The 2021-22 NBA season is set to tip off on Oct. 19 (ET). In preparation for the upcoming season, we're dedicating one day between now and the start of the season to each team in the league.
Next up? The San Antonio Spurs.
2020-21 season record
33-39, 10th in the Western Conference
Al-Farouq Aminu, trade
Thaddeus Young, trade
Doug McDermott, trade
Zach Collins, free agency
Bryn Forbes, free agency
Jock Landale, free agency
Joshua Primo, No. 12 pick in 2021 NBA Draft
Joe Wieskamp, No. 41 pick in 2021 NBA Draft
DeMar DeRozan, sign-and-trade
Patty Mills, free agency
Rudy Gay, free agency
Gorgui Dieng, free agency
Trey Lyles, free agency
Quinndary Weatherspoon, free agency
DaQuan Jeffries, free agency
|PG||Dejounte Murray||Bryn Forbes||Tre Jones|
|SG||Derrick White||Lonnie Walker IV||Joshua Primo|
|SF||Doug McDermott||Devin Vassell||Keita Bates-Diop||Joe Wieskamp|
|PF||Keldon Johnson||Thaddeus Young||Al-Farouq Aminu||Luka Samanic|
|C||Jakob Poeltl||Zach Collins||Drew Eubanks||Jock Landale|
3 key storylines
The start of a new era
The Spurs have found themselves in unfamiliar territory over the last few seasons.
In 2018-19, San Antonio earned its 22nd straight appearance in the playoffs, tied for the longest in NBA history. The result? A first-round loss to the Denver Nuggets. The following season (2019-20) the Spurs missed the playoffs for the first time since 1996-97. They then earned a spot in the Play-In Tournament in 2020-21 but fell to the Memphis Grizzlies in the opening game, bringing an end to their season.
The Spurs have undergone a lot of change since then. DeRozan, who led the Spurs with averages of 21.6 points and 6.2 assists per game over the last three seasons, was signed and traded to the Chicago Bulls in the offseason. Mills, who was the longest-tenured member of the Spurs, left the franchise to sign with the Brooklyn Nets. The Spurs also saw Gay, who was the team's leading scorer off the bench last season, join the Utah Jazz in free agency.
What's left is one of the youngest rosters in the NBA.
There's still plenty of talent on this roster - Murray has improved each season he's been in the NBA, White has shown flashes when healthy and Johnson is coming off of a promising sophomore season in which he averaged 12.8 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, to name a few members of the franchise's youth movement - but expectations have been lowered entering the 2021-22 season. BetOnline has San Antonio's projected win total at 28.5, ranking it 13th in the Western Conference.
The last time the Spurs won less than 30 games in a season? 1996-97, the season before they selected Tim Duncan with the No. 1 pick in the 1997 NBA Draft.
A new era, indeed.
The health of Zach Collins
It's been a rough couple of seasons for Collins.
The No. 10 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Collins had a solid sophomore season with the Portland Trail Blazers, averaging 6.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in 17.6 minutes per game. Unfortunately, a dislocated shoulder limited him to 11 games in 2019-20. He was then sidelined for the entire 2020-21 season after undergoing surgery on his ankle.
The Trail Blazers didn't extend a qualifying offer to Collins in restricted free agency this offseason, paving the way for him to sign a three-year, $22 million contract with the Spurs.
It's a low-risk signing for the Spurs - less than half of his contract is fully guaranteed - but it's one that could pay off in a big way if Collins can get back to full strength.
Zach Collins was the @FanDuel Value of the Night!- NBA Fantasy (@NBAFantasy) May 10, 2019
He filled it up in the @trailblazers' Game 6 victory with 14 PTS, 4 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL & 5 BLK for 38.3 #NBAFantasy points - returning 8.7x his $4,400 DFS price!#NBAPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/nP03vUTujL
Dejounte Murray continuing to improve
A lot of attention will be on Murray this season.
In only his second season in the league, Murray made history by becoming the youngest player in NBA history to earn an All-Defensive selection, a record previously held by Kobe Bryant. He missed the entire 2018-19 season with a torn ACL but had a career year in 2019-20, followed by another one in 2020-21 in which he averaged 15.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
Murray had a total of four triple-doubles on the season, making him the first Spur with multiple triple-doubles in a single season since Hall of Famer David Robinson (1993-94).
Murray has developed into an all-around threat, but he still has room to improve as a shooter, particularly from 3-point range. After shooting 36.9 percent from the perimeter in 2019-20, Murray converted only 31.7 percent of his 3-point opportunities in 2020-21.
If Murray continues to improve at the rate he has to this point of his career while becoming a more consistent 3-point shooter, a big season could be in the works.
5 games to watch
Oct. 23 vs. Milwaukee Bucks
Every team in the league will likely have their first matchup with the defending champions circled on their calendar. The Spurs won't have to wait long, as their first meeting with the Bucks will be their third game of the season.
Oct. 26 vs. Los Angeles Lakers
The team many expect to come out of the Western Conference this season. It's always fun to watch LeBron James take on Gregg Popovich's Spurs.
Jan. 17 vs. Phoenix Suns
The Spurs are one of 24 teams that will play on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2022. Their opponent? The defending Western Conference champion Suns.
Not only will going up against Chris Paul and Devin Booker be a good test for San Antonio's young guards, but Popovich and Suns head coach Monty Williams have history. Williams played under Popovich for almost two seasons and was a coaching staff intern in 2005 when the Spurs won their third title in franchise history.
Jan. 21 vs. Brooklyn Nets
This will mark Mills' first game in San Antonio since joining the Nets. Mills started his NBA career with the Portland Trail Blazers but signed with the Spurs in 2012 and spent 10 seasons with the franchise. His return to San Antonio will likely be an emotional one.
Jan. 28 vs. Chicago Bulls
Another return game, this time for DeRozan, who spent three seasons with the Spurs. The Spurs and Bulls meet again on Feb. 14 in Chicago.
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