30 Teams in 30 Days

2020-21 NBA Season Preview: Can the San Antonio Spurs move back into playoff contention?

The 2020-21 NBA season is set to tip-off on Dec. 23. To get you ready for the year to come, we're dedicating one day between now and the start of the season to each team in the league.

Today, the San Antonio Spurs take the spotlight.

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2019-20 season record

32-39, 11th in the Western Conference

Notable additions

Devin Vassell, No. 11 overall pick in 2020 NBA Draft

Tre Jones, No. 41 overall pick in 2020 NBA Draft

Notable departures

Marco Bellinelli (Italy)

Bryn Forbes (Milwaukee)

Depth chart

Starter 2nd 3rd
Point Guard Dejounte Murray Patty Mills Tre Jones
Shooting Guard Derrick White Lonnie Walker IV Keldon Johnson
Small Forward DeMar DeRozan Rudy Gay Cam Reynolds
Power Forward LaMarcus Aldridge Devin Vassell Tyler Zeller
Center Jakob Poeltl Trey Lyles Drew Eubanks

3 key storylines

Will this be the swan song for Gregg Popovich?

This iteration of the San Antonio Spurs is a far cry from the dominant teams Popovich has led throughout his Hall of Fame coaching career.

Missing the postseason in 2020 for the first time in over two decades, the franchise finds itself on the outside looking in when it comes to preseason projections.

Boasting a youthful roster brimming with talent, Popovich faces the prospect of exposing youth which could come at the expense of wins.

With DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay and LaMarcus Aldridge (more on this in a moment) on the roster, the Spurs will be able to remain competitive but one has to wonder whether that is the right approach with a loaded 2021 draft class upcoming. Does Popovich have the motivation to coach a team without the prospect of contending in the near future?

Popovich has always remained philosophical about his coaching future and is hardly the type of personality to take a lap of honour around the country on a farewell tour so get ready for a season of speculation regarding his future.

What to do with LaMarcus Aldridge

It feels like the Spurs are stuck in the middle.

With a core of promising youth on the roster, the Spurs need to make a decision between full re-build or trying to remain relevant with veteran players on the roster. LaMarcus Aldridge is at the crux of this dilemma, with the 35-year-old still soaking up a large slice of the San Antonio offence.

The 7-time All-Star averaged 18.9 points and 7.4 rebounds in 2019-20, with efficient shooting splits of 49/38/82. Owed $24 million this season in the final year of his deal, the big man could be an attractive option for contending teams looking to bolster their rotation at the March 25 trade deadline.

Missing the season re-start in Orlando due to right shoulder surgery, the Spurs utilized a smaller lineup with good results, compiling a 5-3 record in that stretch.

While the big man rotation is hardly deep, removing Aldridge from the equation allowed Gregg Popovich to start Lonnie Walker IV alongside Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and DeMar DeRozan with Jakob Poeltl at the five.

Aldridge can still play to a high level, the question remains whether or not he would be best suited to doing so in San Antonio.

'Boomers Patty' about to be unleashed on the NBA?

Speaking of veteran players with an interesting future in San Antonio....

32-year-old Patty Mills is entering his tenth season with the Spurs and stands as the last remaining piece from the championship-winning dynasty under Popovich.

A desperately loved star within the locker room and among the fans, Mills has signalled his intention to play a more aggressive style of basketball as he did over a long period of time with the Australian national team.

A career back-up, Mills has always played a minimal role for a player of his talent, sacrificing his own stats for the better of the team. 2019-20 produced a career-high 11.6 points per game on 9.1 shots per game, which is still remarkably low for the microwave scoring guard.

Through three preseason games, Mills is averaging 16.3 points on 13 shot attempts per game, following through on his promise of delivering 'Boomers Patty' to the NBA.

Similar to Aldridge, Mills is in the final year of his contract and would be an extremely hot commodity among playoff contenders with his big-game experience and scoring ability. Pop couldn't actually part ways with one of his favourites though, could he...? Time will tell.

5 games to watch

All dates per Eastern Standard Time (US).

Dec. 23 at Memphis Grizzlies

Defence vs. offence at the guard position is reason enough to watch this season opener.

Ja Morant is coming off an electric rookie of the year campaign and will be met with Dejounte Murray and Derrick White to start the season. If the young Spurs guards can slow down Morant it will go along way towards taking the W.

Dec 30. vs. Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers have hinted at potentially easing LeBron James and Anthony Davis into the season, making their presence in the first of this pair of games in Texas unknown. Either way, these two franchises have a history of playoff clashes in the past and any time you get a chance to meet the defending champs for the first time there is a little added motivation to pick up the win.

Jan 20. at Golden State Warriors

We already mentioned Patty Mills's commitment to scoring this season, and we got a glimpse of what to look for early last season at Chase Center.

On that night, Mills erupted for 31 points in just 22 minutes off the bench. It's worth mentioning a decent player named Steph Curry was absent that night...let's see if Mills can repeat that effort against a far stronger Golden State lineup.

Jan 22. vs. Dallas Mavericks

Any time you see these two teams meet it brings back memories of Duncan vs. Nowitzki.

While those two icons are no longer with the franchise, another MVP candidate is in Dallas and watching the Spurs attempt to slow down Luka Doncic will be worth tuning in for.

Jan 27. vs Boston Celtics

Two volume scorers getting it done in different ways.

DeMar DeRozan and Jayson Tatum are always looking to put the ball in the bucket and this should be a run back-and-forth matchup.

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