The San Antonio Spurs will resume their regular-season in Orlando tonight versus the Sacramento Kings. The Spurs will be focusing on team development and if they do make it to the postseason, they'll be fine with that as well.
But as the team gets set to begin their 8-game slate in the NBA "bubble," the Spurs Zone crew, and a couple of friends, got together to answer five burning questions ahead of the Spurs' restart opener.
After scrimmage play, has your outlook on the Spurs' chances at the West's 8th seed change?
Jeff Garcia, Spurs Zone Manager: No. The Spurs stuck to their development focus in scrimmage play and as expected, there is much room for improvement. The high turnover numbers, young players seeing heavy minutes, injuries to key players, and just the math alone at the Spurs' chances at getting into the 8th seed makes me still think the team will come up short in a postseason berth.
Ty Jager, Spurs Zone Contributor: I was already kind of optimistic that we'd see some change in this team and I was certainly shown that in these scrimmages. So yes, my outlook is even more optimistic on them having a good chance at making it a good fight for the 8th seed. We're seeing much better rotations even without Aldridge and Lyles. Plus this team is confident and bursting with energy to make a run.
Marquez Anderson, Spurs Zone Contributor: My outlook hasn’t really changed. I still think it’s going to be a battle to lock down the 8th seed, and several teams are going to be fighting just as hard for it.
Paul Saldana, Spurs Zone Contributor: San Antonio will have its work cut out for them to steal the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. It will take a near-perfect performance in each game for the undermanned Spurs to make NBA history and clinch their 23rd consecutive playoff spot. That being said, I don’t see the Silver & Black having enough offensive firepower to win the games they need (I hope they prove me wrong).
Chase Shannon, WOAI/KABB Sports Reporter: It doesn’t. Although I am encouraged. Getting to see the Dejounte, Derrick and Lonnie starting lineup made the score seem even more meaningless. It’s a look into the future. I still just don’t see them quickly peaking and scaling the mountain they have to climb to get in.
Richard Oliver, former Fox Sports SW Spurs Analyst now with Visit San Antonio: There were stretches during those scrimmage contests when I glimpsed what the Spurs could be. They have greyhounds in those youngsters, and the encouraging stretches showed that this evolution of the team can athletically match up with anyone. If those stretches become the norm in coming days, then the Spurs have a great chance at gumming up the works for all the front runners. Whether it means a playoff berth is problematic, but the Spurs will go down swinging.
Casey Viera, San Antonio Sports Reporter: Not really. We pretty much saw what we expected: a rusty team that looked just as inconsistent as before they went on the hiatus. There were positives to take out of it like the promising minutes with both Dejounte Murray and Derrick White sharing the backcourt at the same time. Ultimately, though, it was not enough to change any opinions one way or another.
Who will be the Spurs breakout star in the restart?
Jeff Garcia: The juicy pick is Keldon Johnson but I am going with Derrick White. White showed he's more aggressive attacking the paint, taking confident shots, and orchestrating the offense better. His basketball IQ is spiking and I believe he'll be the one player that fans will see as the floor general for seasons to come.
Ty Jager: I think everyone else would go with the house favorites of Lonnie Walker or Keldon Johnson but I think a guy who's going to breakout during Orlando is Drew Eubanks.
With the Spurs without Aldridge and Lyles, other big men are getting an opportunity to play, and one guy we saw part of the scrimmage rotations was Eubanks. With sneaky athleticism and solid basketball skill and IQ, I think fans will be impressed with what Eubanks can bring to the table coming off the bench. Plus, who doesn't enjoy an enforcer who tries to poster everyone in sight?
Marquez Anderson: I think Keldon Johnson has a chance to show what he can do once the season restarts. In the scrimmages he showed the ability to be a factor on both ends of the floor. This can prove to be a very beneficial opportunity for him to carve out a spot in the rotation moving forward.
Paul Saldana: Most Spurs fans would say Keldon Johnson, but with Patty Mills returning to the lineup for the seeding games, I’m not sure how many minutes will be left for the rookie. Lonnie Walker IV could be the breakout star since he’s been moved to the starting lineup.
