NBA Restart: 2019-20
NBA Restart: 2019-20

2019-20 Season Reset: San Antonio Spurs

Michael C. Wright

Michael C. Wright NBA.com

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Jun 5, 2020 2:25 PM ET

DeMar DeRozan and Gregg Popovich are trying to avoid the end of San Antonio's 22-year playoff streak.

The 2019-20 NBA season went on hiatus on March 11 because of  the coronavirus pandemic . The season  will return on July 30 and NBA.com's writers are taking an updated look at each of the league's 30 teams.

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Record: 27-36, No. 12 in Western Conference

Season summary: Could we soon witness the end of an era in San Antonio? The Spurs have reached the postseason an NBA-record tying 22 straight times, but that streak is now in serious jeopardy. At the season's hiatus, San Antonio’s margin for error was shrinking by the day. At 12th in the Western Conference, the Spurs are now in the mix with four teams -- Phoenix, Portland, New Orleans and Sacramento -- as they all eye the West's final playoff spot. Doable, for sure. But the Spurs' performance hasn't exactly inspired optimism. The Spurs lost eight games in a row from Nov. 9-22, and the last time the club experienced a skid that significant was from Nov. 15-30, 1996 under former coach Bob Hill. The next month Gregg Popovich -- then serving as the team’s general manager -- fired Hill and took over as coach. San Antonio finished 20-62, won the NBA Draft lottery and selected Tim Duncan with the No. 1 overall pick. More than two decades later, the Spurs appear to be headed toward their first lottery pick since "The Big Fundamental" arrived.

Breakout player: Spurs watches know that second-year man Lonnie Walker IV is easily the team’s most athletic player. You’ve also seen a large enough sample size to realize the 21-year-old is poised to become a key contributor; perhaps a starter at some point. Popovich typically makes young players work their way into the rotation, but he couldn’t deny Walker’s talent. Injuries impeded Walker’s development as a rookie, limiting him to 17 games. Walker has averaged 14.5 minutes this season, with four starts under his belt, shooting 43.4% from the floor and 40.8% from deep.

Walker’s explosiveness was evident when he dropped a career-high 28 points in a double-overtime win over Houston, and this play against the Pacers highlighted the intensity and playmaking ability Walker displays on a nightly basis. Popovich has actually taught Walker to harness that and focus it on moments when those attributes are most needed. Walker suffers defensive lapses from time-to-time, but he makes up for them with plays like this block on Mavericks guard Seth Curry. With more experience, Walker should turn into another gem polished to brilliance by the Spurs developmental staff.

Statement win: The Spurs’ 135-133 double-overtime win on Dec. 3 against Houston showed just hard this team would continue to fight for the rest of the season. The game served as Walker’s coming-out party, with that aforementioned career-high 28 points leading the Spurs in scoring -- off the bench. Walker shot 10-for-18 from the field and 4-for-7 from deep. San Antonio trailed by 16 headed into the fourth quarter, and Walker dropped 19 in the quarter to spark the rally. At one point in the fourth, Walker scored eight buckets in a row to send the game into OT. Walker became the youngest player (then 20 years old) in Spurs history to score at least 25 points off the bench. He also became the first player in league history to score 28 points with four 3-pointers and three steals off the bench before turning 21 years old. The win opened a run of four consecutive outings decided in OT with the Spurs winning three of them.

Most compelling game: The Spurs had lost 10 of their previous 11 on the way to limping out to their worst start (7-13) in 23 seasons. The former face of the franchise, Kawhi Leonard, was returning to San Antonio to play for just the second time since forcing his way out in 2018. With the AT&T Center hosting its 700th game since opening, local fans booed and jeered Leonard relentlessly as the Spurs captured a much-needed 107-97 victory on Nov. 29.

 
Kawhi Leonard's first game in San Antonio with the Clippers proved emotional.

Every time Leonard touched the ball the crowd erupted in a chorus of boos, as the two-time NBA Finals MVP scored just 19 points on 23 shots. The level of hostility inside the AT&T Center only intensified as the game progressed. The victory halted the Clippers’ seven-game winning streak. It was fitting that with six minutes remaining and the Spurs up 11, DeMar DeRozan knocked down his first 3-pointer since 2018 to extend the lead to 14 points. DeRozan was the main component of the trade that sent Leonard to Toronto.

Memorable moments: Walker’s 28-point breakout game tops the list, but prior to that, we saw the official ending of the “Big Three” era in San Antonio on Nov. 11 when the Spurs hung the jersey of future Hall of Fame point guard Tony Parker in the rafters next to the jerseys of Duncan and Manu Ginobili. You almost forget that moments earlier the Spurs lost 113-109 to the Memphis Grizzlies. But Parker’s jersey retirement represented the franchise’s 10th. The ceremony included a Parker tribute video that included touching testimonials like this from Popovich as well as former teammates. Parker had contributed to four titles in his 17 seasons in San Antonio.

 
Tony Parker's No. 9 went up to the rafters in November.

In March, we watched another memorable moment when Hall of Fame power forward  Duncan took over for Popovich as coach in a 104-103 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Mar. 3. Popovich was out dealing with what the team called “personal business.” Having won more than 1,000 games as a player, Duncan earned his first as the team’s acting head coach. He had joined the staff as an assistant back in July. “It’s night and day to be in the big boy chair,” Duncan said after the game.

Team MVP: It’s close between DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge. You can’t dismiss the subtle tweaks Aldridge made to his game to give the Spurs more offensive firepower, but he’s been in and out of the lineup dealing with injuries. DeRozan is the team’s MVP simply because he’s played more games (61 to Aldridge’s 56), and he’s performed more consistently. (Those who think otherwise will have to wait for next season as Aldridge will miss the restart because of shoulder surgery.) DeRozan is shooting a career-best 52.6% from the field, averaging 22.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists. But his future in San Antonio is uncertain with reports surfacing that he might decline his $27.7 million player option for next season to hit unrestricted free agency. DeRozan has denied those reports. “Who reported it?” DeRozan asked when questioned about his intentions. “Did my mama say it? [If not,] don’t listen to it then.” It’s unclear whether San Antonio is committed to signing DeRozan to an extension; especially when you factor in the ascension of so many young guards on the Spurs roster such as Walker, Dejounte Murray and Derrick White.

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here , find his archive  here  and follow him on Twitter .

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