The off season is getting quieter. The draft is in the past, and free agency is almost over. There are still some big trades to come, but for the most part, teams have made up their rosters, and the Spurs are no exception.
Opening night is likely to change some names, but it’s a good time to take a look at what the depth chart looks like right now to see what the team’s strengths and weaknesses are. To do this, we’ll look at three main groups: Guard, Forward, and Big.
Let’s start with the guard.
PG: Trey Jones – Josh Primo – Blake Wesley;
SG: Devin Wassell – Malachi Branham – Josh Richardson
Trey Jones is the only pure point guard on the roster, and given that there isn’t a lot of ball handling in the starting lineup, it’s probably the right move to replace him as the team’s starting PG with Dejonte Murray. Josh Primo will likely spend time as lead guard as well, while rookie Blake Wesley will probably get the scrap as a third-stringer. At Shooting Guard, Devin Wassell must close his starting position, with Primo supporting him and rookie Malki Branham getting a few minutes. If Spurs decide to go ahead with a short one then Josh Richardson can fill in the spot.
Drawbacks: There is very little shot creation and outdoor shooting
What becomes immediately clear is that the group lacks proven, high-use shot construction. For Wassell and Richardson, assists were more than three-quarters of their total makes last season. Primo was assisted on more than two thirds of that. Jones built a shed in half of his buckets, which is better but not great. Rookies carried heavy offensive loads in college, but may initially struggle to make an impact. Wesley was also disabled at a lower level and could take some time to develop. Branham’s pick and roll-heavy attack could prove useful at the spur, but it remains to be seen whether he can play a bigger role in the pros while receiving significant defensive attention. The biggest weakness on paper right now for the Guard Corps is the lack of a clear, high-use alternative to act as an engine of offense.
Unfortunately this is not the only issue. Outdoor shooting can also be a problem. Jones has been a very reluctant shooter since college, and while he worked at it the last two months of last season, he still shot only 24 percent of 1.45 attempts from outside in his last 20 games. Primo was an aspiring shooter, and his stroke looked great from the start, but the results so far have not been impressive, as he only adds 31 percent of his shots as a rookie. Meanwhile, Wesley only shot 30 percent outside in college. All three could struggle to play with the ball, which makes the chances of at least two of them playing together. Wassel, Branham and Richardson should do better, but there are some question marks about their shooting as well. Richardson shot a career-best by a mile last season, Wassel was just league average, and Branham wasn’t a volume shooter at Ohio State. Spacing can be an issue.
Strengths: It May Be Unproven, But Has Depth
There are reasons for optimism about how rotation works, despite some obvious issues. It is possible that Jones’s game has more scalability than the primary ball handler, and may provide shot creation by the rest of the guard committee. Primo has reps on the lead guard at the NBA level, and both Branham and Wesley served as featured choices in college, so they would never be completely out of their element on the ball. There is also a chance that Wassel or Keldon Johnson go a step further as self-creators, reducing the burden on young people. Josh Richardson could also lend a hand there, although relying on him would not be ideal. It can be difficult to know who is going to make it on any given night, but with some mixing and matching the guards should be able to look open as a group.
Likewise, there may not be a standout defender among the guards – although Vassel could easily become one – but there is plenty of length and athleticism. Aside from Jones, everyone else is 6’4″ or taller, with a solid wingspan. Almost any combination should work. The team’s switch-heavy plans are sometimes tough for young people who must continue , but just having size should help. There’s also a good mix of on-ball defenders like Jones and Primo, and disruptive team defenders like Weasel and potentially Wesley. Ultimately the foundation for building a good perimeter defense seems to be there. And it will be interesting to see which pairing works well when looking forward to the future. Spreading the offensive load among multiple players should allow everyone to try at the other end, given the type of activity level which turns defense into offense.
Losing an All-Star without replacing him with any veteran has clearly left the Spurs quite vulnerable on the guard spot. Murray was a solid first choice on offense, and despite not being as good on the other end as he had been earlier in his career, he was still an above-average-attack defender. No person currently on the roster can provide the two-way output given by him. There’s no getting around it: Guard play will be one of Spurs’ biggest weaknesses next season.
The lack of consistent ability should be mitigated with at least some recreational play from talented young players. Even if the rookies don’t get much runs in the beginning, it will be fascinating to see how Jones, Primo and Wassel develop. And there’s a chance that on any given night, at least one guard will do something that shows off their ability and helps the team compete.
With a little luck, this will often be enough to keep most games fun.