The front positions have been tough for Spurs in recent years. Having mostly given up two large units of men, San Antonio was trying to find the right pairs that could provide the benefits of smaller formations while not giving up a significant advantage over councils and defense. It was a difficult balance to achieve.
This upcoming season could be the one when Spurs finally find something that works. In the past few months, the franchise has acquired several players that should allow them to play in different styles and give the Silver and Black a versatile and interesting front corps. Let’s take a look at it.
SF: Keldon Johnson – Josh Richardson – Romeo Langford – (Joe Weskamp)
PF: Doug McDermott – Jeremy Suchan – Isaiah Robbie – (Keita Bates Dube)
At this point, it seems safe to assume that Doug McDermott will start because he only lost his place last season through injury, and Jeremy Suchan may need time to adjust to the NBA game. Who is the junior striker and who is the attacker doesn’t really matter when he shares the field with Keldon Johnson, who will surely be one of his starting points, as the veteran sniper is often hiding in defense at least – a dangerous match.
Once the bench players are scored, the difference between the two positions should become clearer. If Richardson or Langford were around, they would be in the wing and Spurs would give up some size. On the other hand, Sushan and Robbie should be considered as traditional attackers who will help create larger formations. There are a lot of potential configurations that Gregg Popovich could use, so hopefully he’ll experiment more often.
For now, we’ll often ignore the impact that Joe Weiskamp, who remains a restricted free agent, and Keita Bates-Diop, who has an unsecured contract until the start of the season, can have on the rotation.
Weaknesses: Flexibility, Rebound, Defensive
The two biggest problems the Johnson-McDermott duo faced last season were rebounding and defensive versatility. Despite being 6’8″, McDermott bounces like a keeper and can’t defend most attackers. Johnson is better in both areas, but he’s far from the top in either. The bench doesn’t offer any great solutions either. Josh Richardson is a solid defender, but he Simply not tall enough to handle the power of the attackers.The same goes for Langford, both bouncing like guards.Isaiah Roby and Keita Bates-Diop are both passable bouncers and have a strong movement that allows them to handle the switch relatively well, but they wouldn’t change the cap The team is on the defensive Most formations that include two of the above players will range from bad to average on their part.
Responsibility for resolving both potential boards and defense issues can fall to 19-year-old Jeremy Suchan, which is both exciting and scary. Sushan was a good rebel in college and has the size, height, and athletic performance to keep doing well at the next level. His defensive prowess is the main reason he was chosen in the lottery and could make him stand out at the professional level. His lack of range will probably make it difficult for him to share the floor with Jacob Boltle for extended periods – although Spurs should definitely try it – but it is possible that for every minute of Bolt’s resting Zach Collins and Jorjoy Deng can take a shot. Will the apprentice have a big enough influence to turn an apparent weakness into a strength? Maybe not right away, but I hope it helps.
Strengths: Shooting and complementary offensive skills
While everyone, with the exception of Sushan, can be considered at best a regular and a regular defender, the Apprentice is the only dubious shooter among the group. Johnson’s gigantic leap as a leader is well documented. McDermott is a specialist who can communicate with his feet or while in motion. Richardson probably won’t be averaging a 44 percent outsider as a Spurs again, but at least he should be a mid-range shooter in the league. Robbie and Langford have yet to be proven scorers, but they have improved in recent years and aren’t afraid to let them fly. Last season, that squad combined to shoot 41 percent behind the arc in more than 1,000 attempts. There might not be a lot of shot creation in the front group, but most configurations will probably have good spacing.
Having archers is great, but playing too many specialists can limit a team’s attacking ceiling. Fortunately, the group includes not only a couple of elite starting potential, but also a lot of players who can do more than one thing and can provide the kind of bonding skills needed by the undistinguished options to attack. Richardson and Langford are good enough to handle the ball to make some pickups and laps if needed or keep defenses in a spin by attacking the ball. Roby is comfortable working as a peasant and can be a pick-and-pick or pick pop. Sochan does most of the things that don’t involve recording at a high level. Even Johnson and McDermott can do more than just shoot. Attackers have a lot of complementary skills that should keep the attack flowing.
Spurs have the staff to succeed with the kind of little couples they usually like, which includes Johnson and a second player. Richardson and McDermott are trusted veterans who know their roles. Langford and possibly Viscamp, if he returns, are youngsters but have two seasons in the NBA. Add Devin Vassell to the mix when a team plays two small guards together, and that’s a lot of variety for big units.
The most interesting dynamic will be seeing how the coaching staff incorporates the larger attackers into the mix. Bates-Diop was the only attacking force on the roster last season, but now there are also two other players who could take on the role in Roby and Sochan. If Popovic manages to use Johnson as a junior striker at least for some time alongside a bigger player who can help rebound and help in defence, then Spurs will have the kind of flexibility in the squad they have lacked in recent years.
With so much uncertainty in guard posts, it would be tempting to play familiar little units in the future, but the years of rebuilding should be about experimentation. Throwing Roby and especially Sochan into the mix whenever possible alongside Johnson could have the kind of bonus that’s worth any growing pains.