April 20, 2020, 1:03 pm
The San Antonio Spurs entered the 2019-20 season with tempered expectations. After getting bounced in the first round of the 2019 playoffs in a seven-game series vs. the Nuggets, the Spurs were expected to keep their historic postseason streak alive but not be a threat to make it out of the first round. The Spurs didn’t make any notable additions during the offseason, but this season was an opportunity to compete for a playoff spot and watch the younger players develop behind veteran leaders LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan.
One of the more exciting storylines was to see how Dejounte Murray would fit next to Derrick White. White grew significantly last season while Murray was sidelined with a torn ACL, and this season would be an opportunity to see two of the Spurs’ promising young talents play together.
Unfortunately, the Spurs’ season so far has disappointed. They are currently 12th in the Western Conference and are four games behind the 8th-seeded Grizzlies. Even if the Spurs sneak into the playoffs, they haven’t played like a team that can extend a series to seven games and are more likely to be swept. The Spurs have had some great individual performances from Aldridge and DeRozan this season, but it hasn’t translated to success on the court.
Even the hopes of seeing White and Murray together have been squashed, as the players have only shared the court for 102 minutes this season. The Spurs may have taken this roster as far as it can go but looking at this season so far can give us an idea of how the team and its players could look moving forward.
LaMarcus Aldridge, the Ageless Wonder
LaMarcus Aldridge has kept Father Time at bay this season, putting up a classic stat line worthy of his standards at the age of 34: 18.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.2 threes and 1.6 blocks while shooting .493 from the field, .389 from deep and .827 from the line.
His scoring has dropped for the third straight season and his rebounds fell by 1.8 per game compared to last season. However, Aldridge’s 3-pointers made are a career-best, improving upon his previous career-high of 0.5 per game and 0.1 threes per game last season. As a top-6 member of Dan Besbris’ 2019-20 Old Man Squad, Aldridge is proving that it pays to be boring in fantasy.
Widely overlooked in fantasy drafts this season, Aldridge ranked 25/27 per game in 9/8-cat leagues and played 81 games in 2018-19 but was still falling to the fourth round in some standard leagues and had an ADP of 45.4 in Yahoo leagues. Aldridge has delivered in a big way for fantasy owners who trusted him this season, jumping 20 spots in 9-cat rankings from his ADP. He ranks 24th per game in 9-cat leagues, keeping consistent with his 25th ranking from last season. Even though his value stayed relatively the same, the wily veteran learned a new trick to keep his top-25 status, the long ball.
It looked as if the Spurs and Aldridge had given up on getting him 3-point attempts after shooting 10-42 during the entire 2018-19 season. To the delight of fantasy owners, Aldridge has increased his 3-point attempts to 3.0 per game which has offset some of the value he’s lost from his dip in points and rebounds. Based on his shot selection beyond the arc, there is reason to think he can improve his 3-point shooting moving forward too. Only 29 of Aldridge’s 156 three-point attempts this season have come from the corner. From the left corner this season, he has shot 10-of-21. If he can get more attempts from the corners, he will likely hit his threes at a higher rate and boost his fantasy value even more. This development will be critical to him staying relevant in the NBA and fantasy basketball.
Aldridge will be heading into the final year of his contract next season and will be age 36 if he hits free agency the summer after. As great as it is to watch LA consistently dazzle in the mid-range as a top-2 option on his team, it’s unlikely he will be in that role past next season. Whether he remains with the Spurs or leaves for another team, he’s going to have to adjust his game to fit the next chapter of his career. His best option to remain an impact player seems to be for him to develop into a stretch-four or stretch-five. He’s shown this season that he can shoot a good percentage from deep at high volume.
The ideal scenario would be that he could take a leap like Brook Lopez did later in his career. After never attempting more than 0.2 threes per game, Lopez shot 5.2 per game in 2016-17 and has never taken fewer than 4.4 attempts per game since. The high 3-point volume has kept Lopez inside the top-60 in 9-cat leagues despite his playing time diminishing over his career. On the court, Lopez is a great asset to the Bucks for his ability to stretch the floor on offense and anchor the paint on defense. Aldridge has similar skills and could fit this mold for the Spurs or another team. He’s not as good of a rim protector as Lopez, but he’s also more mobile and can guard power forwards which gives him more position flexibility.
Regarding his 3-point shooting, Aldridge has taken a step in the right direction this season, and his improvement in that area has raised his floor on the court and in fantasy leagues. If he remains on the Spurs next season, another top-50 season looks likely with potential for him to delight us again with a top-30 season.
