The San Antonio Spurs’ time as one of the NBA’s elite teams is officially over. With Gregg Popovich seemingly set to retire soon, San Antonio’s strategy in the 2022 NBA offseason was to prepare for the future. This has paid off well, as the team is well placed to start a tank.
Spurs have taken significant steps to rebuild this offseason. They drafted three players in the first round of the 2022 NBA Draft. They traded All-Star Dejounte Murray for draft picks and a veteran (Danilo Gallinari) they signed. They took very slowly to free agency and let Lonnie Walker sign with the Los Angeles Lakers while bringing in a veteran center in Gorgui Dieng. Victor Wembanyama better brush up on his River Walk knowledge just in case.
The Spurs were very productive in the 2022 NBA offseason, but left one key move on the table: They should have added a point guard somewhere along the way.
Spurs’ off-season move they needed to make
Spurs have plenty of young talent to lead them into their next era: Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, Josh Primo, Jakob Poeltl, Tre Jones and a trio of rookies in Jeremy Sochan, Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley.
But who does the work so they all have the ball? Which player will lead the attack and find the young players in their place? Spurs have plenty of ball handlers but none of them can read the defense and pass the ball to their teammates consistently. The absence of a point guard on the roster is striking and should be corrected soon.
Last season, Dejounte Murray did most of the playing for Spurs. He did a great job, averaging 9.2 assists. The Spurs traded their other strong point guard, Derrick White, to the Boston Celtics at the trade deadline, leaving the team with a shortage of point guards. The two individuals who combined to produce more than half of Spurs’ 27.9 assists per game last season have gone without a real replacement.
The formation of San Antonio currently has only one real playmaker: Jones. The numbers suggest he’s already a solid playmaker — his 27.0 assist percentage last season puts him just above the likes of De’Aaron Fox and Fred VanVleet — but the sample size lack.
Other than Jones, Spurs don’t really have anyone who can reliably set the table up front. Jones’ experience of being such at the NBA level is slim, as he only played 16.6 minutes per game last season. This makes their need for a playmaker even more dire.
While Popovich is a master at getting his players to play together, the squad he has this season needs a lot of work. Most of the players on the roster are under rookie contract. Spurs’ remarkable ball movement in their heyday was the work of Pop’s philosophy and coaching, but it was the players on the pitch who made it work.
Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan do not cross these doors. Even someone like Boris Diaw is not. Spurs have players who have some play in their arsenals like Sochan, Poeltl and Branham but none who are real playmakers, except for Jones. Either Jones will have to be responsible for a lot of play or the rest of the roster will have to step up.
Can San Antonio get by with a few players who are just decent point guards and everyone pitching in? Yes. Should they rely on that? It’s probably not given how young the roster is. Popovich’s game planning can only go so far and the development of younger players remains to be seen.
Spurs’ lack of a general on the ground could make them difficult to watch this season. Having a bad organization in attack and tanking should not be mutually exclusive. Indeed, it would be beneficial for Spurs to surround their young players with a solid infrastructure. Player development is just as important, if not more crucial, than racking up losses for a rebuilding team.
San Antonio could meet its need for a point guard by developing its key wings the right way. If Johnson or Vassell can jump into the zone and/or Jones shows he’s built to be a consistent playmaker for long stretches, there won’t be any major issues. The way it looks now, however, Spurs will regret entering the season with only one true point guard.