The youngest roster of the Gregg Popovich era has met the expectations of an organization in the first genuine season of a rebuild. Despite a third straight year on the fringes of the playoff race, there have been plenty of pleasant surprises along the way that should give Spurs fans hope for the future of this once-proud franchise.
Dejounte Murray has emerged as a nightly triple-double threat and a first-time All-Star. Rookie combo guard Josh Primo has flashed unique off-the-dribble creation after pundits voiced skepticism towards the pick on draft night. And while the league excluded Devin Vassell from the Rising Stars Game, the second-year swingman is trending sky-high.
The San Antonio Spurs are teetering on the edge of the play-in tournament and a third consecutive trip to the Draft Lottery. Fortunately, they are in a spot where they can look at either outcome through an optimistic lens. With around a quarter of the schedule left unplayed, let’s review and update some of the preseason predictions we made for SB Nation.
WHAT’S THE ‘BEST CASE’ SCENARIO?
It depends on how you define “best-case scenario.” But if we’re going off what my fellow Pounding the Rock contributor Jesus Gomez wrote for SB Nation before the season started, then the Spurs are still positioned for a run at the tenth seed and the last play-in spot in the Western Conference. Though this probably isn’t the most fan-friendly answer, it might be in San Antonio’s best interest to lose half of their remaining games. Tanking isn’t fun for anyone. That has never been San Antonio’s modus operandi, and remaining competitive among all the growing pains of a rebuild has made for a more palatable alternative. PATFO have routinely built a solid foundation through the draft, and improving their lottery odds could help them find Dejounte Murray a costar. With all their first and second-round picks, they could trade up to secure any one of Paulo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, or Jabari Smith, who could possibly turn out to become their next franchise cornerstone. You need at least two stars to push for a title in the NBA nowadays, so the quicker they identify them, the quicker the Spurs return to contention.
WHAT’S THE ‘WORST CASE’ SCENARIO?
The “worst-case scenario” was veterans soaking up rotation minutes and the Spurs learning they didn’t have a player worth building a team around. San Antonio has avoided the former while seeing a monumental leap into All-Stardom from Dejounte Murray. Waiving Luka Samanic was a tough pill to swallow, but the combined growth from Dejounte, Keldon Johnson, and Devin Vassell has made it easy to sweep that under the rug. The only way this season could turn out unfavorable for the Spurs is if they sneak their way into the play-in only to lose in round one for the second consecutive year. The Silver and Black faithful are understandably peckish for a taste of the playoffs, and late-April basketball can reinvigorate a fanbase. That said, the end goal should be fielding a roster that has the potential to go all the way to the NBA Finals. Trimming their ping pong balls and missing out on the postseason in one fell swoop would be a somewhat disappointing way to punctuate an otherwise successful campaign.
WHAT’S THE ‘MOST LIKELY’ SCENARIO?
The reality for the Spurs is somewhere in between the two scenarios we already covered. With 11 matchups outside of the welcoming walls of the AT&T Center, including what remains of the Rodeo Road Trip, San Antonio probably doesn’t have the oomph to beat out the Pelicans, Kings, Blazers, Lakers, Clippers, or Wolves for a spot in the play-in tournament. They also have too much talent and chemistry to buckle in a way that would plunge them below the Rockets, Thunder, Magic, Pistons, Pacers for a nearly air-tight chance at acquiring a top-five pick. The most likely outcome is still a fantastic ending worth rooting for, and the Spurs seem to be in a win-win situation.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST EXCITED FOR?
Fans and media members alike were excited to finally see the young core get a chance to run the show without training wheels, and that’s precisely what head coach Gregg Popovich has done this season. Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, and Lonnie Walker IV have inherited every minute, touch, and field goal attempt vacated when Rudy Gay, Patty Mills, and DeMar DeRozan signed elsewhere this Summer. Josh Primo and Tre Jones have started seeing consistent court time, and marquee free agency pickup Zach Collins has been integrated into the rotation as of late. Even Jakob Poeltl has benefited from all the newfound opportunities in the 2-1-0, becoming one of the best value contracts in the league as an elite screen, rim-protector, and roll-man. Hopefully, the Spurs decide to push their young core to the forefront for the last leg of their schedule. San Antonio hasn’t won many contests, but their revamped brand of basketball is exciting, and the player development has been unmistakable.
REVIEWING PRESEASON PREDICTIONS
For the most part, it seems Jesus and I saw eye-to-eye on San Antonio’s outlook before the season started. We could spend time splitting hairs as to the Spurs finishing with the 13th seed versus the 12th seed or an extra victory here or there, but those details are negligible. Aside from a trade deadline deal that sent Derrick White to the Boston Celtics, the Silver and Black have practically fallen in line with my preseason expectations. Nothing has significantly altered my views from opening day to now. But general manager Brian Wright actively pursuing draft assets should have fans ecstatic for the next generation of Spurs basketball.
UPDATED SEASON PREDICTIONS
PLAYOFF ODDS: Yes (+1300)/No (-3500)