The long and strange Kawh Leonard vs. the Spurs saga has finally come to a close in San Antonio, and when the dust clears, Leonard and Danny Green will be in Toronto while DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl will be in the silver and black.
It’s extremely difficult to trade a player that has been a franchise cornerstone for so long and to come out the other end with a positive vision on the direction of the franchise. But with the addition of DeRozan, Poeltl, and a top-20 protected 2019 first round pick, the Spurs have made it clear that they are committed to staying competitive now and betting on their young players in the future.
Commitment to staying competitive now
When trading a top five NBA talent, especially when that talent is demanding the trade, it is difficult to get good value in return. But that’s exactly what the Spurs have done. The Spurs managed to add a 4-time NBA All-Star a two-time All-NBA shooting guard in DeRozan, former 9th overall pick Poeltl, as well as a top-20 protected 2019 first round pick.
Averaging 23 points per game and 5.2 assists last year with Toronto, DeRozan provides some much-needed offensive punch with his elite midrange game and ability to get to the rim at will and finish extremely well. There are some legitimate concerns about his ability to space the floor due to his lack of a consistent three-point jumper, but the Spurs have done a good job of surrounding this new core with shooters like Davis Bertans, Marco Belinelli, and Derrick White that will allow DeRozan and Aldridge to operate more freely inside. DeRozan has also shown commitment to improving his game behind the arc. In 2017 he shot just 26% from deep on 1.7 attempts per game and took a leap in the right direction in 2018 improving to 31% on 3.6 attempts per game.
In DeRozan, the Spurs are also getting a player that seems like a natural fit in terms of character, as he constantly contributes to his community and is one of the few stars in sports that has been open about his struggles with depression and supporting mental health. As a character person, who seems to value loyalty,given the events of this offseason, that may be just what Spurs fans need.
With the current lack of youth in the frontcourt on the Spurs roster, the addition of the 22-year-old 7-footer Jakob Poeltl has the potential to be great. Poeltl hasn’t had many opportunities to shine playing behind Jonas Valanciunas in Toronto but has shown potential when he’s been on the floor. In 2018 he averaged 6.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks on only 18.6 minutes per game. He is a solid rim protector and pick-and-roll man and should get a real chance to shine in San Antonio.
Solid foundation for the future
While the Spurs will remain competitive for years to come with a core centered around DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Rudy Gay. They have also have a group of young players to build around in the future.
Entering his third season in the NBA, Dejounte Murray has taken strides to improve his game year after year. Last year, Murray spent the summer working on his frame and getting stronger and more NBA-ready and it led to him earning All-Defensive honors in just his second year and breaking Kobe Bryant’s record of becoming the youngest player to do so. However, one of the gaps in Murray’s game last season was his lack of a consistent jumper.
Often times Murray found himself wide open in the corner because the opposing defense was willing to give him that shot. If Murray can develop a reliable three-point shot, he can help space the floor tremendously and give Aldridge and DeRozan room to do what they do best in the midrange. Murray has done a great job in identifying that and making it the focal point of his offseason training. This offseason he has been working literally day and night on improving his offensive game, posting stories on social media of him in the gym until 1 a.m. working on his jumper. Murray recently showcased his improved offensive game in a pro-am league hosted by Jamal Crawford called the Crawsover.
— Dejounte Murray (@DejounteMurray) July 17, 2018
Murray has already broken out as a defensive star in San Antonio going forward, and if this is any indication, he just may be poised to break out again on the other end of the floor.
Derrick White is another young player that is set up to have a breakout season. During the summer league, he showcased his ability to run the pick-and-roll and consistently score on all the levels .Whether he’s pulling up from three, driving the lane for a nice finish around the rim, or dishing it out to the open man for an easy bucket, White can fill the role as 6th man in a Ginobili-esque way that lets him have the ball in his hands and facilitate the second unit.
With the loss of Danny Green, the logjam at shooting guard is no longer jammed. If the Spurs opt for a small ball rotation going forward like they did to end last season with Aldridge at the center and Gay manning the power forward position, DeRozan will most likely play the small forward; meaning there is currently an opening at shooting guard for someone to grab the starting spot and that someone may just be Lonnie Walker IV. Although he is just 19-years-old and did not have the most dominant summer league showing this offseason, Walker has shown serious flashes to be something special. Walker IV already has the physical build, athleticism, and scoring ability of an NBA-ready shooting guard, it’s his decision-making that needs polish. Getting meaningful minutes in a starting role next to his potential running mate in Murray could give him the experience he needs to develop while building chemistry for what could be one heck of a 1-2 punch for years to come.
Going forward, the Spurs may not have the firepower necessary to dethrone the Warriors or knock off the Rockets, but they have the personnel to remain competitive in a conference that is continuing to get more and more competitive. And most importantly perhaps, they have a promising young core of players ready to carry the Spurs into the next era.