 man. He’s starting at the 5 position. We’ll go from there,” Gregg Popovich said when asked who his starting point was, not only making it clear that the starting spot is up for grabs but also that the Spurs are not getting too bogged down with positional designations when it comes to the perimeter.
It’s clear that focusing on positionless basketball is something the coaching staff and the players have made a priority because Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell made it a point to note that everyone can bring the ball up and make plays. It might be hard for most of the perimeter players to organize the offense and create for others in the half-court, but the Spurs should be fine in transition and could simply try to attack early or look for an advantage that gets the defense moving and go from there. No one on the roster has had a season in the NBA with an over 15 percent assist percentage except for Tre Jones and Josh Richardson, who did it in 2018/19, but if everyone dishes a few more dimes and keeps the ball moving, they could make up for the loss of playmaking that has happened since the last trade deadline in the aggregate.
Still, when things truly slow down, someone will likely have to be the on-court leader who orchestrates the offense. Jones will surely fill that role, and the rookie guards might get a crack at it, but most eyes will be on Josh Primo. The Spurs 2021 lottery pick spent an awful lot of time as the main ball handler both in Austin and San Antonio last season for a player that mostly played off the ball in college, which suggests the Spurs want him to be more of a hybrid guard than a wing. Primo emphasized that he sees a lot of value in his versatility, but seemed excited to take on the challenge to be more of a lead guard.
“Honestly, I still feel like I’m a positionless player, I’ve always been a positionless player, especially when it comes to defense,” the young guard initially said during media day, but later on he made it clear that he knows that he might have to take on a more traditional role.
“I’m ready for that, to be able to handle the ball more, be a leader in terms of being a floor general. That will be fun. It will be a good challenge for me.”
Primo showed interesting vision in his first year in the league, but for him to truly be able to excel in that role, getting better at avoiding turnovers will be a must. As a rookie, he coughed the ball up the most often out of any of the perimeter players, and some of his mistakes were hard to excuse since they were the result of careless or risky passes, as anyone who watched him play can attest to.
Still, there are plenty of reasons for optimism. Primo is still younger than most members of this latest rookie class, so some growing pains were expected. He’ll surely show progress this season as a playmaker if that’s the role he’s asked to fill, and there will be very little pressure for him to perform since the team won’t likely be in the playoff picture.
It will be interesting to track just how well all the young guards, including Jones and Primo, do with more ball-handling responsibility. It seems like eventually, the Spurs will need a more traditional starting-caliber lead guard around, but for now, the positionless approach and the point guard-by-committee identity will do. At the very least, it should reveal who’s ready for a bigger offensive role and who needs to improve their floor game, which will be good information to have going forward.