The Spurs shook things up at the trade deadline. With Derrick White gone, both the starting unit and the bench have changed. Now that they’ve played 10 games since then, let’s see where they stand.
What are your thoughts on the new starting lineup?
Marilyn Dubinski: I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss Derrick White, but it’s had its pros. Sooner or later, Devin Vassell was going to have start games based on his potential, and now that window has been opened. He’s still a little inconsistent, but the promise is there. White’s departure has also given Keldon Johnson more room to shine, and he has taken advantage. I will say the Spurs desperately need to look for a starting-caliber power forward. I love Doug McDermott as a player, and he brings a lot of what they need to function offensively, but ideally he’d be a scorer off the bench (which that unit also desperately needs), so that should be their top priority this summer.
Noah Magaro-George: Devin Vassell was eventually going to find his way into the starting lineup one way or another, so parting way with Derrick White and expediting the process only made sense. One thing that doesn’t quite add up in my mind is the Spurs asking even more from Dejounte Murray on-ball while making minimal increases to the touches of Keldon Johnson. If they want the 22-year-old forward to develop more ball skills, now would be a great time to experiment with him getting the team into some of their sets. Outside of a few admittedly nitpick-y tweaks, the Spurs are navigating the line between competing for the play-in tournament and rebuilding about as well as fans could hope. Doug McDermott probably needs to move to the bench or hit the trading block this summer, but there aren’t many reasons to complain about what PATFO are doing right now.
Bruno Passos: Many of the same problems remain, which maybe isn’t the worst outcome after a deadline in which the Spurs obviously shifted their focus on the future. They’re still too small to stop anyone and I don’t feel great about these 5, or any variation of it, closing out games against even average competition, but they’re able to operate in more or less the same way as before while giving the promoted Vassell a little more bandwidth to make things happen.
Jesus Gomez: I think Vassell fits the switch-heavy defense better than White did, and his shooting should eventually make him a perfect fit next to Dejounte Murray, so I like seeing them get minutes together. The problem is the starting unit desperately needs more shot creation now. Vassell and Keldon Johnson don’t have the handles to get good looks for themselves consistently and while it can be argued that Doug McDermott creates room for himself with his off-ball movement, sometimes you need someone who can actually handle the ball. The solution to this problem — and many others — would be to get a big forward who can act as a first or second option. Hopefully the draft of free agency will allow the Spurs to fill that hole.
What are your thoughts on the new second unit rotation?
Dubinski: I have mixed opinions on the second unit. Lonnie Walker finally having a defined role as the guy has been great for him, but too often he’s getting little to no help. Zach Collins understandably needs more time — probably until next season — to be himself again, and I’m loving Josh Primo getting main rotation minutes during his rookie season (even if it is painful at times), but for the life of me I can’t understand not using Josh Richardson. Even if the goal is to trade him this offseason, he’s here, you gave up your second-best player (in part) for him, and he can really help that struggling second unit. He’s a good player in his prime at age 28, so this shouldn’t be another Thaddeus Young situation. It just feels like a disservice to him and the rest of the players who are running on fumes trying to close games to keep him glued to the bench. Rant over.
Magaro-George: Despite the second unit taking a substantial hit on the offensive end, this is probably the best-case scenario for a team in the first genuine year of a rebuild. Josh Primo and Tre Jones are getting plenty of chances to run the offense off the pine. Lonnie Walker IV has seen a sharp rise in production as San Antonio’s sixth man, and Zach Collins is finally reacclimating to the speed of the game after nearly two years away from basketball. Although some fans are worried Josh Richardson warming the bench might hurt his trade value, Thaddeus Young fetched a first-rounder, and Richardson can presumably do the same if he plays as well as he did on Monday night.
Passos: I like what it’s done for Walker’s role and confidence, where we’re finally seeing some consistency in the 11th hour of his rookie contract — it’ll be very interesting to see how his improved production affects his market this summer. Beyond that, the unit’s felt more fluid and serving in purposes beyond competing this year, including getting Zach Collins up to speed, giving Josh Primo and Tre Jones some more seasoning, and allowing the midseason acquisitions to settle in and stretch their legs a bit. I can’t say it makes for compelling basketball, but it’s probably the most practical approach to polish off this transitional season.
Gomez: The bench has really suffered, especially on offense. Before the trade the Spurs could stagger White’s and Murray’s minutes to always have one on the court, but now, there’s no primary creator. And while Tre Jones can provide some ball handling, he’s a complete non-threat from outside, unlike Vassell. Lonnie Walker IV has done a good job of hiding just how little offensive firepower the second unit has, but if he struggles the bench won’t get enough buckets. More Josh Richardson and less Keita Bates-Diop could help, and Primo sometimes shows flashes of off-the-bounce creativity, but I feel like bench scoring will likely be a problem for the rest of the season.