Why the San Antonio Spurs May Be Better Than Expected

The San Antonio Spurs got a lot younger over the offseason. Gone are veterans DeMar DeRozan, Patty Mills and Rudy Gay. In their place, the Spurs will lean on a group of youngsters headlined by Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV and Jakob Poeltl.

Last season, the Spurs finished with a record of 33-39 in the regular season. That was good enough for the team to advance to the play-in tournament, however San Antonio lost to the Memphis Grizzlies in the first game of the tournament and failed to reach the playoffs.

This season, prognosticators believe that the Spurs will take a big step backwards. The predicted win total for the Silver and Black hovers right around 29 wins. Why the pessimism? The aforementioned loss of DeRozan, Mills and Gay combined with the previous departure of LaMarcus Aldridge paints a picture that the Spurs are in for a rough stretch as they rebuild their roster. 

That said, there are legitimate reasons to be optimistic about the Spurs heading into the 2021-2022 season.

1. The Spurs Were Okay Without DeMar DeRozan 

Last season, DeRozan missed 11 games. In those contests, the Spurs were 6-5. That means San Antonio was only 27-35 in games that he played.

As productive as DeRozan was in his time with the Spurs, it’s questionable how much his production led to wins. It’s possible that his loss is being overblown by prognosticators and that San Antonio will be okay without him  

2. The Spurs Were Very Good on the Road

One of the most peculiar statistics for the Spurs last season was the fact that they were 19-17 on the road yet only 14-22 at home. It was the first time since the 2016-17 season that San Antonio had a winning record on the road. That season, they finished with an overall record of 61-21.

Obviously, the Spurs’ road record was boosted by the COVID-19 restrictions that kept attendance at a minimum for much of the season. But on the other hand, it’s reasonable to expect the Spurs to be much better at home this season. 

San Antonio’s losing record at home last season with their first since the 1996-97 campaign. The Spurs have a proven and reliable homecourt advantage in the AT&T Center, which is comparable to any homefield advantage in NFL stadiums. With the easing of pandemic-related restrictions, their winning ways at home could return.

3. Veterans Still Remain

Yes, the Spurs will miss DeRozan, Mills, Gay and Aldridge. That said, their 2021-2022 squad isn’t devoid of veterans.

The Spurs signed Doug McDermott in the offseason, one of the most proven sharpshooters in the NBA. They also acquired Thaddeus Young and Al-Farouq Aminu in the DeRozan trade. Young, specifically, brings a lot of veteran know-how to the squad.

Additionally, Bryn Forbes was re-signed in the offseason. Forbes rejoins the Spurs after spending a season with the Milwaukee Bucks, where he kept busy by winning an NBA championship.

4. Youth Has Untapped Potential

While the younger players on the Spurs still have a lot of questions they need to answer, there is a lot of untapped potential. Even for players like Murray, White and Poeltl, it’s not a stretch to say that their best basketball likely lies ahead of them.

Other players, like Johnson and Walker, are sure to be much more productive this season. Johnson won a gold medal with Team USA in the offseason, while Walker could be stepping into a starting role on this year’s squad.

Looking deeper on the roster, even players like Devin Vassell and Luka Samanic could potentially take giant leaps forward this season. 

5. Gregg Popovich Remains

Gregg Popovich, who will turn 73 in January, is back for at least one more season. Universally regarded as one of the best coaches in NBA history, would anyone be stunned if Popovich is able to guide this young team to a surprisingly successful season?

The losses of the veterans could make the terrain difficult for the coaching staff to navigate, however it could also give Popovich room to coach the team more forcefully. Without egos that need to be massaged, the Spurs’ head coach could push and prod with an amount of freedom he hasn’t had in recent years. In that scenario, Popovich and the Spurs could be a lot more dangerous than the prognosticators currently predict.