Spurs

Shorthanded Spurs Forced to Tinker With Lineups

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After a week-long hiatus that included five postponed road games due to players testing positive for COVID-19, the San Antonio Spurs have resumed play. Coming into the next string of games, coach Gregg Popovich and the shorthanded Silver and Black will have the opportunity to tinker with lineups out of necessity.

Wednesday’s affair at Oklahoma City saw the Spurs rule out five players — Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, Rudy Gay, Devin Vassell and Quinndary Weatherspoon — out of the lineup due to health-and-safety protocols. DeMar DeRozan was also absent due to the passing of his father. Short of key players, the Spurs called up Tre Jones and Luka Samanic from the Austin Spurs.

Down key players, small-ball Spurs temporarily at halt

Pop and co. now face the tough challenge of acclimating to these abrupt lineup changes for the foreseeable future. Down a slew of guards and wings, the Spurs will have to think out of the box if they want to continue racking up wins and build on their current possession of the sixth seed out West.

The success of the Spurs so far this season revolves on their embrace of small ball without misgivings. Playing four guards and one center as often as possible, San Antonio has developed a niche of being a team of attackers anchored by ball movement and fast-break opportunities. Perennially known as a half-court team dependent on set plays, this iteration of the Silver and Black now ranks 9th in pace on the campaign.

Most intriguing is the coaching staff will do with the remaining components of the team’s attack. The only rotation players available were Patty Mills, Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker, Jakob Poeltl and LaMarcus Aldridge. The other available bodies, Drew Eubanks, Trey Lyles, Keita Bates-Diop, Samanic and Jones have only played minimally in the season through garbage-time duties.

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Tall Ball in the cards for depleted San Antonio

With only four backcourt players and one natural wing, the Spurs may be forced to go wayward from small ball. Against OKC, Popovich opted to start Samanic-Lyles-Poeltl on the frontcourt, with Aldridge’s minutes interspersed. Coming off the bench for the first time since 2007, Pop utilized LMA in a featured bench role, helping stabilize a bench unit that is scarce in scoring.

This presents a lot of problems, however, especially on defense. LMA has regressed significantly to the point where he cannot be trusted anymore in space, even in spurts. As he was used a lot at the four alongside Poeltl or Eubanks, the Thunder were able to generate a lot of open perimeter looks.

Hopefully, the coaching staff goes beyond those tested options and dig deeper into their bag of unused tricks with more frequency. Sophomore Samanic has been stellar in the “Gubble”, averaging 21.8 points and 11.3 rebounds per outing. Meanwhile, rookie Jones has also played tremendously to the tune of 18.1 points and 9.7 assists per game. “Tall Luka” may remain an option to start in the frontcourt to help stress the spacing required for Murray and Walker. Jones may also be due significant minutes to facilitate Mills in his sparkplug role off the bench, where he is most effective.

Bates-Diop also saw an uptick in minutes. Beaming with promise as a versatile tweener at 6″8, he will get the opportunity to defend scoring forwards. Though he has sparsely played, he is a great athlete who can headstart fast-break opportunities, as seen in his impressive action against OKC.

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Ultimately, San Antonio has no choice but to compromise and tinker with new lineups. Sporting deep reserves filled with potential, Pop and co. can never go wrong with being bolder with regards to lineup decisions and venture on uncharted waters. In reality, this season is not only to redeem a playoff spot, but also to accelerate internal development.

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About Kyle Pring

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