The San Antonio Spurs begin the 2019-2020 NBA season on Wednesday night against the New York Knicks. Last season, the Spurs finished with a 48-34 record, which was good enough for the seventh seed in the Western Conference. San Antonio ended up falling to the Denver Nuggets in seven games in the first round of the 2019 playoffs.
What does the 2019-2020 season have in store for the Spurs? Let’s begin by looking at my statistical projections and season preview for each player.
In the 2019-20 season, I believe we’ll see a more efficient version of DeMar DeRozan. The Spurs don’t need him to carry as heavy a load as he did last season. With Dejounte Murray back, he won’t have to do as much of the ball-handling or playmaking. Murray will also eat up some of DeRozan’s rebounds. Along with improved scoring efficiency, I think we’ll see fewer turnovers as he won’t need to force the issue as much.
Eyes will be on DeRozan’s three-point shooting and defense. I think he’ll shoot three-pointers twice as often as he did last season and his percentage will recover, but DeRozan still won’t be anyone’s idea of a three-point threat. Defensively, I don’t expect a notable improvement. At this stage in his career, he is what he is on that end: a below average defender who has to make an effort to not be a total liability.
All in all, though, I expect a strong season out of DeRozan. His efficiency will be helpful, even if his raw stats won’t look as impressive on paper.
LaMarcus Aldridge is 34 years old so he’s due to start slowing down any minute. For the upcoming season, I think he’ll still be very productive. I don’t see him being the leading scorer anymore and he faces long odds to being named to the All-Star team. I think his rebounding will dip compared to last season, although most everything else should hold up well.
Between Aldridge and DeRozan, I think it’s actually Aldridge who has a better chance of becoming a notable three-point threat. It’s not out of the question that he shoots between two and three threes per game. If he does, that won’t only help the spacing, it could prolong his prime.
If preseason is any indication, Bryn Forbes is still improving and making progress in terms of learning how to score on the NBA level. With that in mind, I expect him to supplant Gay as the team’s third leading scorer. The Spurs need Forbes to shoot a ton of threes this season and he appears ready for the job.
Defense will be the thing to watch with Forbes. With Murray at his side, Forbes has a chance to hide on the defensive end. But if he’s still unable to hide and advanced stats still paint him as a massive defensive liability, it may be time to end the Forbes-as-a-starter experiment.
After inking the $64 million contract extension, everyone will be waiting to see what Dejounte Murray does in the regular season. As the stats indicate, I’m rather high on him having a productive season. I think he’ll score at a surprisingly lofty rate considering his struggles on that end to begin his career. I also expect him to make massive strides at being able to set the table for his teammates. While his offensive rebounding will go down, I think his defensive rebounding will remain elite. I expect him to lead the team in turnovers but I also think he will at least be an adequate three-point threat.
Defensively, he has set the bar high. I do think, if he stays healthy, that he will make another All-Defensive team. His main enemy in that regard will be if the team as a whole remains mediocre.
A difficult question to answer regarding Murray is how many minutes he will play. Coming off an ACL tear, you’d think Pop will hold him back to ensure he’s not overworked — especially with all that money invested in him. But, then again, the Spurs didn’t pay him $64 million to be a part-time player.
While Manu Ginobili made it look like a breeze for years, coming off the bench isn’t easy. Derrick White will find that out firsthand this season. Due to his laid back attitude, he will have to fight through the urge to simply blend in. He’s too talented and the Spurs need him too much for White to take a backseat on this team.
With his switch to the bench in mind, I’m keeping my expectations in check. If White can approximate what he did last season but do it coming off the bench, that’d be a win for the Spurs. If he can actually improve, that’d be huge.
White really, really struggled in preseason but he also struggled last preseason and his struggles continued to start the season. He eventually found his groove and exhibited his exciting potential. I’m not worried about White yet but this could a difficult year of transition for him. Let’s hope he passes the test with flying colors and makes me look foolish for worrying.
Rudy Gay had a marvelous season last year, especially if you just focus on his stats. He stuffed the box score and did so very efficiently. In fact, you can make the case that it was the best season of his career.
I don’t think it’s possible for the 33-year-old to have a repeat of last season. He looked less explosive in preseason, which isn’t too surprising when taking into account his age. But he’s still tall, long and talented, so he should age gracefully. I think Gay’s minutes will come down and his production won’t be as otherworldly but he should still be a key piece for this team.
Following an excellent showing in the World Cup while playing for Australia, I don’t see much slippage in Patty Mills this season. With Murray and White manning point guard duties, I think Mills’ minutes will dip below 20 per game for the first time since the 2014-15 season.
There’s a chance that Mills will just concentrate on shooting and become a deadly sniper like he was a half decade ago. That would be a great turn of events for the Spurs because they need all the shooting they can get. More likely, though, Mills will put together a similar season to what we’ve seen out of him for the last two or three years — for better or worse.
I think Jakob Poeltl will start a majority of the games unless someone emerges (Trey Lyles, Rudy Gay, DeMarre Carroll?) as an everyday starter at power forward. Poeltl in the starting lineup will help the defense and I think the young Austrian is primed to improve across the board. He’s heading into a contract year, he’s comfortable in the system and he’s entering his physical prime.
I see Poeltl’s rates of points, rebounds, blocks and assists going up. His biggest increase might be in assists, especially if he spends a lot of time playing with the bench. He’s an underrated passer and he has a chance to pick apart opposing bench units.
Marco Belinelli is turning 34 during the season so there’s a chance his production could slip. He’s also the most likely player to lose minutes if someone like Lonnie Walker IV or DeMarre Carroll earns a bigger role. But if you’re a betting person, you’d probably want to bet on Belinelli having a similar season to what he did in the 2018-2019 campaign.
