The San Antonio Spurs finished seven games below .500 last season and missed the post season. Twenty percent into the 2021 season, they are sitting at 8-6 and on top in the Southwest Division. Clearly last season should be considered a blip on the radar for an organization that has had only two seasons in the Gregg Popovich era not to make the playoffs.
In 1996-1997, the San Antonio Spurs missed the playoffs, primarily because David Robinson missed all but six games due to injury. With the third-worst record, they won the draft lottery and selected Tim Duncan. Fast forward to this year, after a missed postseason, and you’ll see the youngest Spurs team that Gregg Popovich has coached. This is also a trend for the organization with each of the last five rosters younger than the previous.
Three players in particular have come to the forefront out of the youth: Keldon Johnson, Dejounte Murray, and Lonnie Walker IV. Only DeMar DeRozan has played more minutes than the 24-year-old Murray, who is logging almost 33 minutes per contest. The 21-year-old Keldon Johnson is averaging 31 minutes per game and Walker, at 22-years old, is just under 29 minutes per game. Those minutes are so significant that it’s only the second time since Popovich has been coaching the team and multiple players under 24 have reached 28 minutes per game. After DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, the trio of youngsters have accounted for a surprisingly significant amount of the San Antonio Spurs success. Murray is averaging 15.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game. Johnson is averaging over 14 points and seven rebounds, while Walker is having a breakthrough season at 13 points and 38 percent from beyond the arc.
An interesting statistic is that since the start of the 2019-2020 season, the trio have actually performed better with either none or one of DeRozan or Aldridge on the floor with them than if both were on the floor with them. The trio has outscored opponents with none or one of the stars with them by 36 points in non-garbage time play. What this all means in the end is that their contributions have been excellent, perhaps even above expectations, showing they can have value when the stars are not on the court with them. That is huge for the Spurs moving forward.