It’s safe to say the San Antonio Spurs struggled through the 2019-20 season prior to the season being suspended. Once play resumed inside of the bubble in Orlando, the Spurs managed to play some of their best basketball — only to narrowly miss the postseason for the first time in 22 seasons.
That said, the season wasn’t all bad for the Spurs. There were several positive takeaways that can be built upon next season and beyond.
1. LaMarcus Aldridge’s Development into a Stretch Five
After more than a decade in the NBA, it seemed unlikely that LaMarcus Aldridge would ever develop into a three-point threat. Despite his reputation as one of the league’s best mid-range shooters, he never managed to expand his range to beyond 20 feet. That finally changed this season.
In October and November, Aldridge averaged just 1.5 three-point attempts. Starting in December, Aldridge attempted 3.8 threes per game and shot a stellar 39.6%.
His sudden transformation into a stretch five provided much needed spacing. It also helped jumpstart his individual production following a slow start to the season. By the end of the campaign, he had posted his second best true-shooting season of his career.
Next season, Aldridge should look to continue to increase three-point volume. In doing so, he can become even more useful to the Spurs — whether as a key part of the offense or as a potential trade asset.
2. Trey Lyles, a Successful Reclamation Project
Trey Lyles, a former lottery pick, appeared to be on his way out of NBA after failing to impress in Utah and Denver. Fortunately for him, Lyles was given another chance to prove himself after Marcus Morris backed out of signing with the Spurs.
As the starting power forward for the Spurs, Lyles’ solid play in that role has reinvigorated his NBA career. While known as a stretch four, he added rebounding and passing to his game — in addition to shooting a career-high 38.7% from three-point range.
Lyles doesn’t fully replace what the Spurs lost out on last summer when Morris decided to renege and sign with the New York Knicks. That said, as Lyles grew more comfortable with the system, his play improved. He didn’t play in Orlando due to an appendectomy, a disappointing end to a solid season. However, his player-option seems all but certain to be picked up by the Spurs. It’s possible that Lyles will be even better next season.
3. Keldon Johnson’s Emergence
Keldon Johnson, the 29th picks in the 2019 draft, spent much of his rookie seasons in the G League. Despite playing just 300 minutes in the NBA this season, he’s already proven to be a wise pick by the Spurs .
After being thought of as a three-and-D prospect, Johnson expanded his game in the G League by operating more often with the ball in his hands. He showed a knack for getting to the rim and using his big frame and powerful athleticism to finish through contact.
The results were very promising. In Austin, Johnson averaged 20.3 points and 5.8 rebounds, while shooting 53.2% from the field in just 30.1 minutes per game. In the NBA, he was impressive, averaging 9.1 points and 3.4 rebounds on a blistering 59.6% from the field in just 17.7 minutes per game. With his hard-nosed defense, high energy level and his burgeoning offensive skills, Johnson looks on his way to becoming a very good two-way NBA player.
4. DeMar DeRozan’s Leadership
In his second season with the Spurs, DeMar DeRozan solidified himself as the Spurs’ best player. Despite his obvious flaws, he put together a strong season, averaging 22.1 points, 5.6 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game. He also notched a career-high field goal percentage of 53.1%.
DeRozan particularly excelled when the court was spread by shooters, aggressively attacking the basket and creating offense for himself and others. While San Antonio missed the playoffs, DeRozan’s play rescued the Spurs from a truly disastrous season. Once in Orlando, he continued his strong play.
His willingness to take a backseat at times and his unwavering leadership helped a younger Spurs team fight for the postseason. It’s unclear whether DeRozan will be with the Spurs next season, however he didn’t disappoint in his second campaign with San Antonio
5. Lottery Pick
While the Spurs likely didn’t enter the season expecting to miss the playoff, they do get the benefit of drafting in the lottery for the first time since 1997.
Though the 2020 draft isn’t as well-regarded as several recent drafts, whoever San Antonio selects with the 11th pick could be a key cog in the wheel for the team going forward.
After a successful showing from several of the team’s younger players in the bubble, adding a impact player to that group would certainly be a huge step in the right direction.
It’s unclear whether San Antonio intends to start their rebuild in the offseason. That said, drafting in the lottery now will aid the rebuild whenever it occurs.