DeMar DeRozan Keeps Going, For Now
DeMar DeRozan hasn’t lost a step in fantasy leagues this season. As the engine of the Spurs offense, he’s averaged 22.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.0 steals while shooting 52.6 percent from the field and 84.3 percent from the line on 6.6 attempts per game. He’s remained consistent with the 21.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 6.2 assists he averaged last season while improving his field goal percentage by 4.5 percent. After finishing the 2018-19 season ranked 43/38 in 9/8-cat leagues, DeRozan has posted rankings of 43/40 so far this season.
It’s worth mentioning he joined Aldridge as a member of the 2019-20 Dan Besbris Old Man Squad and is another example showing that it pays to target consistent players with a safe role in the middle rounds of drafts, even if it isn’t sexy. Despite being boring most of the time, DeRozan did break out for one of the juiciest stretches of fantasy value for a mid-round draft pick this season.
During the month of January, DeRozan elevated his play to put together one of his best months in a Spurs uniform. He averaged 26.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.7 assists with spectacular percentages. DeRozan shot .561 from the field and attempted 9.4 free throws per game, converting on 90.1 percent of them. His true shooting percentage for the month was 66.0, 6.3 points above his season average. This high-volume efficiency had DeRozan in first-round territory in fantasy leagues, ranking 9/13 in 9/8-cat leagues for the month. He was the second-best fantasy contributor in free throw percentage, falling short of only Devin Booker in that category. DeRozan dominated the first month of 2020, but is that one month hiding signs that his fantasy value is trending down?
DeRozan’s fantasy value has dropped drastically since January. He’s ranked 71/65 in 9/8-cat leagues since the beginning of February, and his topple in the rankings is a direct result of his unsustainable shooting percentages coming back to earth. He hasn’t shot poorly during the recent stretch, shooting .493 from the field and .833 from the line, but the drop shows how much his fantasy value relies on high-volume, high-efficiency shooting from the field and the free throw line. He offers very little in the cash-counter stats, averaging 0.1 threes, 1.0 steals, and 0.2 blocks per game this season. Those numbers are consistent with his career averages, so there isn’t likely to be improvement in those areas. If DeRozan’s field goal and free throw attempts drop slightly from his numbers so far this season, he could fall out of the top-50.
A drop in attempts would impact his three best fantasy categories: points, field goal percentage and free throw percentage. DeRozan averages 6.3 free throw attempts per game for his career and has averaged over 5.6 attempts per game for seven straight seasons. He’s averaging 6.6 attempts this season at age 30, but it’s going to be difficult to keep racking up the trips to the line as he ages. Only two players over the age of 32 are averaging more than 5.5 free throw attempts per game this season and DeRozan is approaching that age. This combined with a likely decline in usage over the next few seasons will have DeRozan’s fantasy value trending down.
DeRozan will still have a high floor as a member of the Spurs and is someone to keep an eye on in fantasy drafts next year if people are sleeping on him again but expect a decline from this season. He is a good player to target in the middle rounds of drafts next season if you need help in scoring, field goal percentage and free throw percentage.
Dejounte Murray’s Return
After missing the entire 2018-19 season with a torn ACL, Murray headed into this season as the starting point guard for Spurs. There was a lot of excitement surrounding him, as someone who was already a great defender at his position and showed some promise as a playmaker during the 2017-18 season. So far this season, Murray has made slight improvements but has largely been held back by his limited minutes. Murray has only played 25.0 minutes per game this season, up just 3.5 minutes per game from the 2017-18 campaign. With that slight increase in playing time, he’s been able to make improvements across the board. He’s averaging 10.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.6 threes this season, compared to 8.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.1 threes in 2017-18.
His advanced statistics show signs of improvement too. He’s improved his true shooting percentage from 48.5 to 53.5 this season, driven by his improvements in field goal percentage (.475 this season) and 3-point percentage (.378 this season compared to .265 his previous season). His assist-to-turnover ratio has improved to 2.16 this season and he’s had a more positive impact on offense. His offensive rating has improved from 103.0 to 108.7 and his offensive box score plus-minus has risen from -1.6 to -0.5.
On the flip side, Murray’s defensive rating has fallen drastically from 98.7 to 113.8, which has made his net rating worse this season compared to the 2017-18 season. The Spurs’ defense has had a similar drop in defensive rating over that stretch, so it appears to be just as much the fault of the team as it is Murray’s individual performance on defense. He still looks like a player with All-Defensive Team upside and will be a solid building block for the Spurs if he can continue to improve on offense. To do that, he’s going to need to improve as a facilitator and 3-point shooter.
