When assessing the San Antonio Spurs roster since trade season, you see a combination of old and new talent that should make the Spurs even better than they were last year.
There are reasons to believe the 2019-20 season should produce enough success to keep people buying tickets to Spurs games.
Here are three reasons the Spurs will be a contentious pest in the West:
The Old Guys
First of all, the biggest pieces of the puzzle on this team are DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, who together accounted for better than 40 points and 15 rebounds per game last season. They are the dominant force that the team revolves around.
Rudy Gay and Byrn Forbes add to the mix as double digit scorers who are 40 percent from 3-point range. There are others such as Dejounte Murray, back from injury, and Derrick White, back from a breakthrough season.
The New Guys
Secondly, the franchise did make improvements through drafts and trades over the summer.
In the draft, they picked up three players who should make a difference.
They used their first pick (19th overall) on foreign-born big man Luka Samanic, who at age 19 is described by most experts as “raw.”
But he had some seasoning in European and international play, and he has the instincts, skills and court awareness to make those experts think he will be up from the G League in no time.
In the 29th pick of the first round, San Antonia chose Keldon Johnson, a 6-6 small forward from Kentucky. Johnson scored 13.5 points and had 5.9 rebounds in his year at school, and he played well enough this summer to be considered the Spurs draftee most ready for the NBA.
Quinndary Weatherspoon also had a good summer, at least in spots. The 6-4 shooting guard was the Spurs second round pick, after he averaged 18.5 points per game in his senior season at Mississippi State.
He shot nearly 40 percent from 3-point range in college, and a year of practice with the NBA 3s may translate into big points down the road.
Pickups on The Market
The key pickups in the trade market this summer were DeMarre Carroll from the Brooklyn Nets and Trey Lyles from Denver.
Carroll, at 6-8, put up 13.5 points, and pulled down 6.6 rebounds a game for the Nets, playing the small forward position.
Lyles is a 6-10 power forward who played 17 minutes a game for the Nuggets, scoring 8.5 a game and rebounding 3.8.
Finally, the addition of Tim Duncan as an assistant coach may be the most important move of the off-season. While he’s not seasoned in the role, his mentoring off the court will help on the court.
So, if the Spurs coaching situation could get better, it just did.
Don’t look for any of the additions to make an immediate impact on the San Antonio starting lineup in the fall. The Spurs don’t work that way. You’re probably looking at Aldridge, DeRozan, Gay, Murray and White getting most of the playing time as the proven entities on this team.
But the new guys will add enough depth and flexibility at a number of positions to make a difference. Murray and White lead a backcourt group that is pretty well stocked, and with interchangeable parts. White and Lonnie Walker will probably see action at both guard positions. Forbes and Patty Mills will contribute plenty of time, too.
Front Line Players
Up front, you may see the new players contribute more. Carroll is good enough to spell DeRozan without losing much at small forward. And don’t be surprised to see Johnson work his way into the mix.
At power forward, Lyles is a competent fill-in for Gay, and we don’t see Samanic being held back for a full season. Chimezie Metu has been having foot problems this summer, but healthy, he’ll have meaningful time.
All of those front court roles depend on where the big guy plays. Aldridge is still listed as power forward, and he certainly is effective as a midrange shooter. But he played like a traditional center in instances last season. You can’t help but think that Duncan will offer some help in making him an inside-outside threat.
With that in mind, you may see instances when Jakob Poeltl plays center in a big lineup, or the Spurs vacate the traditional center position in a smaller lineup.
The versatility is apparent when you consider that Carroll, Lyles, Samanic and even Johnson can develop into players that can play most any front-line role and allow others to switch around. Again, Duncan’s help on the bench will be crucial in identifying and molding the big boys.
What it All Means
I tend to think that this combination of players will work well for the Spurs. Well enough to keep ticket sellers busy.
Look, a lot of talent has shifted to the NBA Western Conference this season, and plenty of those star-studded teams will be realigning their whole teams to adjust. Already, it is hard to find tickets to Lakers, Clippers and Warriors games.
It will be thick at the top, too much so to think that the Spurs will be among the top three in the West. But ahead of the Denver Nuggets? Yes. Portland and Utah, too. And I don’t think it is reaching far to say the Spurs will give their rivals in Houston a run for the Southwest Division.