As the Spurs have settled in, for a while now, at Orlando in preparation for the last stretch of the season, they are in desperate need of a surprise to keep their playoff streak alive. In this article, we will be taking a look at 2 players who might take a much-needed step up and help the Spurs win some tough games in Disneyland.
1. Keldon Johnson, Guard/Forward
Keldon Johnson, drafted 29th overall a year ago, might just have carried on the Spurs’ reputation for picking up gems at the end of the first round. Although Johnson played with Austin for most of the season, he showed two things that make him a prime candidate to break out in Orlando. One, his exceptional and consistent play in the G-league for most of the year. And second, his rising play with the Spurs’ first-team before the season was halted.
In 31 appearances for the Austin Spurs, Keldon Johnson averaged 20.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game. But what comes as more impressive was his 53% shooting percentage, proving his above-average efficiency. Throughout the season, Johnson was a force on the inside. While definitely not the most physically gifted player, Keldon was able to use both his agility and strength to help him finish his layups among bigger defenders. In addition to making buckets near the basket, Johnson grabbed 1.7 offensive boards every game. (😲) An insane amount for a guard. On the defensive end, Keldon still has some room to grow, but his constant effort and hustle sometimes are able to cover up those obvious missteps.
You know this rookie is something special when Gregg Popovich decides to utilize him in his first year with the Spurs. Former Spurs top draft picks such as Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker IV, and Derrick White all spent nearly all their rookie year in the G-league. Yet Keldon Johnson was starting to contend for solid bench minutes merely two months before the end of the regular season.
In the last four games before the season suspension, Johnson sought a much higher role in Pop’s gameplan. He saw his playing time increase to 16 minutes per game, and along with it was his performance on the court, Johnson averaged 7 PTS, 3 REBs, and 1.6 steals. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Keldon’s improvement is the sign of coach Pop’s trust in him– rare for any player, but even more so for a rookie. In Johnson’s game, Popovich sees, on one hand, an aggressive yet smart scorer, and on the other, an athletic and energetic wing defender, something the Spurs haven’t had in a while. (Let’s not discuss who that last person was) We see in this possession Johnson’s ability to absolutely shut down an All NBA/MVP talent in Luka Doncic. But of course, it’s only one possession.
When the Spurs return to the court in two days, Keldon Johnson’s growth will be critical to the team’s success this year.
2. Jakob Poeltl, Center
If there is one Spur that can possibly benefit and break out from the Orlando trip, it might be Jakob Poeltl. Assessing coach Pop’s earlier lineups, Poeltl will be starting in the place of Aldridge. With only a few months to go before Poeltl starts to negotiate a new contract in free agency, a strong performance in Orlando might really raise his stock and earn him some big bucks.
Defensively, Jakob Poeltl, without a doubt, is an upgrade over Aldridge, and over most NBA bigs. Per 36 Minutes, Poeltl averages 3.1 blocks per game, which would tie him with Hassan Whiteside for the league-leading blocker 😱. With Poeltl on the floor, the Spurs as a team also allow five points less per 100 possessions. Yet when it comes to Poeltl’s offensive game…yea it’s not great. Practically having no offensive ability beyond 5 feet, Jakob’s offensive proficiency would be what you call the exact opposite of Aldrige’s. Poeltl so far in his career only averages 5.4 points per game, almost all of which coming within five feet, or from the free-throw line. Simply looking at the Spurs this year, throwing Jakob Poeltl into a more prominent role will no doubt cause trouble scoring the basketball.
Even though Poeltl has his limitations, what increases his chances of breaking out is his upscale of game time in Orlando. Logging only 16 minutes per game for the last two seasons, we have not seen the entirety of what Jakob can do. If Poeltl can maintain his defensive prowess and add some extra sprinkles to his offensive game, it will no doubt help the Spurs momentarily forget about Aldridge’s absence.
Spurs Future Core Part 1: Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV
Spurs Future Core Part 2: Luka Samanic, Jakob Poeltl, Chimezie Metu