Leave it to the Spurs to make the most of a seemingly untenable situation. Forced to trade away the future in Kawhi Leonard along with Danny Green for DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl, in addition to losing Dejounte Murray to a torn ACL in the preseason, San Antonio integrated the new pieces seamlessly while uncovering another important cog along the way (Derrick White). Ushering in a new era of Spurs basketball, they also matched an NBA record for most consecutive playoff appearances (22), and nearly unseated the second-seeded Denver Nuggets in the opening round. Murray returns for 2019-20, and the expectation internally is for San Antonio to remain competitive.
> 30 Teams in 30 Days: San Antonio Spurs
Stability and in-house player development remain franchise pillars, so the Spurs made few moves over the summer in terms of acquisitions. Instead, they shifted the foundation of their stability by changing the management structure. San Antonio promoted former GM and two-time NBA executive of the year, R.C. Buford, to chief executive officer, and moved Brian Wright into his spot as GM. Most importantly, the organization locked up coach Gregg Popovich for another three years with a new contract. … The coaching staff also changed. With assistants Ettore Messina (Olimpia Milano) and Ime Udoka (Philadelphia 76ers) departing, San Antonio added future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan to Popovich’s bench along with Will Hardy ... Holdover Becky Hammon hasn’t been named the team’s lead assistant, but given Popovich’s penchant for ejections -- including two in one week last season -- there’s a chance this season she becomes the first woman to serve as coach in an NBA game. … On the player front, San Antonio traded for veteran DeMarre Carroll and added Trey Lyles in free agency ...
1. Stingy defense needs to return. A perennial presence among the league's top defenses under Popovich, the Spurs slipped to an astonishing 20th (115.5 points allowed per 100 possessions) last season. Defense is the foundation to everything the Spurs do. Popovich won’t let it happen again.
2. Young guards are the future. The Spurs were giddy last summer about the progress Murray displayed in open gym. But a torn ACL last preseason derailed that, forcing White onto the floor. A then-second-year man, White delivered with 15.1 points and three assists per game in the playoffs. This duo should form one of the NBA’s best defensive backcourts for years to come.
3. Don’t forget about Lonnie Walker IV. Missed 17 games as a rookie due to a knee injury, but absolutely lit it up in summer league, averaging 30 points per game while shooting 58 percent from the field. Athleticism and versatility should get him into the rotation this season. Watch out.
MAN ON THE SPOT
Deeply hurt by the trade from Toronto, DeRozan handled it with class, putting together arguably his best all-around season in Year 1 with the Spurs. DeRozan connected on his best shooting percentage since his rookie year (48.1) while tallying the best assist (6.2) and rebounding (6) averages of his career. With San Antonio considering signing him to a max extension, DeRozan is now working diligently to improve 3-point shooting.
Dejounte Murray | (DNP in 2018-19)
Improved shooting and elite defensive skills make for a future bright, but he may start season coming off bench.
Derrick White | 9.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.9 apg
Popovich said what held back White in past was a lack of confidence, but that’s no longer the case.
DeMar DeRozan | 21.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 6.2 apg
Even if he misses, Popovich will still want him shooting more 3s this season.
LaMarcus Aldridge | 21.3 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 1.3 bpg
Hit nearly 52% while taking almost two fewer shots. His game is aging like one of Popovich's vintage wines.
Jakob Poeltl | 5.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.2 apg
Ramped up training intensity this summer to take “a significant step forward.”
Patty Mills | 9.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 3.0 apg
Coming off a strong showing in international play, Mills is the longest-tenured Spur.
DeMarre Carroll | 11.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.3 apg
Adds shooting, defense and chemistry with DeRozan from their time together in Toronto.
Rudy Gay | 13.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.6 apg
Gay could begin the season as a starter depending on how the Spurs handle their young guards.
THE BOTTOM LINE
No longer viewed as one of the league’s elite, San Antonio still has the leadership to go with a solid blend of youth and experience to pull off a surprising postseason run. The Spurs are in transition, but they should at least break the NBA record with their 23rd consecutive playoff appearance.
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