Why the San Antonio Spurs Will Miss the Playoffs Next Season!
No franchise in the NBA has been more consistent than the San Antonio Spurs. They have the longest playoff run in the NBA at 20 years. Gregg Popovich is the best coach in the league and every year gets the most out of his players. Last year was no different. Star Kawhi Leonard played only nine games, and the Spurs still won 47 games.
They reinvented their offense around LaMarcus Aldridge, and he had an All-NBA season. It ended up in a five-game loss to the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs, which to a team that is usually a championship contender, is disappointing. Still, the point is they remained competitive, relevant and they adapted to their personnel as they always do.
Then significant changes happened this offseason. You might have heard, but they traded Kawhi and Danny Green to the Toronto Raptors for Demar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a protected first round pick. DeRozan joins Aldridge as the stars of the team, and the Spurs plan on being competitive even without their superstar. San Antonio never had any plans of rebuilding. They rejected Kawhi offers built around young assets and draft picks. Pop doesn't have a lot of time left, and right or wrong wants to remain in the hunt.
The Spurs drafted Lonnie Walker in the first round and Chimezie Metu in the second round and added Marco Belinelli and Dante Cunningham in free agency. They lost Tony Parker and Kyle Anderson in free agency, and Manu Ginobili is on the fence about returning for one more year, but it sounds like he will play.
A fair amount of change, but the rest of the roster is in intact. As usual, the west is brutal, and there probably won't be a lot of difference between the three seed and the nine seed. So where do the Spurs rank in this death race?
Dejounte Murray is a lock to start at the point, and he is already an elite defender. He can make opposing point guards miserable and is an expert at playing the passing lanes. Murray should be an All-NBA defender this season; he is that good. The concern is the other end. He shot 26% from three last year on only 34 attempts and isn't much better at the free throw line shooting 70%. He has some holes, but he should be better this season.
Patty Mills is going into his ninth year and is coming off a down year. He is still a good shooter from deep and in the midrange, and he is a low turnover player, but he is streaky. Mills never gets to the rim or draws fouls and is a limited playmaker, so he is out there to get buckets. Defensively he brings nothing, and he is trending in the wrong direction.
Derrick White is promising. The Spurs drafted him in the first round last year, and he didn't play much, but he is coming off a strong Summer League. Look for him to play more this year. White is a good shooter and a solid defender, who in the summer league showed some improved passing. Expect a good year from him off the bench, and don't be surprised if he starts to take some of Mills minutes.
DeRozan is a star, coming off perhaps his best offensive season. He is a midrange master, an expert finisher, and a much-improved passer. His three-point jump shot is improved, but it is just not there yet. Defensively he is challenged to be nice. He has never been good on that end, despite having immense physical tools. Popovich will help him, and he may have his best defensive season ever, but I doubt it becomes strength. His offense should still be good, so I would expect around the same numbers he posted last year with Toronto.
Belinelli was a free agent acquisition, who has spent time with the Spurs before. He presents a dilemma for the Spurs. They need his three-point shooting, but defensively he is a train wreck. He will be a consistent bench player for the Spurs, and he will bring much-needed shooting, but against good teams, he will be tough to play.
Manu is Manu. I never doubt him even though he is 41. He will bring it when he needs to, don't expect it on a consistent basis.
Rudy Gay was solid for the Spurs last season, but he is best as a small ball four. He is on the downside of his career and can't be counted on to stay healthy. Gay can still get to the rim, draw fouls, and is a better defender than given credit for. Expect about the same from him this season.
Aldridge was a monster last season. He carried the Spurs offense and played some excellent defense as well. In the post he is dominant, and maybe the best midrange big in the game. The question is can he be that good again? He is not getting any younger.
Gasol is a quality big; who can rebound, pass and even added a solid three ball. Defensively he is limited, but he is long and knows where to be. He is 38, so the clock is ticking.
Bertans is a shooting big, who may need to play more this year for the Spurs to get more shooting. The problem is defense and his lack of position.
Then there is Poeltl the young big from Toronto. He can finish at the rim, draw fouls (even though he stinks from the line), he is a good screener, he is a Spur. On defense he is a good interior defender, but not so much on the perimeter, that's why he was glued to the bench in the playoffs. He will fit the Spurs scheme, and he is still improving.
The rest of the roster doesn't figure to get many minutes, except rookie Lonnie Walker, but with him, we will have to wait and see. I think Murray, White, and Bertans will be better this year, the rest of the roster is either trending downwards or will be about the same.
Last year the Spurs were 4th in defense and 17th in offense. Defensively they take away threes, protect the rim and dare you to take mid-range jumpers. They don't give you easy point in transition, at the free throw line or off offensive rebounds. The principles will be the same this year; the personnel will not. DeRozan, Belinelli and the rookie Walker are swapping Kyle Anderson, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard out. You think that group has the 8th best three-point defense again?
Can Aldridge, Gasol, and Poeltl again protect the rim at such an elite level? A bit of a fall off is coming. Now, they will still be good based on Pop and their scheme, but a drop from 4th to 9th is significant.
Offensively they have two legit bucket getters in DeRozan and Aldridge. They can both carry an offense for stretches. Besides that, the only real shooters are Mills, Belinelli, and Bertans. Spacing will be tight, and all three of those players are bad defenders. There are a lot more one-sided players than Pop is used to dealing with.
Then there is the question of who starts? My guess at first would be Murray, Mills with DeRozan at the three with Aldridge and Gasol. Expect it to change a lot throughout the season depending on matchups.
They will be a slow paced team again, a low turnover team, crash the boards and feast in the midrange. I expect they will be around a league average offense again. With DeRozan maybe a little bump, so say they got from 17th to 15th. The 15th ranked offense and the 9th ranked defense is a very good team, probably a team that wins 45 games, but that may not be enough to make the playoffs in the west and here's why.
Western Conference Competition
Golden State and Houston are the top two teams and are locks. Then there is OKC, who gets back Andre Roberson while adding Nerlens Noel and the ultimate addition by subtraction in getting rid of Carmelo Anthony. I think they are a lock. Utah should be a lock as well. They are a top-five defense, who has a rising star in Donovan Mitchell, who will be even better, this season and the defensive player of the year in Rudy Gobert.
Then there is New Orleans who made it to the second round last year and have a superstar hitting the apex of his powers in Anthony Davis. They added Elfrid Payton and Julius Randle, plus a full season of Davis and Nikola Mirotic will give opposing frontcourts nightmares
A lot of people are saying the Lakers may not make it and I get the concerns. You can pick LeBron James to miss the playoffs at your peril; I think he is in, even if it’s an eight seed. Also, I think Brandon Ingram is about to explode.
Then there is the Denver Nuggets. They have a full season of Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic is a budding a superstar, they have an elite offense, and could have Isaiah Thomas and Michael Porter Jr off the bench. People are sleeping on the Nuggets.
Minnesota was a three seed last year before Jimmy Butler got hurt, which dropped them to eight. With Butler and Karl Anthony Towns, they will be good. A possibly combustible locker room is the concern, and if the Spurs do get in, this would be my pick for a team that drops out, but I trust Butler and the Wolves talent.
I think the Spurs are the ninth best team in the West. All eight of these teams have more firepower and balance. San Antonio will fall off a little on defense, and their offense won't be good enough to make up for it. I will probably be wrong because they are the Spurs, but I am going on record saying the Spurs will miss the playoffs next season.