The San Antonio Spurs are one of the model franchises in the NBA. They’ve continually drafted well, and always seem to find players to fit legendary head coach Gregg Popovich‘s system based on unselfish play at both ends of the floor. They’ve made the postseason every year since the 1997-98 season (not coincidentally, that was Tim Duncan‘s rookie year). The role pieces on San Antonio have consistently been the lifeblood of Spurs basketball, and they recently exercised fourth-year team options on Dejounte Murray and Jakob Poeltl and a third-year team option on Derrick White, per the team’s official Twitter (h/t Marilyn Dubinski of SB Nation’s Pounding The Rock). That keeps them with the Spurs at least through the 2019-20 season.
Murray is San Antonio’s future at the point guard position, and he’s already established himself as one of the best defensive guards in the league. Here is some reasons why, as the aforementioned Dubinski noted in quoting the Spurs’ official press release on the matter.
“Murray was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team, becoming the youngest player in NBA history to be named to an All-Defensive team. He ended the season with 459 rebounds, setting the record for most total rebounds in a single season by a point guard in Spurs history passing the previous mark of 378 by Johnny Moore in 1984-85.”
Murray also had 1.2 steals per game, and finished fifth among qualified players in steal percentage, per Basketball Reference. He led all qualified point guards in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus, too. He covers a ton of ground both in transition and as a help defender, which takes away a number of easy baskets for opponents.
He’s a very gifted on and off-ball defender at 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, and that athleticism makes him a pest even against the NBA’s best perimeter players. In addition, Murray is developing more of an offensive game. He had 8.1 points and 2.9 assists per game last season, and his PER made a considerable jump from 9.6 his rookie year to 15.1 in 2017-18, per Basketball Reference.
He’s gotten better at changing speeds to get near the rim, and with him often being defender by smaller players, it allows him to finish with his length and leaping ability. If he can eventually couple that with a consistent pull-up, he’d be a much tougher cover. Overall, ensuring Murray doesn’t hit 2019 free agency was a no-brainer.
Poeltl could be a key piece moving forward in San Antonio’s frontcourt, too. He was brought in from the Toronto Raptors (along with star guard DeMar DeRozan and a 2019 protected first-round pick). The Spurs traded Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to the Raptors in exchange, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Poeltl could be a nice piece for the Spurs’ bench, as he had 6.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 18.6 minutes per game last year in Toronto. He’s going into just his age-23 season and is mainly a rolling big. Poeltl placed in the 66th percentile as a rolling finisher, per Synergy Sports.
That being said, he could learn more tricks of the post-up and mid-range trade being mentored by teammates LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol, who have developed a great mid-range and even three-point stroke in recent years to go with solid rim protection. Poeltl did show good post-up scoring ability at the University of Utah, and San Antonio will allow him to do that more often, too.
Poeltl is also a good secondary passer to go with being an alert team defender, which will fit right into the Spurs’ unselfish philosophy.
Lastly, although White has not played much so far for the San Antonio Spurs, he’s shown flashes of what he’s capable of, and with franchise great Manu Ginobili now retired, expect White to get more playing time in the near future.
Again, I’ll add this bit in from the press release (h/t Dubinski).
“White appeared in 17 games during his rookie season with the Spurs, averaging 3.2 points and 1.5 rebounds in 8.2 minutes. The former Colorado Buffalo helped lead the Austin Spurs to the 2018 G League Championship, averaging 24.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.80 steals in 32.8 minutes in the G League Playoffs. He appeared in 24 regular season games for Austin, averaging 20.1 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.29 steals and 1.17 blocks in 28.2 minutes.”
White has a smooth shooting stroke, and he can shift between the lead and two guard positions well. He’s an efficient scorer with the ball in his hands or as a spot-up threat, and he’s getting better operating pick-and-rolls.
Look for him to get better on both ends as at first a three-and-D player as he gets more playing time alongside both Patty Mills and Murray. White is a smart player who never seems to be really sped up with the ball, and with his ability to play with or without the ball, he’ll be efficient when he’s on the floor.
Moreover, these three should all be notable contributors alongside DeRozan for the San Antonio Spurs moving forward in their post-Duncan-Tony Parker-Ginobili days. This team always figures it out, and these sort of young pieces should pay dividends for San Antonio on both ends.