Looking down on a missed third straight season, the San Antonio Spurs are 1-4 in the first five games of an 82-game marathon campaign, with minimum expectations to begin with, including missing a ‘a star player in the lineup when LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan took on that role in the post-Big Three era.
Still, there’s plenty to be optimistic about so early on, with the promise of who has stepped up and erupted as notable players in this lineup.
It starts with the unlikely beneficiary, Jakob Poeltl. With an average of over 15 points, 10 rebounds and three assists, head coach Gregg Popovich has the San Antonio offense running through the great Austrian man, who he manages more than anything he has done in the past. during his first five NBA seasons.
Is it sustainable? Poeltl has never averaged more than nine points, eight rebounds and two assists in a season, but that came with a much smaller role. Perhaps Popovich has exploited the advantages of another young talent, or simply adjusted his range to better suit what he has in place. Considering the lack of playmakers on the roster, the latter seems at least partially to be the case.
Two such main figures for Spurs are Dejounte Murray and Derrick White, with a combined average of 15.4 assists per game. However, dynamic scoring threats are also not intended to further legitimize themselves as multifaceted playmakers. However, Murray still fills the stat sheet in rebounds (9.2), assists (8.8), steals (2.0) and points (16.8). He only shoots 0.411 / 0.316 / 0.571 which leaves a lot to be desired, but is offset by a defensive sense that stands up to the best in the league. White also pulls a measly 0.421 / 0.280 / 0.778 line for 12.4 points which, if held, could push him off the bench in favor of the expanding Lonnie Walker.
The Miami product played energetically and took on a bigger role, despite being one of the first players to leave the bench. 15 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists, all jumps scored from his third-year numbers, and 45.8% from the field and 36.4% from 3 points are effective numbers. Those stats are all set to rise as Doug McDermott runs out of time with an injury.
The intriguing context of this story is Walker’s restricted free agent status for next summer. No contract extension was agreed before the mid-October deadline, leaving its future to the organization in question. Hot starts like this at least help his case toward a solid salary, staying in San Antonio or some other organization. If he continues to play well, however, and potentially succeeds in a starting role, it makes it easier for Spurs to pay him off and make the young guard a mainstay for another four or five years.
The attackers are perhaps the most telling. Keldon Johnson’s game was expected, at 16.6 points per game, albeit well behind the arc at 8.3%, which is surprisingly low. Otherwise, two 20-point games are already under his belt, and he should soon find his way to long distance and maintain stable production.
Devin Vassell’s step forward was more difficult to project, as the Florida State product has so far doubled its points-per-game average from its rookie season, with two outings of 19 points. The other nights weren’t effective enough offensively, but he brought him to the other end of the court. That alone should keep him high on Popovich’s bench rotation, with the possibility of an occasional start. Vassell will continue to grow either way and his position at the end of the season will be one of San Antonio’s more interesting scenarios.
There are reasons to look to the future with this Spurs side so far. With 77 games remaining, more plot devices will develop to showcase the future of the organization, with the chance to see who leads this roster during this decade.