The development of the San Antonio Spurs’ youth was always key to 2019-2020 being a successful season for the franchise in the long term. With playoff hopes fading fast, fans and the front office alike will be even more focused on assessing how these players are growing and determining their future potential.
There has been substantial progress in players like Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker IV this season (although many fans wish their roles were even larger). What the management sees in their young players will inform upcoming roster and contract negotiations, most notably Derrick White’s contract extension talks this summer.
Even through this up-and-down season, the Spurs’ individual players have made tangible progress. The Spurs are looking to rebuild a team that can again contend at the top of the West. These young players very well could become good enough to be parts of that next great Spurs team. However, none have proven this definitively, and all still have room for growth. For this last section of the season, here are some areas for further development and improvement to keep an eye on.
Note: The young players analyzed here are those 25 years old or younger and who have played at least 15 games this season.
This week: Lonnie Walker IV, Chimezie Metu, Dejounte Murray.
Next week: Jakob Poeltl, Trey Lyles, Derrick White
Lonnie Walker IV / 21 years old / Under Contract Until 2022
Attacking the Rim with Aggression
Walker has spoken about Pop’s challenge to him to improve his defense and decision-making this year, and this effort has been paying dividends. His increasing grasp of the Spurs system is evident as he picks and chooses his spots to explode to the rim with his athleticism, while at other times taking a comfortable pull-up jumper or swinging the ball to a teammate.
However, his drives lose effectiveness when he settles for a floater (30.3% shooting from 5-9 feet) rather than getting all the way to the rim (where he shoots 56.2%). He uses his athleticism to beat his perimeter defender and will throw down monstrous dunks if the lane is available – but rarely does he use that speed and strength to physically challenge defenders and draw fouls.
While his ability to take off far from the rim and adjust in the air is impressive, he frequently seeks to avoid contact rather than attacking defenders:
That’s not Rudy Gobert at the rim – that’s Danilo Gallinari. Lonnie has the length, strength, and explosiveness to either get a better look or get to the free-throw line. He has a slightly below-average free throw rate, despite a large portion of his possessions consisting of strong drives to the rim.
For now, Walker is an inefficient scorer even at a low 18% usage rate. This will be a problem as the Spurs look to him to take a more prominent offensive role. Refusing to settle and instead generating dunks, easy layups, and free throws will help him develop into a more reliable and consistent scorer.
Chimezie Metu / 22 / Under Contract Until 2021 (2020-2021 non-guaranteed)
Metu has seen only limited minutes this year. He has athleticism and skill, but so far he has not combined them consistently enough to prove he deserves a spot as an NBA rotation player.
Develop the Jump Shot (At least from Mid-Range)
It is unclear what Chimezie’s ideal offensive role is. He has skills as a faceup four, attacking slower big men off the dribble – but doing so takes the ball away from more natural scorers like White and Walker.
In the G-League, Metu shoots an impressive 46.7% on threes on a low but not insignificant 2.4 attempts per 36 minutes. In his NBA career, Metu is a less impressive 0-for-2.
At 6’9”, he doesn’t quite have the size to dominate at the rim. Lacking a track record as an NBA scorer from deep or at the rim, developing a mid-range jumper will help Metu contribute by popping out from screens or in the mid/high post. His G-league shooting suggests he has the skill to be at least a decent jump shooter. Metu will need to find a way to contribute offensively to avoid becoming a liability that defenders ignore in order to focus on his teammates.
Defensively, Metu has the potential to be a capable switch defender on the perimeter. Having the quickness to cope with smaller guards and the size to take on the opponent wing scorers can make him an incredibly versatile and valuable defender.
Right now, that potential is not realized. Here, Metu is defending very upright and Coby White blows by him. Metu’s block was later ruled a goaltend, but regardless of the result the amount of space between White and Metu is too large for a reliable switch defender.
Coby White is fast, but not incredibly explosive; Metu’s late recovery here would not work against larger or more experienced point guards finishing at the rim.
If Chimezie can become a reliable multi-positional defender and be good enough on offense to not grind possessions to a halt, he will be a useful asset against tough matchups. The tools are there, and hopefully, we will start seeing this potential in practice over the next few months.
Dejounte Murray / 23 / Under Contract Until 2024
Hopes were high this season for Murray’s offensive growth, and they have largely been fulfilled. He is shooting well from deep, albeit on low volume, and in the past month, his pull-up mid-range jump shot has been falling extremely consistently.
Attack Early, Attack Often
But while Dejounte’s midrange ability is a useful counter against packed defenses, he is at his most dangerous driving to the hoop when there is space in the lane. To maximize these opportunities, he needs to attack early in the shot clock – on fast breaks when possible but also pushing the floor after defensive rebounds.
Murray doesn’t always have the craft to finish in traffic, but he makes attacking before the defense is set look like a layup drill:
Dejounte has athleticism, size, and aggression. Using these before the defense is ready creates easy points for a Spurs team that could use those whenever they can get them.
Fans will be excited to see how these players develop for the rest of this year and beyond. Meanwhile, the team’s management needs to decide which parts of the roster require upgrades and which upgrades they can develop in-house. Even if the playoffs slip away, the Spurs still have important basketball to play this year.
Check back next week for Part 2.
P.S. I know the topic of the young Spurs players elicits strong opinions and emotions from Spurs twitter. Follow me @fern_garcia and let me know what I missed.