It’s difficult to succeed in the NBA without a point guard that is a threat from deep, so Murray will need to increase his attempts from the 1.6 per game this season if he is going to be the main facilitator for the Spurs of the future. If he can improve in that area he will be a 9-cat darling with his contributions in other categories. Murray is a great rebounding point guard and grabs steals in bunches, and it’s not unreasonable to think Murray could average 6.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals given starter’s minutes. Even if he can just mildly improve in other areas, he could be a player that posts averages of 14.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.0 threes while shooting around 45 percent from the field. That’s a sneaky fantasy line that could put him inside the top-50. He isn’t far off from that mark this season, ranking 71/72 in 9/8-cat leagues.
The path to better fantasy value is there. If he makes the few tweaks mentioned above, he could be a top-50 player for multiple seasons. Go get him in dynasty leagues if you’re building for 2-5 years from now.
Derrick White Stalling Out
Derrick White had a lot of momentum heading into the 2019-20 season. He broke out in the second half of the 2018-19 season, posting top-75 value in 9-cat leagues from the start of January through March with averages of 12.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.9 blocks while shooting .491 from the field. He fared well with his first meaningful role in the playoffs too. Although he was inconsistent, he broke out for a 36-point performance in a game 3 win over the Nuggets, adding five rebounds, five assists and three steals on 15-of-21 shooting.
Despite the momentum, White has been limited this season as Gregg Popovich refuses to play him alongside Murray and favors Patty Mills and Bryn Forbes ahead of him in the rotation at times. These rotation decisions have limited White to 24.1 minutes per game this season, which has prevented him from taking a step forward in his development and has stunted his fantasy value. He’s averaging 10.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 0.9 blocks on .459 shooting from the field this season. He’s been able to post rankings of 125/136 in 9/8-cat leagues with those numbers, but it’s a noticeable step in the wrong direction after his great finish to last season.
White still has the same stat profile as last season. He has great efficiency for a guard and adds spectacular out-of-position blocks, which makes him a great fit for a H2H team punting assists. He doesn’t play as a ball-dominant player, so the assists are unlikely to be a strength for him at any point in his career. However, if he can get to 14.0 points per game, his other stats will be enough to provide a 9-cat friendly fantasy profile. He’s shown flashes of it this season when given the opportunity.
White had 14 points, seven rebounds, nine assists, two steals and four blocks in the Spurs’ last game on March 10th with Murray out of in the lineup due to injury. Mills is still under contract next season and Forbes will be an unrestricted free agent after this season. Even if the Spurs don’t bring back Forbes, White will have to fight with DeRozan, Murray, Mills and Lonnie Walker IV for backcourt minutes if the roster stays as it is. Hopefully the Spurs find a way to get White on the court more moving forward.
For fantasy purposes, he has a great fantasy profile, but minutes are the most important stat in fantasy and he’ll need to get more before he can be considered a must-roster player in standard leagues.
Opportunity for Change
The Spurs’ disappointing performance this season highlights the need for improvement in this roster. Aldridge and DeRozan, who have a 26.4 and 23.6 usage rate this season so far, respectively, can’t lead a team to a title at this point in their careers and the Spurs don’t have the necessary assets to get an elite talent to add to their best two players. Both players have one year left on their contract and the Spurs could be staring down the path of a rebuild for the first time in over 20 years if they don’t improve next season.
The potential for these drastic roster changes make the Spurs a high-priority team to monitor for fantasy basketball in the coming seasons. Tracking teams in these situations ahead of time can give you an edge on other fantasy GMs by knowing who on the roster stands to benefit from a transaction. Think of the fantasy value that has opened up in Memphis and Detroit the past two seasons as a result of major roster overhaul.
Murray and White are two players that already show a promising fantasy profile and have a 20.5 and 17.5 usage rate, respectively. If Aldridge and DeRozan leave San Antonio through trade or free agency, Murray and White would be good bets to be mid-round players if they stay and soak up the minutes and usage left behind.
Other younger players on the roster worth watching are Jakob Poeltl and Lonnie Walker IV. Poeltl has low upside but could carve out late-round value in standard leagues as a specialist for rebounds, field goal percentage and blocks. The Spurs drafted Walker with the 18th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, but he hasn’t been given an extended opportunity yet. He spent much of his rookie season in the G-League and played 6.9 minutes per game in the 17 contests he appeared in. So far this season, he’s played 14.5 minutes per game in 53 games, averaging 5.6 points, 2.2 rebounds and 0.5 threes while shooting .434 from the field and .408 from deep. It’s hard to judge him on his limited playing time, but he’s a score-first player that would fit well next to Murray or White.
Dynasty-league GMs that are rebuilding for the future should pay attention to Spurs moving forward. Watching the moves that the front office makes and paying attention to the players on their roster can help you identify who you can get for a discount in your league, and the season so far suggests Murray and White fit in that category.