I think Belinelli’s minutes will take a little bit of a hit but his production should be relatively the same on a per-minute basis. The bench will feature better passers than it did last season, which should allow the Italian to get cleaner looks from the perimeter. His defense is going to be a disaster but on a shooting starved team, it’ll be difficult for the coaches to go away from him.
The Spurs guaranteed DeMarre Carroll $15 million over the next couple seasons in order to acquire his services. Interestingly, though, it’s not obvious where his minutes will come from. In the preseason, Gay was the backup power forward and Belinelli was the backup small forward. Trey Lyles was getting minutes at PF and Lonnie Walker IV was getting minutes at SF. Where exactly are Carroll’s minutes going to come from? I think, one way or another, Pop will find a decent chunk of minutes for Carroll. If Pop found ways to play Dante Cunningham, he will find ways to play Carroll.
As for how Carroll will perform, I think he’ll do what he’s done in recent seasons: rely on hustle and hard work on defense while being active yet inefficient on offense. If he can bump his three-point shooting up to around 40%, that’d be helpful. It’d also help if he could prove to be capable of rebounding well enough to play long stretches at power forward.
Pop, surprisingly, gave Trey Lyles a couple starts in the preseason. If you just watched him move around the court, he looked pretty good. He’s smooth and skilled on the perimeter for a big man. Lyles looks like he can pass and dribble better than advertised. That said, Lyles also failed to hit a shot from the perimeter in the preseason. If he can’t hit threes, he’s not an NBA player.
Projecting Lyles is a difficult task. It’s conceivable that he’ll become the full-time starting power forward. It’s also conceivable that he could be dropped from the rotation completely. In fact, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that the Spurs simply waive him if he begins to pout like he did in other stops.
In the statistical projections, I took the middle road with Lyles: He’ll play a bit, somewhat regain his shooting touch but not be a player the Spurs lean on for stability.
Lonnie Walker IV
After his strong summer league play, there were hopes and dreams of Lonnie Walker IV erupting this year in the NBA. While it could happen, it’s realistically a longshot. The most likely scenario is Walker fills an energy role where Pop calls on him when his teammates are sputtering or the defense is extra porous.
The NBA season is long and Walker will get his opportunity to win a regular spot in the rotation. Will it happen? If he plays stout defense, proves himself capable of shooting threes and uses his elite athleticism to change games, Walker could become impossible for the coaches to overlook. It’s possible.
Even though no one is really expecting Chimezie Metu to do much this season, he’s technically the third string center. He’s one injury away from having to play minutes. His only true competition in that regard is Drew Eubanks and Eubanks is on a two-way contract so his time in San Antonio will be limited.
Metu missed summer league due to injury and didn’t really turn heads in preseason. He’s entering his second season just as much of an unknown as he was this time last year.
As mentioned, Eubanks is on a two-way contract so he won’t spend a whole lot of time in the big leagues. Then again, if Metu stumbles and the Spurs suddenly have a need for a center, there’s a chance that the Spurs cut Metu and elevate Eubanks for good.
The Oregon native had a solid summer league showing and a decent preseason. He’s not the world’s most exciting prospect but he appears to be capable of playing in the league.
Of the rookies, Keldon Johnson is the only one who has a chance to play more than garbage minutes this year. It’s unlikely but he’s a live body who will defend on the wing. In times of need created by injury, Johnson could be given a few minutes. However, what he does in Austin will be more noteworthy.
The other two-way player is Quinndary Weatherspoon. Given his experience and how hard he plays, I wouldn’t be surprised if he shines brightest in Austin. I don’t think he’ll do anything in the NBA this season but he has a chance to open eyes in the G League.
Considering Luka Samanic was the last player off the bench in preseason, even behind the training camp flotsam, it’s safe to guarantee he won’t play meaningful minutes in the NBA as a rookie. It’s possible he won’t play at all. The Spurs obviously want to take it slow with the 19-year-old and that will involve a lot of time in Austin and a lot of hard work in practice.
Predictions: How the San Antonio Spurs Will Perform in the 2019-2020 Season
This will be a really fascinating season for the Spurs. You have an intriguing clash of experience and youth. On one hand, there’s Aldridge, DeRozan, Gay, Belinelli and Mills. On the other hand, there’s Murray, White, Forbes, Poeltl and Walker. How these players will blend will be interesting to see. And then there are newcomers Carroll and Lyles who may be key cogs or may simply spectate from the end of the bench.
Vegas has the Spurs finishing with 46 or 47 wins and squeaking into the playoffs as a seventh or eighth seed. Other places have the Spurs missing the postseason completely.
Personally, I think the depth of this team is being overlooked. It’s easy to imagine a scenario where ten quality players emerge and Pop is once again able to rack up wins by beating teams with his superior bench. That used to be the case for years before the well dried up the last couple of seasons.
Sure, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker won’t be coming through that door but deep teams can still win a lot of games in the regular season. Aldridge and DeRozan are formidable pieces for the attack to revolve around. Murray and White at point guard could be a hellacious duo. Forbes could take a few steps forward and become a reliable scorer, while it’s possible that Walker proves he’s ready for a big role.
Three-point shooting is going to be a weakness. Spacing for the starting lineup will be iffy. There’s no guarantee that players like Murray and White live up to expectations. A few of the older players could lose a step. It’s fair to wonder if Pop’s age will catch up to him this season. But, overall, I’m optimistic about the depth of this team and the coaching staff’s ability to maximize the depth.
I’ll predict 50 wins, a fifth seed and a first round playoff victory.