San Antonio Spurs: What would a youth movement look like?

San Antonio Spurs Dejounte Murray (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
San Antonio Spurs Dejounte Murray (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

It’s time for the San Antonio Spurs to embrace a youth movement

As the NBA is getting set to restart this month, the San Antonio Spurs find themselves in a place of uncertainty. Their star big man LaMarcus Aldridge is out for the rest of the season with shoulder surgery. The Spurs’ other big-name player DeMar DeRozan could be playing his last games in San Antonio, and for the first time in two decades, the Spurs could actually miss the playoffs.

Is there a silver lining to this uncertainty? There just might be. After two years of catering the team’s offense to the outdated games of Aldridge and DeRozan, this upcoming slate of games in Orlando might end up being the perfect test run for the sneaky young core that is on the Spurs roster right now.

When the duo of Aldridge and DeRozan was on the court, the Spurs were running an offense that was heavy in the post and mid-range game. The Spurs ranked fourth this season in post-up frequency and led the league in mid-range shots. Adding to that, the team was 26th in 3-pointers made a game at only 10, and sat dead in the middle of the league in pace.

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The Spurs were simply playing a really ancient offense, and a lot the team’s focus was on their veteran duo, they served as the primary focus while the young Spurs players operated around them.

On defense, the results have been even worse, with the Spurs holding the 24th ranked defense in the league, which is the worst they have had under Gregg Popovich. A big part of that came from Aldridge and DeRozan’s lack of defensive impact this season along with the need to start horrid defender Bryn Forbes to give the team spacing around its veteran duo.

The team suffered when Aldridge was in charge of defending around the rim, and the 3-point defense from Bryn Forbes, DeRozan, and Rudy Gay has been one of the worst in the entire league.

Now with LaMarcus Aldridge out, there are about 33 minutes a game that needs to be filled, and this would be the perfect opportunity for coach Popovich to really infuse the talent of his younger players into the roster and revamp the team on both sides of the ball.

The youth that is on the Spurs roster often goes overlooked, but they are actually full of potential. The group of Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV, Trey Lyles, and Jakob Poeltl are pretty impressive as is the duo of rookies the Spurs have on their G-League team in Luka Samanic and Keldon Johnson.

What do the young San Antonio Spurs bring to the table?

The youth on the Spurs roster brings some pretty unique talents to the Spurs roster right now, with talents that can be taken advantage of must more now that Aldridge is out for the rest of the season. When looking at the youth on their roster that talents that stand out are shooting touch, defensive versatility, and speed.

The trio of Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Lonnie Walker IV have all flashed the ability to be ball-handling two-way players on the Spurs for years to come. In Orlando, they might come in handy for their versatility and being able to switch roles on both offense and defense.

Along the frontcourt, Trey Lyles has the potential to be a solid stretch four who can come in running a lot of the actions that Spurs historically have liked to run with their big man via screen-setting or post offense. The Spurs really need to get him up to at least an average defensive level though.

Jakob Poeltl is a young player still, and he feels like a true rim-runner and shot blocker. He sets mean screens and has shown the ability to be an active defender with a speed that is above-average for his size. He really fits the mold the Spurs had in a big man like Tiago Splitter.

Rookies Luka Samanic and Keldon Johnson are really still taking time to develop, they are on the same development plan the aforementioned young players took before joining the Spurs so chances are if they play it will only be sparingly.

What can the San Antonio Spurs do with their youth? 

With the youth on the roster, the Spurs actually don’t need to completely build new strategies. Gregg Popovich and his staff can actually go back into their bag of tricks and look to 2014 for how the Spurs ran the team.

With the Spurs offense this year they catered to Aldridge and DeRozan because they were the best players on the team and their skillsets were best in the post and mid-range. With the talents of Murray, White, and Lonnie Walker seeing increased time and joining DeMar DeRozan the Spurs can look to some of the offensive strategies they used for their 2014 championship run.

The Spurs offense as designed in 2014 was egalitarian and also took advantage of multiple ball-handlers in players like Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills, Cory Joesph, and Kawhi Leonard.

That 2014 offense used those ball-handlers at a high rate through two types of plays. The first being the ball-handlers would run the Spurs’ pick-and-roll lift set along with a pick-and-roll set to set up a triple threat. That triple threat being the ball-handler, a roll man rim threat, and a wing 3-point shooter which could give the Spurs a clean threat from anywhere on the floor.

Secondly, they ran weak-side exchanges that would often distract defenses by having ball-handlers switch possession and confuse the defense to get positional mismatches for easy 3’s, and open drives.

Look for the Spurs to go back to using that with Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV, and DeMar DeRozan. In doing that the Spurs will bring back an offense that is much more modern to today’s NBA and be great for talents of these players. A side benefit will be the Spurs will get an opportunity to actually play Dejounte Murray and Derrick White together which they haven’t done all season.

The Murray-White duo is something that a lot of Spurs fans and even the duo themselves have wanted to see. With both players being such great ball-handlers they could really pressure defenses in Orlando. When both are disciplined and engaged they can actually drastically improve the Spurs defense as well as they are more equipped to guard against the 3-point shot.

Along with the backcourt players, this move-in strategy could actually benefit the Spurs other frontcourt players besides LaMarcus Aldridge as well. Though Aldridge is best suited making plays in the post, the team’s other big men Lyles and Poeltl have different strengths.

Utilizing Lyles as more of a 3-point shooter from fading off in the pick-and-pop would drastically make the team more of a 3-point threat. Lyles’ 38 percent stroke from deep this year would be well utilized in the ball-handler based set plays mentioned above.

Poeltl, on the other hand, is best-suited to be an excellent screen setter and roll man that will be valuable to the Spurs offense. An easy target in the paint, and an improving shooter, he too would be able to handle the Spurs shift in strategy. More importantly, Poeltl comes in and provides the interior anchor that they lacked.

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All together filling in Aldridge’s loss with the younger players on the San Antonio Spurs roster would be the right move to fully assess where the team is heading in the future. With the uncertainty for players like DeRozan, Bryn Forbes, and even Aldridge San Antonio might be best suited in giving their young players more minutes along some of their veterans. They never know, they might just find a lot of talent worth building on.