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NBA 2022 Off Season Guide: San Antonio Spurs


The San Antonio Spurs enter the 2022 NBA off season in an interesting space.

With a young, talented core and appearances in the play-in tournament in back to back seasons, are the Spurs ready to make a breakthrough? Are they a player away from a playoff push? Are they a team benefiting from the uplifting effects of a master coach?

Alternatively, are the Spurs simply not talented enough? Do they have the assets or the free agency cache to get a big name in black and silver? Has coach Gregg Popovich lost a step?

Frankly, there isn’t a clear answer to any of those questions.

They made the play-in as the 10th seed in a season where the Lakers and Blazers were both unexpectedly awful. The have an All Star in Dejounte Murray but is he really an genuine tent pole superstar in the making? The Spurs ability to take care of business against the NBA’s lesser teams whilst struggling against the better outfits suggests that Popovich hasn’t lost that touch just yet. But he’s not going to be around forever.

San Antonio can go in a number of directions this off season. None of them are definitively positive or negative paths.

The Roster

Since drafting Sean Elliott 3rd overall in 1989, the Spurs have had precisely one top ten pick: Tim Duncan in 1997. Their last two picks (Josh Primo at 12, Devin Vassell at 11) have been their next highest draft picks in that span.

Knowing that, it’s frankly a miracle that the Spurs possess the roster that they do. Dejounte Murray and Keldon Johnson were 29th overall picks, as was Derrick White (traded this season for the productive Josh Richardson and picks). Lonnie Walker – more on him below – was selected 18th and quietly effective backup point guard Tre Jones was a 2nd rounder.

Led by longtime decision maker RC Buford, San Antonio’s front office have also had wins in the trade market with Richardson and Jakob Poeltl and in a rare free agency splurge through Doug McDermott.

This roster has talent – most of it young and relatively untapped – from top to bottom. What it needs is a leader.

Despite what Spurs fans will tell you, Murray isn’t leading an NBA team to the promised land. Sure, he’s a fine player and could well add a few more All Star appearances to his resume before he’s through, but he’s ideally a support star; a Jrue Holiday type who is miscast as a franchise saviour.

Team Needs

As mentioned, the Spurs most urgent need is a genuine transformative talent (expert analysis, eh?). Whether they can find that man with what is currently slated as the 9th pick in the draft is speculative.

Position ally San Antonio are well set at point guard and centre where Murray has developed into an All Star and Poeltl is quietly one of the best defensive centres in the NBA. Tre Jones is developing into a solid back up to Murray. They could do with another backup centre. Jock Landale is fun and a certified stretch five, but is debatable if he’s genuinely good enough to be an NBA rotation player.

The Spurs are well stocked at the wings. Keldon Johnson is a nominal stretch four but standing just 6’5” is a natural small forward. The 22 year old was 2nd on the team in scoring with an even 17 points per outing whilst hitting a hair under 40% of his threes. Vassell, Walker and Primo join him in a young wing quartet that seems to constantly tease with it’s talent without delivering with any great regularity.

That’s perhaps unfair on Primo, who was the youngest player in the NBA this past season. The Canadian averaged a tick under 20 minutes a game and even started 16 matches. There’s certainly something to build on with Primo, but it’s going to require a truckload of patience.

Walker is a fascinating player. Hyper athletic and capable of going on bursts where he looks like a young Dwayne Wade only with a better jump shot, he can equally disappear for weeks at a time. The 3rd year man seemed to finally discover some consistency after the All Star break, where he gave the Spurs 15.3 points a night on 44/37/74 shooting splits. Walker is a free agent this off season and what direction the front office take on him could dictate much of what they do with other parts of the roster.

Finding a four with genuine size, thus allowing Johnson to move back to his natural position is vital. The Spurs tried to fill that gap with a veteran (Thad Young, who was barely played before being traded) and a ‘2nd draft’ prospect in Zach Collins, who only returned from a long term shoulder injury late in the season.

The Cap Sheet

San Antonio are one of the few teams that will have cap space this off season, currently sitting at around $14.5 million. The team do have a number of avenues to increase that number, though. Chiefly among them is letting Walker…um…walk.

The 23 year old is, when on his game, an exciting scorer who seemingly gets to the cup at will. The back end of his season, whilst not nearly enough of a sample size to allay concerns over his consistency, has surely increased his open market value. His cap hold is a a touch over $13.3 million. It will be interesting to see where his market value lands.

The team also has the option of moving on their free-agents-to-be. Poeltl’s $9.4 million deal is criminally cheap for a centre of his quality. The Spurs will have to pony up to keep him in town. Whether they choose to remains to be seen. Josh Richardson’s $12 million salary comes off the books at the end of next season, as does Romeo Langford (acquired with Richardson) and his $5.6 million. That’s another $27 million of thereabouts that the Spurs can jettison in those three.

The obvious question is why the Spurs would look to clear cap space, other than to re-sign their own free agents without stressing their cap sheet. San Antonio isn’t a traditional destination of choice for free agents. Their last big name signing was LaMarcus Aldridge, who chose to return home to Texas.

That said, if there is anybody that they want to target in free agency this will be the year to do it. At this stage it’s expected that five teams will hold cap space this off season. This time next year that number will balloon to somewhere between 10 and 12.

Expect the team to retain Poeltl and possibly explore sign-and-trade options for Walker if his market becomes uncomfortably high. If the Spurs are truly embracing the rebuild, Richardson will also more than likely be moved on, if not in the close season then before the 2023 trade deadline.

The Draft

San Antonio will likely select in the top 10 for the first time this millennium in 2022, their pick currently slotted in at number nine. They also hold first rounders from Toronto (#20) and Boston (#25).

With power forward – or at least a supersized wing – the obvious need, expect them to cross their fingers and toes, hoping for Iowa’s Keegan Murray to fall to them because the true power forward gems in Jabari Smith and Pablo Banchero are most certainly not falling that far in this or any universe.

Murray shows flashes of Pascal Siakam with a better jump shot. He doesn’t project to be a top 10 NBA player, but he has the potential to be a genuine multi-tooled player who can score in the low to mid 20’s.

This part of most draft boards is dominated by smaller wings and the odd point guard. Essentially, things that the Spurs already have. If Murray isn’t available to them then they could reach a little for the versatile Jeremy Sochan or – if they’re feeling just a little crazy – really swing for the fences and take Ousmane Dieng.

The 18 year old, currently plying his trade in Australia’s NBL, is the proverbial blank canvas. He’s got oodles of athletic ability, is incredibly elastic and is already in possession of a solid 6’9” frame which is expected to have some growth left in it. Remind you of anybody?

Dieng is a long, long way from being ready but that didn’t stop the Spurs from taking a flyer on Primo last draft. This is one club that will back it’s player development program to the hilt.

With those later first rounders, expect the Spurs to look to fill that reserve centre spot as well as taking another flyer on a raw but tantalising prospect. Orlando Robinson and Walker Kessler are in play as back up centres. Bryce McGowens comes into play as a high upside wing, especially if the team plan to let Walker leave.

San Antonio could also take a few bites at the power forward apple. If Nikola Jovic is on the board the Spurs will surely snap him up. They could also go with another international prospect in Moussa Diabate.

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