Four San Antonio Spurs’ players used more than 20% of their offensive possessions resulting in a shot, free throw, or turnover as the pick-and-roll ball handler in the 2021-2022 season, per the NBA’s stat site. Only one of those players, Tre Jones, is still on the team.
Three Spurs’ players used 5% or more of their offensive possessions in play types classified as “isolation” in the 2021-2022 season. Jones is the only one of those players still rostered by the San Antonio Spurs. Jones is also the only remaining player from last season’s team who was not assisted on over 50% of his made field goals.
Frankly, Jones is the only current Spur who has proven he can reliably and consistently produce offense for himself and for others.
Because there almost certainly will be balking at that point, let’s look at some other candidates. Keldon Johnson had his best offensive season in the NBA last year, but many of his opportunities were created by Dejounte Murray. Of Johnson’s made field goals, 75.4% were assisted.
Many were impressed by Johnson’s improvement in 3-point shooting, but most of these were spot-ups, not self-created 3-pointers. While the Spurs are certainly working to develop Josh Primo into a lead offensive creator, he wasn’t that in his first professional season with nearly 70% of his made field goals being assisted.
Having a high percentage of your made field goals be assisted is not inherently a bad thing. One great framework to use to think of and evaluate offense is succinctly stated in Hoopvision68’s video about the 2014 Spurs (which is required watching for any Spurs fan). He argued that the objective of offense is to first create an advantage and then convert the advantage.
Having advantage converters like Johnson is incredibly important to a successful offense and is in no way a knock on his skill level or value to the team. It’s not a judgment, it’s an observation of his role in the offense.
But a team needs advantage creators. After the departures of DeMar DeRozan, Derrick White, and Dejounte Murray within one year of each other, the only proven creator the Spurs have left is Tre Jones.
The signal that the Spurs have put forward in their preseason games is that they still do want to develop Primo into a primary creator on offense, but will allow him to do so on the second unit, at least to start the year.
That makes sense. The starting unit has some weapons in Johnson, Devin Vassell, and Jakob Poeltl that Jones will be able to use to cobble together an adequate enough offense while Primo will be given full reign to experiment, make mistakes, and learn off the bench.
This makes Jones an incredibly important player for the Spurs. One reason why the Spurs may appear less successful than their on-court talent would suggest this season is their lack of offensive creators. This means that for an important (maybe the most important) aspect of the offense, the Spurs will be heavily reliant on Jones.
While he almost certainly won’t be the Spurs’ lead on-ball creator the next time the Spurs are contending for a title, his important role for this transitory and rebuilding team shouldn’t be forgotten if and when the Spurs get back to the summit.
All stats from NBA.com/stats