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San Antonio Spurs: 5 big questions for 2021-22 NBA season

Spurs, Gregg Popovich, Jakob Poeltl, Keldon Johnson, Dejounte Murray

The San Antonio Spurs have started the season off in a good way. In their first game, they won in major fashion versus the Orlando Magic, winning by 26. However, the second game against the Denver Nuggets went sour and the Spurs lost. Still, beating an opponent in the Magic they should be winning against is great. Also, the Nuggets are a title contender that has the MVP of last season in their roster, so losing by six for such a young squad is a good sign.

Regardless of their opening games, the Spurs are entering this season similarly to the last one, without expectations. There are a ton of uncertainties about their squad and here are five big questions that can be highlighted for this season specifically.

Who will replace Gregg Popovich as head coach? 

Popovich is a legend of basketball. Five titles with the Spurs, 20+ seasons of playoff basketball in a row, and all but two of them – with 50+ wins. The current US National Team coach has been in the coaching position for 24 years now and it is clear that this will be either his last season or second to last. Thus, the biggest question is who is replacing him?

The obvious answer is Becky Hammon. Hammon is a great assistant coach and has been with the franchise for seven years now. She was overlooked for many openings in the past but that has left the possibility for her to become the head coach in San Antonio. Hammon also broke the glass ceiling already many times. She was the first female acting coach, the first female coach that won the Summer League, and the first woman to be on the All-Star coaching staff.

Thus, Hammon simply must be the choice, but others that could be considered are Terry Stots and Stan Van Gundy if they are without a job by the end of the Spurs season.

How much can Jakob Poeltl improve? 

The Austrian center has been underwhelming since entering the league. He was selected ninth in 2016 by the Toronto Raptors and did not fulfill any expectations coming in. His career averages right now are 6.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.2 assists, which is very underwhelming. Last season, he increased his averages but it is still not enough to be a valuable part of this Spurs team.

Fortunately for the former Raptor, he started the season in a good way. He had 12 points and 13 rebounds in the win against the Magic and then added 15 points in a close loss to the Nuggets. Even though he was not the difference-maker in either of these, it is important for Poeltl to have good minutes and good contributions to the team. That will be key for his NBA future, regardless of is it for the Spurs or elsewhere.

Can Lonnie Walker IV improve offensively?

Walker has been a defensive phenom ever since he entered the league. A stat that shows this in the best light is the Spurs defensive rating without Lonnie Walker on the floor last season, which was 115.3, according to Statmuse.com. To put this into perspective, that was the defensive rating of the Portland Trailblazers last season, which was 29th in the league.

However, the offense is an issue. It is clear that the Spurs want Walker to be a bench guard that comes in and holds the team together while the starters are resting. Without a reliable offensive game, it is rough to see how Walker can impact the game. Usually, guys like Lou Williams and Dennis Schroder are sixth men due to their offensive play, while defenders usually start so their lacking offensive play is covered by the starters. It will be interesting to see what will happen in this segment this year.

Can Keldon Johnson add a three-point shot? 

Johnson is clearly the new focal point of the Spurs. Of course, Dejounte Murray is still here and he has tons of potential. However, Johnson has been the leader in the preseason and Popovich brought him to Tokyo this summer to play with the national team. Clearly, the potential of Johnson is something Popovich, and by extension the Spurs, believes in.

However, Johnson has a huge deficiency and it is his three-point shot. The small forward is shooting 35.4% from behind the arc for his entire career but only on 2.3 attempts. This season, he is 0/3 for three in the two games played. Still, his 27-point game versus the Nuggets was a sign that even without a lot of range, Johnson can be great.

One positive for the Spurs in this realm is past experience. When Kawhi Leonard entered the league, he also did not shoot tons of threes. However, the development was there and Leonard turned into a real long-range threat by this point of his career. Maybe Johnson will be able to at least somewhat replicate that.

Will the Spurs tank or go for the play-in? 

It is not in the Spurs fabric to tank, or it should not be. Out of their 55 seasons in the league, they made the playoffs in 47, which is incredible. However, while they pulled absolutely everything out of their big players, this would be the season where tanking would not be a bad idea. It would be hard to sell it to Popovich, who is used to success, but it would be the correct move.

The Spurs will need a lot of luck to make the playoffs or even the play-in in this Western Conference. This season, by the minute allocation in the first two games, will be the year of player development. If the players they have develop in the correct way, the Spurs might be a force to be reckoned with – in about two years.