San Antonio Spurs: Is this San Antonio squad a playoff team in the West?

NBA San Antonio Spurs DeMar DeRozan (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
NBA San Antonio Spurs DeMar DeRozan (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) /

Can Gregg Popovich lead the San Antonio Spurs back to the postseason?

After winning five of their last seven games, including a victory over the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers, the San Antonio Spurs may be back in the playoff picture this season. A return would be a testament to Gregg Popovich’s ability to adapt. Undermanned compared to the rest of the Western Conference, the Hall of Fame coach has figured out his young rotation.

Two years after being acquired for Kawhi Leonard, DeMar DeRozan is in a different stage of his career. He’s not the same volume scorer anymore, but his game has matured. He’s been less of a gunner and more a facilitator, as he’s averaging nearly seven assist a game and taking on more of a role as a leader.

DeRozan may not be a superstar No. 1 option, but he’s this team’s best option and he’s playing some of the best basketball of his career. His 38 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter, helped push San Antonio past the Minnesota Timberwolves in overtime.

Two years after a torn ACL robbed him of his first full year as a starter, Dejounte Murray has started really strong. He’s improved in nearly every category statistically and he’s improved defensively. He recorded his first career triple-double in the win over the Toronto Raptors and he looks to emerge as one of the better starting point guards in the league.

A rise in playing time last led to a second-year leap for Keldon Johnson. He looks like he’s going to be a really good two-way player, with the ability to create his own shot and finish at the rim. He and Murray lead the team in rebounding and the next era of Spurs basketball looks bright.

Lonnie Walker IV is another positive of this youth movement. He’s thrived off the bench and shined even brighter without DeRozan. He’s led the team in scoring during both of the contests without the former All-Star guard. Derrick White is out with a toe injury, but he’s been a key piece to coach Pop’s rotation for a couple of seasons and he’ll like do the same this year.

White’s injury has led to Popovich uncharacteristically giving rookie first round pick Devin Vassell minutes early, and he’s flashed two-way potential, notching a steal in each of the last 10 games.

The youth movement looks brighter than ever in San Antonio, but this team also possesses what every great Spurs team has: good, quality veterans. LaMarcus Aldridge may not be the same player, but he’s still the best big on this squad and an offensive threat who can be counted on.

They’re 7-3 with the former Texas Longhorn big in the lineup. There was a big difference when he played against the Los Angeles Lakers versus the two games he missed against them. The Spurs would beat the defending champions behind his 28 points and they’re going to need his steady, veteran presence if they want to succeed this season.

Rudy Gay and Patty Mills are two of the best bench players in the entire league. Gay has found stability in San Antonio, and his versatility and play in the fourth quarter have been big. The 15-year vet has come a long way, initially known as a high flyer, he’s grown into one of the smarter players in the NBA and he’s played all three frontcourt positions for the Spurs.

Mills is a longtime Popovich player and he’s come up big countless times over his 10 years in San Antonio. Although he’s in a crowded backcourt, he’s in the midst of the best season of his career, averaging career highs offensively. His career-high eight 3’s led the team to a victory over the LA Clippers. Jakob Poeltl has been serviceable and recorded a double-double in a win over the Houston Rockets.

It took a while, but coach Popovich has adapted and implemented small ball into his game plan. He’s gotten experimental with his personnel used four-guard lineups and given Rudy Gay minutes at the five, and gotten positive results. They’ve remained a very sound and discipline team as well, as they average the least turnovers a night. Limiting mistakes will always keep you in games, and the Spurs division is very winnable.

Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks will be in the picture, but the other three teams may not be threats. The Spurs are a better basketball team than the Memphis Grizzlies, and after trading James Harden, the Houston Rockets are leaning towards a rebuild. The New Orleans Pelicans will be the wild card here. Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson present a talented duo, good enough to win this wide-open Southwest Division. This Spurs team may just pull it off though.

This isn’t his best team ever, but Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs could sneak back into the postseason this year. With Demar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge both having expiring deals, they should finish out one of the more underwhelming stretches of Popovich’s career on a high note.

San Antonio has a good crop of young players, and the two vets could become enticing bait at the trade deadline. They could even possibly acquire a young piece to add to this group. Their progression has been key, as it looks like all of them have taken a step forward.

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An accelerated rebuild is what I’d like to call it, as we shouldn’t count out this team returning to the playoffs. A well-coached Gregg Popovich team will never be an easy out.