San Antonio Spurs: A new-look lineup has found bubble success

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

A different San Antonio Spurs in the restart bubble

Before the NBA was getting ready to restart, the San Antonio Spurs looked like they’d be left behind for the first time in two decades. The Spurs showed a reluctance to utilize the 3-point shot, their play relied entirely upon the ancient games of DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, and the youth the team had was buried deep on the depth chart.

Coming into Orlando a few things happened for the Spurs. First, the Spurs loss major components to their team from the regular season – losing both Aldridge and forward Trey Lyles to opt-outs due to injury. This lead to the second big thing that happened to the Spurs, which was legendary coach Gregg Popovich and his amazing staff highlighted by Becky Hammon, Will Hardy, and Tim Duncan going back to the drawing board.

The result was simple, if the Spurs wanted to continue to contend for a playoff spot then they’d need to play their best players to do it. The result was a starting lineup filled with the team’s youngsters. Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV, and Jakob Poeltl all have under five years of NBA experience. Leading the lineup is the veteran DeRozan who has found new-life playing with this lineup at the 4-position.

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What makes this San Antonio Spurs lineup so effective 

Through seven games in the NBA’s restart, the Spurs are 5-2. That 5-2 record is what has the Spurs back in the running to potentially make the NBA playoffs and that lineup has a lot to do with it.

It’s clear to see that the San Antonio coaching staff was inspired by some of the other innovations around the league. After seeing the Golden State Warriors embrace small-ball during their championship runs, other teams around the league have done so especially this season.

Teams like the Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets specifically have shown how valuable a one-to-no big lineup can be. Specifically, when looking at Boston, the Celtics in crunch time play a lineup in which all five players on the court are ball-handlers.

This is what the Spurs have done, Popovich himself has even mentioned that he doesn’t think the Spurs have a legitimate point guard anymore. They have playmakers all along the floor, and the result is that unlike the Aldridge-DeRozan combo looking for post-ups, the Spurs play with much more motion and more emphasis in transition.

Having the youth on the floor allows the Spurs to run much more than have all season but also they have become a much better shooting team. Dejounte Murray has showcased that his jumper has evolved to a smooth looking shot, Lonnie Walker continues to attempt and make 3-point looks, but most importantly Spurs guard Derrick White has broken out as a sharpshooter.

With a deadlier attack from distance, the Spurs are now much harder to defend, but their own defense has improved as well. Murray, White, and Walker all possess size and length that make them ideal for guarding the perimeter. Murray has shown that he’s bounced back to his pre-ACL All-Defensive Team leave. White has developed into an excellent perimeter defender and one of the best shot-blocking guards in the league while Walker continues to flash his own strong defense.

The best part is having Poeltl playing more minutes gives the Spurs a legit rim-running shot-blocking big which is more traditional to the modern NBA. With this unit, the Spurs have shown they have adjusted much more to the modern NBA and how basketball is played now rather than the throwback style they were stuck in before.

The result is that the Spurs have gone from only attempting 28 3’s a game to attempting 30 which is enough of an increase to make their shooting something defenses need to take account. More impressive though is just how much the team’s ball-movement has improved. Their assist numbers have leaped from 24 per game to 27, which would’ve ranked first in the NBA if they moved the ball like that the entire season.

Building on bubble success

The Spurs are a bit stuck due to Portland, Phoenix, and Memphis all still fighting for the 8th seed, the team would need to win their last game against the Jazz and then need losses from the Grizzlies and Suns to make their way in.

Playoffs or not though, the fight that this Spurs team has shown is impressive. They weren’t going to just lay down in the bubble. Popovich and his staff did just what makes them the best program in the NBA and that was getting the players to buy-in.

Next. The NBA needs the Phoenix Suns to make the playoffs. dark

If the Spurs do miss the playoffs, expect the team to add another contributor to this team in the lottery, and then with Aldridge and Lyles back maybe a much more balanced roster will be right back in playoff contention again. If things break well, maybe Popovich builds one last contender before he walks away from the game.