When last seen, the Spurs were … unexpectedly morphed into a new team with a brand new style of play borne through lineup experimentation in the bubble. San Antonio touched down in Orlando without three starters in LaMarcus Aldridge (shoulder), Bryn Forbes (quadriceps) and Trey Lyles (appendectomy). The Spurs played with a young, four-guard lineup that resulted in a breakneck pace and more freedom on the floor as Gregg Popovich stripped away much of San Antonio’s typically rigid structure. The franchise missed making a 23rd consecutive postseason appearance, but the youngsters performed so well in eight seeding games that Popovich decided to adopt that style of play moving forward for what will be the next evolution of San Antonio Spurs basketball.
What’s new? Aside from the new playing style, not much is new because the Spurs entered free agency with very little flexibility to upgrade. San Antonio took care of a couple of its own free agents by re-signing bigs Drew Eubanks and Jakob Poeltl along with Quinndary Weatherspoon, a second-round pick in the 2019 draft. San Antonio added a pair of promising prospects in the Draft, selecting Florida State guard Devin Vassell at No. 11 before taking Duke point guard Tre Jones 41st overall. The Spurs typically don’t play rookies early, but both have an outside shot to work their way into the rotation.
Another new wrinkle you can expect from the Spurs is more 3-point shooting from Aldridge, who finished last season with career highs in makes (61) and attempts (157) from range. If Aldridge becomes a legitimate threat from deep, it spaces the floor for San Antonio’s slashers to find driving lanes. Aldridge told NBA.com he’s already feeling more comfortable shooting 3’s than he did last season.
What’s missing: Definitely 3-point shooting with the leading scorers – DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge – spending the majority of their careers as mid-range specialists. San Antonio ranked 28th last season in 3-point attempts (28.5) and fourth in accuracy (37.6%). There’s also some uncertainty regarding how Aldridge fits into San Antonio’s new style due to the fact he wasn’t with the team in Orlando because he was rehabbing his injured shoulder.
Popovich and several teammates have expressed confidence in Aldridge’s ability to fit, but we haven’t yet seen him play in a more up-tempo, free-flowing offense, in which he’s asked to contribute more as a 3-point shooter. The Spurs lost a couple of their best outside shooters off the bench in Bryn Forbes, who signed a two-year deal with the Milwaukee Bucks and Marco Belinelli, who went back to Italy. Popovich revealed the Spurs could be missing three of the young stars from the bubble to start the season in Derrick White (toe), Keldon Johnson (foot) and Weatherspoon (knee).
POTENTIAL STARTING FIVE
Dejounte Murray | 10.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.1 apg
Made All-NBA defensive team in 2017-18 and poised to regain form in second season since tearing an ACL in 2018.
Derrick White | 11.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.5 apg
Two-way guard cranked up 3-point shooting in the bubble (eight per game), which is a sign of things to come.
DeMar DeRozan | 22.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 5.6 apg
Four-time All-Star is perennially slept on due to lack of 3-point shooting but improving on defense under Popovich.
LaMarcus Aldridge |18.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.4 apg
Coming off shoulder surgery, seven-time All-Star remains constant target of trade rumors.
Jakob Poeltl | 5.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.4 bpg
Former lottery pick is actually San Antonio’s all-time leader in single season field goal percentage (.645 in 2018-19).
Patty Mills | 11.6 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 1.8 apg
Longest-tenured Spur plans to incorporate his playing style from the Australian national team into San Antonio’s system.
Rudy Gay | 10.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.7 apg
Dropped 10 pounds in the offseason to fit better with the Spurs’ expected playing style.
Lonnie Walker IV | 6.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.1 apg
Easily the most athletic player on the entire Spurs roster.
San Antonio Spurs, last 5 seasons
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
They’ll push teams. They’ll be exciting to watch. And Popovich’s tutelage almost automatically guarantees San Antonio a fighting chance to advance to the postseason. They’ll finish better than last season, but it likely won’t be good enough to make the playoffs. Popovich was smart in changing the team’s style to fit the young, athletic personnel. The current crop of youngsters gives the franchise building blocks to create another 20-plus years of dominance in the future. San Antonio can jump back into the free-agency game next season when DeRozan and Aldridge are off the books. The Spurs will be knocking on the door of the playoffs this season, but it’s doubtful they get in.
Predicted finish: 35-37
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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