Could the unthinkable happen this year? Dating back to the beginning of the franchise, the Spurs had never gone back-to-back seasons with a losing record. After finishing 33-39 last season, it followed a dismal 32-39 season the year before. With a rebuild in sight, the Spurs are in a position to have a losing record for a third straight year, which would be a nightmare for the franchise and their 72-year old head coach.
This is not the way that we envisioned Popovich leaving the league. Every year seems like it could be the last year for Popovich. With the Spurs losing their leading scorer from last year and a key veteran piece, can Popovich lead these young, unproven players back to the standard of the Spurs?
Point Guard - Dejounte Murray
Last year, Murray had the best season of his career with 15.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 5.4 assists. The 25-year old saw major increases in all three categories last year. With DeRozan out of the mix, Murray is a prime candidate for being the team’s leading scorer. Asking Murray to make the jump to being an All-Star candidate, that is going to be a tall task.
With that said, we didn’t see another old great take a turn until his fourth and fifth seasons. Tony Parker’s first three seasons were fairly average. His fourth season saw a year similar to Murray’s, as his fifth season was All-Star caliber. Nobody will ever be like Parker, but will the Spurs see a similar jump with Murray?
Shooting Guard - Derrick White
We could see the best individual season from White this year, especially with DeRozan out of the fold. White just needs to stay healthy to do that. In 36 games, White averaged 15.4 points per game, which was a career-high. Like Murray, this is White’s fifth season in the league, so we are expecting a bigger leap with bigger responsibilities.
White needs to be more efficient from the field, shooting just 41.1% from the field and 34.6% from the three-point range. The Spurs are losing over 20.0 points per game with DeRozan out, so White will get his chance to shine. Assuming that he can stay on the court, White has the chance to contend for scoring close to 18.0 points per game.
Small Forward - Keldon Johnson
Johnson will be an interesting prospect as he enters his third year in the league. Last year, Johnson played his first full season and averaged 12.8 points and 6.0 rebounds. Johnson also gained a lot of valuable experience this summer when he was added to the USA’s Olympic roster, which won a Gold medal.
Moving forward, Johnson has very similar qualities to a player like Luol Deng from back in the day. Deng grew to be a reliable defender that provided the quality offense. In Deng’s third season, he averaged 18.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, and shot over 50% from the field. If that is in Johnson’s future, the team would be ecstatic.
Power Forward - Doug McDermott
McDermott just missed shooting above 40% from three-point range for the fourth straight season by 1.2% last season. In the last four years, McDermott has shaped his game as a spot-up three-point shooter in the league. Last year, McDermott averaged a career-high 13.6 points per game, which led to the Spurs potentially overpaying for his services.
Nonetheless, McDermott will provide outside shooting to a team that lacks in that department. Last year, the Spurs ranked 24th as a team from behind the arc. Not saying McDermott will improve that by all that much, but he will make it just a little bit better.
Center - Jakob Poeltl
Poeltl is one of the few remaining holdovers from the Kawhi Leonard-DeMar DeRozan swap years back. Last year, Poeltl averaged 8.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, and shot 61.6% from the field. His field goal percentage ranked seventh among all centers, but he still has a lot of work to do before being considered a top center in the league.
Poeltl ranked 22nd among player efficiency rankings. He is just 25 years old but has five years of experience. Eventually, the excuse of being young isn't going to fly. Right now, Poeltl is very comparable to former Charlotte Hornets center Cody Zeller, who is now a backup in Portland.
Bryn Forbes, Tre Jones, Lonnie Walker IV, Joshua Primo, Devin Vassell, Keita Bates-Diop, Joe Wieskamp, Thaddeus Young, Al-Farouq Aminu, Luka Samanic, Zach Collins, Drew Eubanks, Jock Landale
Forbes was a very reliable shooter for the Spurs during his four years with the team. Last year, the Spurs signed a one-year deal to play with the Milwaukee Bucks, where he was one of the better outside shooters coming off the bench. In 70 games, Forbes averaged 10.0 points and shot 45.2% from the three-point range. Now that he has a championship ring, he has made his way back to the team where everything started.
The most interesting bench piece the Spurs have now is Thaddeus Young, who came over via sign-and-trade with DeMar DeRozan. Young is going to be a highly coveted player at the trade deadline since he is in the last year of his contract. Last year, Young averaged 12.1 points, a career-high 4.3 assists, and a career-high 55.9% field goal percentage. At times, Young was the most important player in the Bulls’ offense.
Outside of these two players, you find yourself looking at this bench and asking yourself who are these people? Walker played his first full season and averaged 11.2 points and is just 22 years old. Josh Primo was the team’s first-round draft pick at No. 12 overall. Zach Collins has the potential to be solid, but can never stay healthy. We are going to be learning about the Spurs on the go.
Will Gregg Popovich Finish Three Straight Seasons With A Losing Record?
All signs point to Popovich having a third straight losing season. Would that be enough for Popovich to walk away? The jury is out on what he is thinking. Unless a miracle happens, the Spurs are not winning a championship this year, nor are making the playoffs. At 72 years old, how much can you truly give to this team? He has already won five championships, made the Spurs win millions, and is coming off a summer of another Gold medal?
This summer was the first true taste of winning after missing the playoffs the last two years (we aren’t counting the play-in game). The Spurs lost DeRozan and Patty Mills in the offseason, as well as LaMarcus Aldridge during the regular season. While the Spurs have young pieces, these are not superstar players that can contend with the likes of the rest of the Western Conference.
The Spurs were the last team to qualify for anything. With the No. 10 seed, the Spurs were able to play in the play-in game, which they lost to the Memphis Grizzlies. Let’s run through the Western Conference quickly. Are the Spurs better than any of the nine teams in front of them, which includes the Jazz, Suns, Nuggets, Clippers, Mavericks, Trail Blazers, Lakers, Grizzlies, or Warriors? What about the Pelicans, who made improvements this year?
Near the bottom, you find the Spurs, who fight with the Kings for the No. 12 seed. This is going to be very unfortunate if this is the way Popovich retires, but this is the fact of the matter. The Spurs are not a good offensive scoring team and lost two of their best scorers. They ranked near the bottom in rebounding but didn’t add any true bugs. The Spurs are going to have to fight and claw for every win they get this year, which is just such a different standard than what we grew up watching.