Chase Shannon: Keldon Johnson. Its been so fun to watch the rookie in the scrimmage games. So much potential and passion.
Richard Oliver: Jakob Poeltl came back from his forced break looking healthier than he has in a long while -- and hungrier, too. With Aldridge and Lyles out, I look for Poeltl to turn his contract drive into overdrive on the court and be a real standout -- especially on defense. He showed snatches of that talent during the regular season, and in these scrimmages has looked not only energetic and effective, but like a leader on the court. He wants it, and that might be the spirit that carries the Spurs to something unexpected.
Casey Viera: Probably the biggest positive to come out of the scrimmages was Keldon Johnson taking advantage of his expanded minutes and shining in that capacity. Operating under the assumption that Gregg Popovich’s in-game decision making goes hand-in-hand with the “development” he’s been talking about, there’s reason to believe the Kentucky product will have a spotlight in these seeding games.
With the team going the development route in Orlando, which young player has the most to prove?
Jeff Garcia: Jakob Poeltl. In the hiatus he made it clear he is looking for a larger role and more minutes whether it be in San Antonio or elsewhere. He will be a restricted free agent this offseason and if wants to see a bigger role on a team, he'll have to prove it in Orlando.
Ty Jager: When it comes to development, I think Lonnie needs to show how his development is coming and show that he can bring an all-around game style to the floor. He's coming up on his third season in the league and that's the time you tend to find out if a player is the real deal or a bust. I think Lonnie will show up and show that he's going to be great NBA talent, but he does have to show it with the additional minutes he'll be playing in Orlando.
Marquez Anderson: I think Lonnie Walker IV has the most to prove. He hasn’t consistently put it together and this could be a chance to do so.
Paul Saldana: I personally want to see DeJounte Murray develop into a more consistent point guard. He’s still shaky on shots from the outside and I would like to see more assists and fewer turnovers.
Chase Shannon: I think Dejounte. He’s got the extension, he’s made it clear he wants to be a Spur for a long time. At just 23 he’s the point guard of the present and future. He has a great shot at giving us a glimpse of his ability to lead the young guys.
Richard Oliver: This is a great question, because it has many answers. But Lonnie Walker is on the cusp of something great, and I think he knows it. He has fine-tuned his defense to go with what we all know can be a really effective offensive game. I love watching the evolution of young players who see that light come on -- hey, I belong here. That's happened for Lonnie.
Casey Viera: Luka Samanic, without a doubt. It’s hard to think that a top-20 pick (let alone one that has been playing just 90 minutes north in Austin) has almost become an afterthought but that’s pretty much been the case for the Croatian. Even worse, the limited glimpses we’ve had of him haven’t necessarily sparked promise. There’s a good chance that with the thin frontcourt depth and youthful initiative being taken, he’ll have moments to prove he’s a legitimate rotational player going into next season.
Is this the last we'll see of DeMar Derozan, Bryn Forbes, Marco Belinelli, or Jakob Poeltl in a Spurs uniform?
Jeff Garcia: Belinelli will likely move on due to the team in a rebuilding phase (minutes for the young guys), I see DeRozan opting in ($27 million) due to the current economy of the league and teams, and San Antonio retaining Poeltl if no other team offers him a deal he cannot refuse.
Forbes is the wildcard here. He can shoot, been with the franchise for years now, has a grasp of the team culture, and he can space the floor. If he can accept a reserve role then maybe he'll be back.
Ty Jager: Marco I would say yes. I would hesitantly say yes with Bryn Forbes as well, but that situation is going to be a complete unknown till we absolutely know he's signing somewhere else. I think we'll see Poeltl back in the silver and black next season, especially with him being a restricted free agent.
DeMar DeRozan is the big unknown in all of this. While he has access to $27 million next season if he picks up his player option, he might be able to make the same money or possibly more with a different team. But that all rests of DeRozan's shoulders to choose and he's will decide if he wants to be a Spur or not next season.
