San Antonio Spurs: How they got here and what’s next after a strong start

San Antonio Spurs huddle (Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)
San Antonio Spurs huddle (Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports) /
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San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio Spurs Dejounte Murray (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

The San Antonio Spurs’ young guys 

I mentioned for the old guys that I could go one-by-one, and for the young guys, I will. These six guys will likely be a big part of the Spurs’ future, so use this as both a “get to know you” for each of them as well as my sales pitch for why they should be your new favorite NBA League Pass watch.

  • Dejounte Murray (G) – His most notable skills are on the defensive end, where he looks like a 6-foot-4 version of Ben Simmons lite with his length and instincts to play passing lanes, but what stands out this year is his growth as a scorer. He’s at his best getting downhill or into his much-improved pull-up jumper in the mid-range, but he’s also become a great decision maker and proven capable of taking on the responsibility of being a lead guard in the NBA.  He’s in the top 15 for assist/turnover ratio among all players with a usage rate of over 20 percent (minimum 20 games played) and is the most valuable piece of their young core.
  • Derrick White (G) – White’s season has been limited to just eight games so far due to a left toe fracture suffered in January and then NBA health and safety protocols shortly after his return, but when he plays the Spurs win. They’ve won the last five games he’s played, and in his limited sample size, White is part of the Spurs’ two best 2-man, 3-man, and 4-man lineups, as well as their best 5-man unit per (minimum 5 games and 10 minutes per game). Along with Murray, White is another guard that has both size and the ability to be either the primary or secondary creator for the offense. Hopefully, he and the rest of his teammates in health and safety protocols will be ready to go after the All-Star break.
  • Keldon Johnson (F)- A lot about Keldon Johnson’s game doesn’t make sense, but it’s worked so far in his breakout season. He’s averaging 14 points and nearly seven rebounds per game but doesn’t really have a position. Most would say he’s an undersized small forward at 6-foot-5 and isn’t particularly strong or athletic, but he’s still one of the most productive players on the team. Johnson is an okay 3-point shooter but his best skill is as a finisher around the basket, where he displays a relentless mindset and elite touch to make tough shots over defenders much bigger than him. That same relentlessness has made him one of their best rebounders and earned him a consistent spot in the starting lineup.
  • Lonnie Walker (G) – Walker is the best athlete on the Spurs’ roster but this season he’s taken advantage of the increased minutes after Derrick White’s injury to show that he’s much more than just a flashy dunker. Walker hasn’t shown an ability to run the offense, but he could end up being the best shooter of the group. Nearly 47 percent of his shots come from behind the 3-point line so he’s certainly not shy about letting it fly and led their late comeback by taking and making big shots down the stretch in their March 1st overtime loss against Brooklyn. If Walker can continue his development as a shooter and maximize his physical tools on the defensive end then he has the potential to be a quality 3-and-D wing.
  • Jakob Poeltl (C) – A former throw-in for the Kawhi Leonard trade in 2018, and now he’s the best interior defender that no one talks about in the NBA. Poeltl took advantage of LaMarcus Aldridge’s hip injury and has posted 10 points, 11 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per 36 minutes this season. He also boasts the best defensive field goal percentage against 2 point shots of any player in the league, just ahead of well-known rim protectors like Rudy Gobert, Myles Turner, and Jarrett Allen (minimum 20 games played and 10 shots defended per game).
  • Devin Vassell (G/F) – Vassell was made to be a San Antonio Spur. If you watch him individually nothing blows you away about his game, but he’s perfect in a team construct. On offense, he moves well without the ball and cuts hard to make the defense react while also being a knock-down shooter when open threes come his way. And defensively, he combines a high motor with a high basketball IQ to be a very reliable team defender, especially for a rookie. An increased opportunity will come and production shouldn’t be far behind – Vassell will play in the NBA for a long time.