For the first time in two years, the San Antonio Spurs enter the regular season without a major injury hanging over their heads. As reported by our own Paul Garcia, the Spurs have no players listed on their injury report for Wednesday night’s opening game against the New York Knicks.
After two seasons of “what-if’s”, the Spurs appear to have a healthy roster coming into the season. Will that lead to different results this season than the last two? Here are my most interesting storylines for the Spurs this season:
Will they be fighting for a playoff spot in April?
The past two seasons, the Spurs did not secure a spot in the playoffs until early-to-mid April, very close to when the playoffs begin. Will that be the same for them this season, despite a healthy roster?
A lot of the answer to that question lies in how much the Spurs will be able to improve on defense while maintaining a high level of play on offense. There may be no player more responsible for those possible improvements than Dejounte Murray. After missing a year due to an ACL tear, will Murray be as strong on defense as he was the season before his injury or will it take him some time to fully regain his athleticism? It appears, from the pre-season, that he has a solid mid-range jumper now. How often will he take that and how consistently will it go in? If these questions are answered positively for the Spurs, then come April, they should be comfortably in the playoffs, even if they don’t have a top-4 seed.
Otherwise, the Spurs’ probably starting lineup gets a bit weaker on both sides of the ball. When the Spurs start both Jakob Poeltl and LaMarcus Aldridge, their only reliable 3-point shooter in the starting lineup is Bryn Forbes. Murray is the only solid perimeter defender in that lineup, as well.
In the pre-season, Murray looked solid and like he had recovered as well as the Spurs could hope from his ACL tear. They’ll need him at his best to not be fighting to keep the playoff streak alive in the middle of April.
Can the Spurs survive if Aldridge’s production takes a step back?
This is not to say he WILL take a step back this season, but can the Spurs make the playoffs IF he does? While Aldridge has had some vocal critics in San Antonio, he has been more responsible for keeping the Spurs’ playoff streak alive the last two seasons than any other player, but he is 34 this season, and it’s reasonable to wonder when his age will catch up with his game. He is currently the Spurs’ number two option on offense, and there is really no one on the team who could replace his production.
If he can add a semi-regular 3-point shot volume into his game, his offense should age well, and there shouldn’t be a huge concern about production for another season or two. It looks like the Spurs are interested in having him shoot that shot more. While I wouldn’t expect to see his game be affected too much by aging this season, I think it is important to consider just how important Aldridge has been to the Spurs’ success the past few seasons.
Will Lonnie Walker IV break into the rotation this season? When?
Coach Gregg Popovich trusts his veterans. Most coaches who have been in the league for a long time err on the side of giving their veterans minutes over younger players. In this case, though, when the potential for Walker is so exciting for some, fans have found frustration in the idea of Marco Bellinelli being in the rotation ahead of Walker.
But Bellinelli does have an important role on a bench lineup that makes up for the starter’s lack of shooting, and to say Bellinelli getting minutes is keeping Walker from playing is maybe not entirely accurate. Imagining that Bellinelli is not in the lineup for a second, Coach Popovich would probably still play Patty MIlls, Derrick White, Rudy Gay, and DeMarre Carroll off the bench ahead of Walker, at least to start the season.
It’s hard to imagine Walker playing too much with the Austin Spurs this season, so there is a good chance he will break into the rotation. When he does, he probably will stay there for the rest of his tenure as a Spur.
Most Valuable Spur: DeMar DeRozan
Breakout Spur: Lonnie Walker IV
Record: 50-32 (6th Seed in West)