By Jonas Clark
There’s arguably been no season for the Austin Spurs where the eyes of San Antonio were upon them than the 2019-2020 season. In a time of uncertainty and struggle for an identity in the post-Big 3 era, one year after the fallout from Kawhi Leonard’s departure via trade, the state’s Capitol was the “Growing Ground” for what fans hope to be the core to another dynastic run for the silver and black.
It is almost a given each year after the NBA Draft that whoever the Spurs select will be sent to Austin. However, the 2019 draft brought the franchise’s third-highest selection in the last 22 years since landing Tim Duncan number one overall. It also was the first time that the organization was adding two first-round players since Kawhi Leonard (via trade) and Corey Joseph in 2011. For a NBA roster heavy with veteran contracts, the next phase for a younger roster was just up the road – literally.
When Luka Samanic and Keldon Johnson were selected at 19 and 29 overall respectively, their positions and talents fit spaces of need in San Antonio, but if you’re a Spurs fan, you already knew they were headed to Austin. At just 19-years-old, Project Spurs’ Michael De Leon noted in his draft profiles, “As a combo forward in the NBA, he’ll have some work to do in strength and conditioning, but he has a ton of potential.” Though a more complete prospect, Johnson too wasn’t quite an NBA-ready product, and still needed time to learn a system that has been said to take time, even for league veterans.
Along with the two first-rounders, Austin was the primary home for both of the Spurs’ two-way contracts – Quinndary Weatherspoon (2019 second-round) and Drew Eubanks (2018 UFA), as well as 2018 second-round pick, Chimezie Metu. Of course, there are other roster names of note in Austin veterans Jeff Ledbetter and Jordan Green, college standout Dedric Lawson, 2019 NABC D-II Player of the Year Daulton Hommes, and Kavion Pippen, nephew to, yes, Chicago Bulls’ great Scottie Pippen. So as the struggles in San Antonio continued to what currently sits as a 27-36 record, good for the 12th seed in the Western Conference, the progress in Austin became that much more important. Let’s take a look at how Austin’s season stood when the G-League ended their year on March 15th.
On the season, the Austin Spurs finished with a 24-18 record, going 12-9 at home in the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park. The record was good for third in the Western Conference, with just eight games left, including a scheduled March 27th game against the Agua Caliente Clippers [record], an affiliate of the L.A. Clippers interestingly enough. With just a three-game lead over the #6 seed (cut-off in the 12 team G-League format), the team could have missed the playoffs, especially with the injuries to San Antonio at the time; Austin was just 5-5 over their last ten games, ending the season on a loss to the South Bay Lakers. At the same time, Salt Lake City only held a six-game lead over Austin for the top seed in the conference, so anything was possible.
The roster saw a couple of changes this year. At the end of December, Austin traded the returning player rights of Josh Heustis to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Houston Rockets affiliate) for Angel Rodriguez. A point guard, Angel started 13 of the 15 games he played in with Austin, averaging 9 points, 4.9 assists and nearly 2 steals in 25 minutes per appearance. In January, with Rodriguez finding his fit, the Spurs made one more move and sent a now expendable Matt Farrell to the Suns’ affiliate in exchange for the returning rights to guard/forward Peter Jok. Jok didn’t join Austin or San Antonio this season.
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It is worth noting here that in the shortened NBA season as it stands, all five of the Austin Spurs that were eligible to get called up to San Antonio did, and all rookies made their debut.
As a unit, the Austin Spurs excelled in the areas where one would expect a Spurs affiliate to do so, outside of defense. Austin led the G-League in assists with 27 per game, ranked second shooting at 48.1%, and fourth in free throw percentage at 76.5%. The team struggled defensively, ranking 18th in defensive rating, allowing 108.8 points per 100 possessions – a given in today’s NBA. If blocks are your thing (they definitely are for me), the team’s 5.8 blocks per game is a defensive positive, and good for fourth in the G-League.
Individually, some of the leaders you could expect, and others may surprise you. Dedric Lawson was the only player to appear in all 42 games for Austin, averaging almost 27 minutes per outing, which gives me hope for his future with the franchise. Keldon Johnson was the leader in minutes per game, right at 30, and led the team in scoring at 20, earning him a Midseason All G-League Team selection. Galen Robinson Jr. was the leading distributor at 5.4 assists per game, and Chimezie Metu cleaned the glass at a rate of 9.1 rebounds per game, narrowly missing a double-double average on the year. The deep ball was not a strong suit for the team, though Jeff Ledbetter was the most consistent by volume, hitting 36.3% of his attempts from 3-point range.
With the NBA season still on hold, it is unsure if we’ve seen all that we will from Keldon Johnson, Luka Samanic, Chimezie Metu, Quinndary Weatherspoon or Drew Eubanks, even with the league’s players pushing to resume. For what it was, it was a fun year in Austin to have what appear to be pieces to the puzzle for San Antonio moving forward. Will Keldon take the leap like Lonnie and not look back? With a summer of NBA weight training, what will Luka look like next season? With contract decisions needing to be made on Eubanks (FA), Metu (non-guaranteed 2020-2021), and Weatherspoon (FA) – will we see them back? We’ll just have to wait ‘til the league resumes, or the next season drops… whenever that is.
What did you think about this season for the Austin Spurs? Did they meet your expectations? What were your favorite moments? Let me know in the comments below, or reach me on Twitter @JarkClonas or through @ProjectSpurs.