Marquez Anderson: I’d say it’s very likely these players won’t be on the roster next season. If the Spurs are committed to playing an uptempo style of offense with players able to switch defensively, this group of players aren’t necessarily the best fits.
Paul Saldana: DeRozan will most likely be back unless there’s an offseason trade. GM Brian Wright hasn’t shown any willingness to shake up the roster although he’s only been on the job for one season so maybe he’ll prove me wrong this offseason.
Chase Shannon: I would say yes to the first three. Although it would be difficult for DeMar to pass up $27.7 million in an uncertain market. However, I do think Poeltl can be an important piece.
Richard Oliver: I think DeRozan re-ups his deal with the Spurs, because the current pandemic environment likely will impact teams' revenues across the board. It's the smart move to take the guaranteed payout, at this point. As for Forbes, Poeltl and Belinelli -- it's been wonderful watching you play, but the horizon may hold better opportunities.
Casey Viera: Belinelli is a goner. I’d bet Forbes also is on the outs but Pop seems to have found a liking for his ability to space the floor despite his defensive woes. Either way, I don’t see him back on a long-term deal with so many bodies in that backcourt.
Having Jakob Poeltl’s restricted free agency rights certainly puts the Spurs in a favorable spot despite him sounding very open to signing elsewhere this offseason. That said, if the COVID-19 fallout impacts and lowers the cap to the degree we’re hearing, teams might not be willing to pay him $15 million annually but instead closer $10 million. I think the Spurs bite and match whatever contract goes his way, if not offer him a deal on their own.
DeRozan is in a brutal spot in what will likely be his last significant payday. Do you turn down $27 million to sign with a likely non-contender at a decreased dollar amount but almost assuredly secure a long-term deal? Do you opt-in for that last year and hope to join a contender in the summer of 2021 despite the uncertainty of the salary cap potentially decreasing even more next summer?
He holds all the cards and hasn’t bluffed despite being consistently questioned and has seemed legitimately uncertain about his future even before the pandemic. My guess is he takes the guaranteed money right now, bets on himself next year in San Antonio (or potentially elsewhere) and tries again next summer, potentially with a team better suited to contend in 2021-22.
What's the best case ending for the Spurs in the restart - playoff berth, continuing the development, or preserving draft positioning?
Jeff Garcia: Stay the course - development and preserving draft positioning. It is time to turn the page and being the new chapter in franchise history. The Spurs need to get the kids reps, shape them for the future, and play the long-game moving forward.
Ty Jager: The Spurs make the ultimate comeback and shake up the NBA landscape with making a 23rd straight playoff appearance. Not only will this turn heads towards the young talent the Spurs possess, but this will also allow these already talented young guys to get playoff experience under their belt. If you want to develop players, getting that playoff experience matters. But the best outcome is make the playoffs.
Marquez Anderson: I think draft positioning should be the biggest priority, with developing whichever group of players set to return for next season. At this point, I do not believe a likely first round matchup against the Lakers is worth sacrificing the highest draft pick possible.
Paul Saldana: Personally, I would like to see the Spurs push for a playoff spot because what’s better for player development than actually winning games and getting playoff experience.
Chase Shannon: Development. I think fans should just sit back and enjoy. It would take magic for them to extend the streak. Its been 4-plus months since we’ve seen Spurs basketball. Instead of hinging on wins and losses, just enjoy the young guys and soak in something we’ve all greatly missed.
Richard Oliver: This is San Antonio. Development of the roster is nifty and all, but our expectations have always been the postseason or bust. In a complicated time, I don't see that changing in the minds of Spurs' fans. The development of this young roster is critical for the future, but there's no time like the present to see that impact. Iron is forged through heat, and we're about to watch it happen.
Casey Viera: The best-case scenario is something to the effect of having the young guys sneak you into a four-game sweep in the first round against the Lakers. The way things have gone this season, nothing has been best-case. The probable reality is that they have some fun, eye-opening moments but largely look very green and the trip to Disney World ends uneventfully in a couple weeks.
What do you think Spurs fans? What do you have to say? Let me know on Twitter at @JeffGSpursZone.