The San Antonio Spurs currently sit on the outside of the Western Conference playoff race. At 23-31, the Spurs are in tenth place, behind both the ninth seeded Portland Trail Blazers and the eighth seeded Memphis Grizzlies. With 28 games remaining, the Spurs are four and a half games out of the playoffs.
While the Spurs may have one last run left in them, Memphis’ four and a half game lead is likely a big enough cushion to stave off a push from the Spurs. San Antonio faces an uphill battle but they aren’t likely to throw in the towel until it’s clear the playoffs aren’t in the cards this year. That said, the sooner the Spurs reach that point, the sooner they can pivot.
How the San Antonio Spurs Can Win by Losing
It may go against their winning ways, but the Spurs have an opportunity to draft in the lottery for the first time in 23 years. Currently, they’re projected to finish with the 12th worst record in the NBA — but could very well end up selecting in the top 10.
By resting veterans such as DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay, Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli, they could potentially improve their own draft pick. Also, it would provide the Spurs an opportunity to get a closer look at their younger players.
In doing so, players such as Jakob Poeltl, Lonnie Walker IV, Chimezie Metu, Drew Eubanks, Keldon Johnson, Luka Samanic and Quinndary Weatherspoon would gain needed playing time. Considering the Spurs will have to make a decision on several of their young players this summer, extended playing time could make those decisions easier.
Poeltl, who will be a restricted free agent in the offseason, has played very well at times this season but he has had a limited role playing behind Aldridge. Poeltl could be the Spurs starting center of the future but has yet to play big minutes. Using the final third of the season to evaluate him would give San Antonio a chance to see how productive he could be as a starter before committing long-term.
Other Spurs with uncertain futures include Eubanks and Metu. San Antonio has a team option for Metu, while Eubanks is not under contract for next season. Both Eubanks and Metu have played well in the G League, but neither have had a much of chance prove themselves in the NBA this season. Depending on how well they play, it may be wise for the Spurs to retain both next season.
If the Spurs do miss the postseason, they may decide to drastically alter their roster, including trading away some of their veterans like Aldridge. Were that to happen, either Metu or Eubanks could be cheap backup options to Poeltl.
The Spurs should also strongly consider benching Bryn Forbes in favor of starting Walker. Walker has had stretches of solid play but has averaged only 13.8 minutes per game. Elevating Walker to the starting unit could help his progression by giving him consistent minutes for him to learn and grow. Additionally, it would provide a glimpse of what a starting backcourt consisting of Dejounte Murray and Walker would look like going forward.
What Else the Spurs Could Do in a Lost Season
With potential roster upheaval ahead, giving minutes to Keldon Johnson would be smart. Johnson has certainly earned minutes with his play in the G League this season. He was was selected to the G League All-Star team after averaging 20.1 points and 5.9 rebounds on 62% true shooting. Despite his strong play, Johnson has only appeared in four games for San Antonio and has played a total of just 12 minutes.
While Johnson has developed nicely in Austin, playing in the NBA could speed up his development. The same could be said for Luka Samanic, San Antonio’s other first round pick. Samanic has not played a single minute in the NBA this season.
Though Samanic is still very much a work in progress, he’s been decently productive in the G League. Playing in Austin, Samanic is averaging 15.3 points and 7.6 rebounds in 28.3 minutes per game. He’s likely still a ways away from being a rotation player but getting him minutes in the NBA this season could pay dividends later.
Though missing the playoffs would be disappointing, the rest of the season shouldn’t be viewed as a lost cause. Instead, San Antonio would be wise to use the remainder of the season for development.
Perhaps this final stretch of basketball will ultimately be a turning point for the franchise. As far fetched as it may seem, maybe San Antonio can rally to make the playoffs and salvage their season. More likely, though, the Spurs can secure a top ten pick to hopefully select their next star while getting a good look at their young players.