The San Antonio Spurs currently own the longest playoff streak in the NBA by a wide margin. For context, Gregg Popovich’s team has reached the NBA’s postseason every year since 1996-97 and, when the streak began, three members of the Spurs roster were not yet born.
As a result, it is bizarre to even discuss the notion that the Spurs are a long-shot to make the playoffs but, as the NBA’s bubble comes together in Orlando, San Antonio has an uphill climb in order to reach the top eight in the Western Conference. Not only does San Antonio have to make up ground in the standings, Popovich will be approaching the seeding games (and anything beyond that) without his best player LaMarcus Aldridge, as the veteran big man is sidelined after shoulder surgery.
The Spurs are (obviously) well-coached and the team’s schedule is manageable enough. Still, the sledding will be difficult and there are interesting considerations as a result.
Trey Lyles (injured)
Lonnie Walker IV
Friday, July 31 – 8:00 pm ET – vs. Sacramento Kings
Sunday, Aug. 2 – 4:00 pm ET – vs. Memphis Grizzlies
Monday, Aug. 3 – 8:00 pm ET – vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Wednesday, Aug. 5 – 4:00 pm ET – vs. Denver Nuggets
Friday, Aug. 7 – 1:00 pm ET – vs. Utah Jazz
Sunday, Aug. 9 – 3:00 pm ET – vs. New Orleans Pelicans
Tuesday, Aug. 11 – 2:00 pm ET – vs. Houston Rockets
Thursday, Aug. 13 – TBD – vs. Utah Jazz
1. Los Angeles Lakers: 49-14
2. Los Angeles Clippers: 44-20 (5.5)
3. Denver Nuggets: 43-22 (7.0)
4. Utah Jazz: 41-23 (8.5)
5. OKC Thunder: 40-24 (9.5)
6. Houston Rockets: 40-24 (9.5)
7. Dallas Mavericks: 40-27 (11.0)
8. Memphis Grizzlies: 32-33 (18.0)
9. Portland Trail Blazers: 29-37 (21.5)
10. New Orleans Pelicans: 28-36 (21.5)
11. Sacramento Kings: 28-36 (21.5)
12. San Antonio Spurs: 27-36 (22.0)
13. Phoenix Suns: 26-39 (24.0)
WHAT DOES SUCCESS LOOK LIKE?
Realistically, the Spurs don’t have much of a chance to make the playoffs. They are in a better position than the Suns, just due to the constraints of an eight-game mini-season, but San Antonio is short-handed and has to jump over several teams. Because of their circumstances, it wouldn’t be fair to make this a setting in which it was playoffs-or-bust, even with the streak on the line. Seeing a few of their young players take steps forward is probably the most important thing here, especially when discussing what the franchise will look like in the future.
The Spurs do have some more established players (i.e. Derrick White, Dejounte Murray and Jakob Poeltl) that are still quite young and interesting. Those players are key to what San Antonio is doing, but there is another group of young players that could be even more interesting to evaluate in the bubble. Lonnie Walker has displayed real flashes, and the former first-round pick is still only 21 years old. He could be given room to maneuver in the bubble, even if White and Murray are currently better players. Elsewhere, 2019 first-round picks Luka Samanic and Keldon Johnson should see an uptick in deployment, at least if the Spurs are looking ahead, rather than attempting to squeeze every win out of this experience.
BIGGEST ON-COURT QUESTION
In all honesty, the question is probably whether the Spurs will go all-in on youth or attempt to grind their way to the postseason. Optimistically, San Antonio was actually better with Aldridge on the bench than on the floor this season (+1.6 net rating with Aldridge off the court and -3.2 on the court) and, if you read into that, perhaps the Spurs could make things interesting. Still, there isn’t much of a replacement for Aldridge, especially with Trey Lyles also sidelined, and the upside to leaning heavily on veterans just doesn’t appear to be there. Popovich is a genius, and it would be unwise to rule him out. Still, it’s probably time for a youth movement and, if it doesn’t happen, the Spurs may not be all that interesting in Orlando.