What we can expect from the Spurs in the final stretch of the season
The season is almost over. Is there anything you want to see from one of the core players before the last game to feel more comfortable about the future?
Marilyn Dubinski: Seeing a level of consistency that has been absent all season would provide some hope for the future, but that will probably be impossible with all the injuries (both current and those that require long-term “injury management”) forcing new lineups every night. I really wish Jeremy Sochan wasn’t suffering from that knee issue, because along with seeing whatever new player the Spurs draft brings to the club, second-year Sochan is going to be the thing I’m most looking forward to next season. The offseason wait will be long enough, and getting deprived of chances to see him now isn’t helping.
Mark Barrington: I’m to the point where my only concern with the last few games is minimizing the opportunity for any more significant injuries. I would like to see Devin Vassell get his mojo back, but if he doesn’t do it before the end of the season, I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. He’s already showing inconsistent flashes of his old form.
Bruno Passos: A Blake Wesley heater would be a fun thing for people to chew on heading into the offseason, but for the most part I think we’ve seen where everyone is at right now. A clean bill of health and the best possible lottery positioning are all that should be on most people’s minds.
Jesus Gomez: Some consistency on threes from Keldon Johnson would be nice to see. He’s shooting really well in March and if he could keep his percentage above 40 percent the rest of the way, it would do a lot to assuage concerns about his ability to score from the outside. Other than that, I’m more interested in how the non-core guys do. They are the ones who are fighting for a spot on the roster next season, after all.
The last two additions, Sandro Mamukelashvili and Julian Champagnie, seem to be promising. Do you see either of them sticking around past this season?
Dubinski: I could see it going either way for them, but both have certainly made strong cases for themselves. Mamu probably stands the best chance and is very much Pop’s type of player: he’s versatile, shoots when open, plays with intensity and never quits. I imagine he’ll be back, even if it means letting someone like Keita Bates-Diop (another Pop favorite) walk. Champagnie may still have more work to do, but I could easily see him on the Spurs summer league team and possibly returning as a two-way player next season if someone else doesn’t come along with a guaranteed offer.
Barrington: I like both players, but they’re both end of the bench quality talents, so whether or not they stay depends on their fit and whether Pop thinks they’ll provide some value. I could see both of them staying another year, or being cut in training camp next year. I think Champagnie’s shot looks really promising, but he’s not a good defender in the small sample I’ve seen so far. Mamu has the potential to become a fan favorite, because he has a very engaging personality, so he could be next year’s victory cigar player, if Pop wants to keep one.
Passos: They’ve both justified the fliers the Spurs took on them late in the year, which should give fans that much more faith in the process guiding the front office. Mamu has especially conquered the hearts and minds of many and I’d personally love to see him stick around. But when you’re working your way up from the bottom like San Antonio is, those fringe victories don’t necessarily move the needle the same way. The future of everyone but the first-rounders on rookie deals feels fairly flimsy.
Gomez: It’s really hard to tell if they are actually decent or if they just look that way because they are playing for a bad team. It’s the same thing that happened with Stanley Johnson, who was good for the Spurs but then couldn’t get even a minimum offer from any other franchise. The fact that they were there to be picked up this late in the season in the first place should be a red flag. That said, they do seem to have valuable skills and if they can work on their weaknesses or the coaching staff learns how to maximize their strengths, they could be in the short-term plans of the team. They should at least be on the training camp roster if they don’t get a better offer elsewhere.
Do you think the Spurs will shut down anyone for the season soon to avoid injuries or do you think they’ll continue to sit players sporadically?
Dubinski: I think players will continue to be sporadically sat to ensure a bottom three seed, but Sochan might be toeing that line of needing to be shut down for good. He tried playing through the pain in Milwaukee and desperately wants to be out there, but he clearly wasn’t himself. Even though I previously said I want to see more of him, at some point it stops being worth it. Hopefully it’s an issue that will heal with time, or even if he needs micro-surgery like Vassell had to get rid of the problem for good, the sooner the better. I want a completely healthy second-year Sochan.
Barrington: After seeing Jeremy Sochan obviously struggle with knee pain in the Bucks game, I think he should probably sit, but I see no indication that the Spurs are going to do that. I doubt that playing now on a gimpy leg could cause him long term issues, but why would you risk it? Everyone else should play, because I can see players like Zach Collins and Blake Wesley getting a lot better with more time on the court.
Passos: We’ve got no reason to think otherwise, for Sochan at least. You’d think they want at least some familiar faces suited up for those showcase games in Austin, so that may mean keeping Johnson and Vassell activated, but the team has operated with a healthy amount of caution for most of the year, so you’d hope they’d close it out that way.
Gomez: Any kind of certainty would be welcome right now since it’s hard to see any good coming from throwing together different lineups every game. Shutting down some guys would allow others the opportunity to get a more consistent role, which is what guys on the fringes of the roster need. It could also help increase the trade value of veterans, ideally. But I’m sure the players want to be on the court so I’m assuming they will be in an out of the active roster until the last couple of games.