Well, things certainly have changed a bit since the last article in this series, haven’t they? Before getting the number one overall pick in the 2023 NBA draft, the playoffs looked somewhat far away for the Spurs. Now, with Victor Wembanyama soon to join the roster, it’s not so far-fetched to start thinking about getting this team ready for playoff basketball in the next couple of seasons. It would be smart to look at what is working in the playoffs thus far.
It’s an Orlando bubble rematch, with Miami and Boston facing off for the third time in four years, and the Lakers and Nuggets battling for a Finals appearance. Oddly enough, these teams have a lot in common with their 2020 counterparts. They aren’t exactly the same teams, but the bones are still here. What can the Spurs learn about the sustained success of these rosters, and how can they shape their rosters to make a deep playoff run?
Big men who can create
Some call them unicorns, but that term is a little tired. Big men who can create for themselves and others, while holding their own on the defensive end can take a team to the next level. Anthony Davis, Bam Adebayo and Nikola Jokic all average around 20 points and 10 rebounds while making plays for their teammates. We all know about Jokic’s passing ability, but Adebayo and Davis have taken on some ball handling responsibility for their teams.
Davis and Adebayo can also defend the rim and get out on the perimeter to guard guys on switches. Having that versatile presence in the paint elevate the ceiling of an NBA roster. The Spurs have one of those players coming.
At 7-foot-5 and with an 8-foot wingspan, Wembanyama is a defensive force. He has quick enough feet and good instincts to guard on the perimeter and disrupts all kinds of looks at the rim. He will transform the defense for the Spurs that was dead last in franchise history in defensive rating (120.) Offensively he projects as the type of player who can finish athletically at the rim in transition, hit turnarounds in the post, and space the floor to the three-point line. It may take a while for him to be on the same level as Davis, Jokic or Adebayo, but the potential impact of Wemby should have fans excited, especially when watching the conference finals.
Each of the final four teams looks close enough to the 2020 version of their roster. The Heat still have Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, Duncan Robinson, Max Strus and Gabe Vincent playing key roles. The Lakers are still built around Davis and LeBron James. The Celtics core of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Al Horford is still there. The Nuggets have an identical starting lineup, just upgraded with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Aaron Gordon.
What these teams did was add necessary pieces around the fringes that compliment that core in the best way. The Heat had issues rebounding and competing with big bodies in the paint, so they got Kevin Love. The Lakers needed secondary playmakers and shooters, so they acquired D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves. Boston got bigger and more defensive at the guard spot with Derrick White and Malcolm Brogdon. Of course, having the core is the first step, but not being too quick to shuffle the deck, and adding specific pieces needed to fill up your holes is a smart approach to team building.
The Spurs find themselves in a position where they can accelerate things a bit with the potential acquisition of Wembanyama. They could package up their stash of first round picks and young players to get a star, or they could be patient, and see how this team grows together. To be fair, they are in a bit of a different position because the current core hasn’t won yet. But the same logic can apply here. Perhaps this offseason they would be better off to address their needs at point guard, and add some veterans in the front court before making large, sweeping changes to the team in their first year with Wembanyama.
This is more of an intangible thing than anything, but all four teams left have excellent leadership. Whether that be from veterans on the roster or the head coach. Erik Spoelstra and Mike Malone are some of the best coaches in the league. The Lakers have one of the greatest players to touch the orange on their squad, and Boston has a group of gritty vets like Smart and Horford to lead the younger guys on the roster.
Some could argue that Spoelstra in particular has been one of the most valuable assets in the playoffs, the way he has handled challenge after challenge for Miami. As the second-longest tenured coach in the NBA, he’s been a valuable asset for the Heat for many years. The Spurs don’t really need to worry about the head coaching position just yet, as they have the longest tenured coach in the league. Gregg Popovich has been there before, and when they get back, will instantly create an advantage for the team.
Where they could improve is adding some veteran leadership. As it stands, Doug McDermott and Devonte’ Graham are the elder players on the roster. With a coveted rookie in tow, it might be worth their while to grab a veteran big or lead guard to help this team progress next season.