The Spurs made a huge move this offseason by trading away Dejounte Murray. It was a transaction made with eyes on the future, and it could pay off greatly, but it also had some repercussions in the present, as it left San Antonio without a starting point guard for the first time in years.
While the franchise is rightfully thinking past next season in this new path its embarked on, the front office will have to make a big decision in the next few weeks by choosing between two options when it comes to filling the lead guard role, each with their own positives and drawbacks.
Playing the young guards could speed up their development but slow down others’
There’s no need for another big move. The Spurs could simply decide to guarantee Tre Jones’ contract and stay put. Jones could be the starter and the rest of the ball handling and playmaking duty could be split between Josh Primo, Blake Wesley and Malaki Branham. It’s what seems to make the most sense, since competing doesn’t appear to be the biggest priority right now.
There are some upsides to picking this direction. Having a better idea of just how good Jones could be in an extended role before he enters free agency could be a wise move. He won’t likely ever be the engine of a great offense, but he might be able to become a good caretaker starting point guard. His assist-to-turnover ratio was stellar last season and he now has enough experience with the system to get the team into its sets. Actually creating good looks consistently and at a high rate for those who can’t do it on their own could be tough for him, but if Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson get better at creating for themselves — a big if, admittedly — the starters could be able to put enough points on the board to compete most nights.
Things could get ugly when the second unit checks in. Wesley should do better with NBA-caliber spacing than he did in college, but he’s still very raw. Branham is more polished, but he’s better at creating for himself than he is at setting up others. The rookies shouldn’t really be trusted to be main ball handlers, at least early in their first year, so the success of this strategy would largely come down to Josh Primo.
Primo got opportunities to show his ability to be the initiator last season, especially in the second half. The results were mixed. His ball handling simply wasn’t good enough most nights, and he took some unnecessary risks at times, which resulted in sloppy turnovers. Even in the G League he coughed the ball up almost as much as he assisted teammates, so the issue is real. He clearly has work to do before becoming a reliable creator, but it could be worth it for his development to be thrown into the fire in his second season. The vision is there and his ability to use his length to block shots on the ball could eventually make him an elite defender. Investing in him wouldn’t be the worst idea.
If the Spurs decide to stay put and give Jones and Primo main ball handler duties the immediate results won’t likely be great, as the team offense should suffer while they figure out how to fill their expanded roles. The lack of shot creation elsewhere in the roster could be exposed and the improvement of the finishers delayed.
The potential benefit of accelerating the young guards development by giving them expanded responsibility, however, could be worth the headaches, if he coaching staff is willing to be patient.
Bringing in a veteran could stall the development of the guards, but help the rest of the team
The Spurs could use their cap space to either sign a more experienced lead guard or try to acquire one via trade. Doing so wouldn’t necessarily mean letting Tre Jones go, as he could just split minutes with the new addition. The main motivation to go this route would be to make sure the forwards and Jakob Poelt have someone who can feed them.
The biggest issue with this approach is that it’s hard to find great targets. The ideal candidate would be an experienced floor general who’d be happy to create for others while still able to get a good look for himself when needed, but those type of players normally get snatched up by good teams. The best small guards available right now are Collin Sexton, who is more of a scorer than a playmaker for others, and Dennis Schroeder, who has had chemistry problems in most of the teams he’s been on. Someone like Facundo Campazzo could be worth a shot if passing and experience are the focus, but his limitations are obvious. The talent pool of available traditional initiators really is shallow.
A trade opens another avenue to get what the Spurs need, but there aren’t a ton of realistic targets if they do decided to follow this path, either. T.J. McConnell would be perfect, but the Pacers would probably want a pick back, since he’s on a reasonable contract. Mike Conley could be an option if the Jazz go for a full rebuild, but he won’t likely be happy playing for the Spurs if they are not competing for the playoffs. A Cory Joseph return wouldn’t be the worst thing, but only as a last resort and if the Pistons simply want to salary dump him for nothing. Vasilije Micic would be intriguing, but the Thunder don’t seem in a hurry to part with the NBA rights to the FIBA star.
Simply put, the ideal targets would likely demand a bigger investment than San Antonio would be willing to make at this stage of the rebuild while the attainable ones might not represent a big enough upgrade to be worth potentially delaying the development of the young guards. If a good option becomes available making a move for them could be worth it, but it might be hard to find the right candidate.
One of the earliest decisions the Spurs will have to make in their new rebuilding path will involve choosing between forward-thinking uncertainty and short-term competence when it comes to the point guard position heading into next season. Both have their clear downsides, so it will be interesting to see which way they lean,as it could tell us a lot about their current priorities.