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Keldon Johnson, San Antonio Spurs

Editorials

The San Antonio Spurs are and will be dangerous

The San Antonio Spurs are and will be dangerous

The San Antonio Spurs are inevitable, and there is no Tony Stark to stop them. Every year they are a lock to make the playoffs. There have been near setbacks, such as Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili retiring, a slew of superteams being formed in their conference, and their new star, Kawhi Leonard, demanding a trade.

Yet the Spurs have stood tall through all those testaments of strength. They’ve made the playoffs every year except for one since the 1989-1990 season. In that same span, they have secured five NBA titles, with their most recent championship coming in the 2013-2014 season. 

Nowadays, the Spurs roster looks a bit different. In return for Leonard, they netted DeMar DeRozan, a talented scorer, who at 6’7” is a matchup problem for most defenders throughout the league. The second pillar of San Antonio’s roster is LaMarcus Aldridge, one of the few back-to-the-basket big men left in the league. He may also be the best in that category.

They are not the same level of stars who once graced the AT&T Center court, but both are all-star caliber players. Aldridge is a seven-time all-star and made the Western Conference team each of the past two years. DeRozan is a four-time all-star. 

Aldridge’s game has withstood the test of time and he’s become an even more efficient player as he has aged. Last season he averaged 21.3 points on 51.9% shooting from the field. 

His game has not quite expanded to the 3-point line, although he has experimented a bit with shooting the long ball, but he’s so good at scoring from mid-range that he can still space the floor for San Antonio. Outside of scoring the ball, LMA makes a large impact. He led the team in rebounds (9.2) and blocks (1.3) per game last season, and was top five in assists (2.4) and steals (0.5). It’s remarkable how talented and impactful Aldridge has remained even at 33 years old. 

Last season was seemingly an adjustment year for DeRozan, as for the first time in his career he would be donning a jersey for a team other than the Toronto Raptors. He handled it fairly well. His scoring remained nearly the same at 21.2 points per game compared to 23 the season before. He shot 48.1% from the field, his best percentage since his rookie year, but his 3-point shooting dropped all the way down to 15.6%, an indicator that his improved 31% shooting from deep in the 2017-2018 season was a farce.

Like Aldridge, DeRozan does the majority of his damage in the mid-range area. Their deadliness from what is considered to be the least efficient zone on the court only exemplifies the oddity of it considering that both players are at their best there. He averaged career highs in assists (6.2) and rebounds (6.0) per game, a sign of growth and newfound versatility. 

The real intrigue with the Spurs, however, lies in their youth. Derrick White is a rising star. After playing just 139 minutes in his rookie season, White started 55 games for San Antonio last season and averaged 25.8 minutes per game. The opportunity Gregg Popovich gave White surely paid off. He averaged 9.9 points, 3.9 assists, 3.7 rebounds, and one steal per game. Defensively he showed that he is one of the best defending point guards in the league already. 

White even earned an invite to the Team USA Select team this summer. Again he capitalized after being given the opportunity and played so well that he earned a promotion to the Team USA roster that will compete at the FIBA World Clup. 

The Spurs have a diamond in the rough with White, who looks ready to be their franchise point guard. And reinforcements are set to join White in the backcourt.

Devastating news broke for San Antonio broke as the season drew near last year. Dejounte Murray suffered a torn ACL and it was announced he’d miss the entire year. It was a crushing blow to a team that was counting on the thrilling Murray to help lead their team. 

Now, he is back, and it doesn’t look like he’s lost an ounce of athleticism. 

Murray has great potential. At 6’5” he has the size and athleticism to be a menace defensively much like White. In the 2017-2018 season, he averaged 8.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game. His kryptonite, like seemingly every big name on the Spurs roster, is his shooting. He shot just 26.5% from deep while taking just 0.4 attempts per game. He was not comfortable nor efficient shooting the ball from distance. With other non-shooting threats in DeRozan and Aldridge, that will have to change. And at just 22 years old, he has the greatest chance to improve as a shooter. And to be frank, in today’s game, he has to learn how to shoot. 

If Summer League was any indication, San Antonio has another young prospect ready to take on a major role next season in Lonnie Walker. A 6’5” swingman, Walker was electric in SL, averaging 24.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, and an assist per game. He showed a nice scoring game off the dribble and has elite bounce. Walker is a mere 20 years old. He’s still plenty raw and has tons of growing to do. He somehow slipped to the Spurs at 18 in the 2018 NBA Draft and has given them another young talent that elevates their potential. 

The Spurs had a strong draft, too. They added Luka Samanic and somehow Keldon Johnson slipped to them at pick 29 in the first round. Johnson was considered a lottery talent. He’s another wing, but this time around, it’s a wing that comes into the league with perhaps the prettiest stroke in the entire rookie class. He and Samanic add more variety and youth to a team that keeps getting younger. 

The Spurs aren’t going anywhere. They aren’t going anywhere now, and it doesn’t look like they are going anywhere anytime soon.