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The Spurs' Stock Market: Evaluating San Antonio's assets, liabilities, and growth potential

Over a quarter of the way through the season, the Spurs have seen returns on investing in the youth while riding with the the ups and downs of a transition year.

SAN ANTONIO — Over a quarter of the way through the season, the San Antonio Spurs and their fans have been seeing an early return on investing in the youth while riding with the turbulent ups and downs of a team in transition.

For those who are invested one way or another, the overall portfolio has grown and by all projections overperformed in a year when the market as a whole was rather bearish on their prospects. The astronomical highs, briefly fourth in the West, make those holding feel like it's bound to go to the moon. The disappointing lows expose paper hands, and embolden the many who shorted San Antonio from the jump.

The reality right now is a team somewhere in the middle, but extrapolating the volatility through the rest of the season means they could finish with a guaranteed playoff spot or out of the chase entirely.

Unlike the risky stocks like GameStop and AMC that that have taken over the market in the last week, the Spurs actually have some sound fundamentals behind their operations plan and a bright future with what they're building for tomorrow. 

Before we delve into their individual assets, liabilities, and growth potential, and I'm talking a deep dive on every player from DeMar to Luka, this is not financial advice and I am not a financial advisor. This may seem like a satirical reference to the reddit boards that have dealt absurd losses to hedge funds in recent days, because obviously we're talking about basketball players, and you can't invest in a basketball player's stock, right?

Wrong, of course you can, and the market is more akin to the one in New York than ever. Individual investors have bought memorabilia for generations, with the value directly tied to scarcity and the success of the player or team who signed, or appeared on the card. 

Nowadays rookie cards trade like commodities online, with the Panini Prizm silver edition being the gold standard. You can also invest in digital commodities based on individual highlights, believe it or not, on NBA Top Shot. It works the same way as any tradeable thing: there are a certain number of them, they're worth what someone is willing to pay.

For example, the DeMar DeRozan revenge dunk on the Raptors, Metallic Gold edition, has 33 listings on the site with the lowest ask just under $500, which could get you about 5 shares of $GME at market close Wednesday. There's a LeBron dunk that someone wants a quarter mil for. Lonnie Walker IV's heroic run-capping three against the Rockets - Cosmic edition whatever that means - sold at it's highest for... $6,969.00 U.S. dollars. 

Is it worth that much? If someone is willing to buy it, then yes. If it's made with real Cosmos, I'm interested.

Seriously, this is not financial advice. We do not recommend purchasing any of these things, and if you do so anyway, understand the financial risks associated. Like any investment, you can lose all the money you put in. Like anyone who bought GameStop at it's peak, you may be left holding a very expensive bag.

You can also invest in real estate on Dejounte is Overrated Island, or instead jump on the Spurs to the Sixth Seed train. Emotional and intellectual investment is the pure and natural way that fans have invested in their favorite teams, players and opinions, and it's quite powerful. Nothing is more fun than being right, and if you're wrong your cold take can be exposed for the masses to flame.

For the big money types, the whales who really run the whole game and own an NBA franchise, they can invest in players by trading them amongst each other to see returns on the court. 

Player value on that market generally corresponds to the value of their more accessible tradable commodities associated, but the average cost per season comes into play here. If you're a firm who bought high on a declining asset, you may look to cut your losses and and reinvest the capital in ventures with more upside or immediate value.

Having said all that, and reiterating once more for good measure that this IS NOT FINANCIAL ADVICE, let's see what San Antonio is working with. There's also a full Big Fundamental Podcast episode on this very topic featuring yours truly and Evan Closky, who is also not a financial advisor.

DeMar DeRozan

Signed through: 2021

Average salary: $27 million

Per Game: 19.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.7 turnovers, 0.9 steals, 0.4 blocks

FG% / 3P% / FT%: 48.8 / 35.1 / 87.8

Those who came into the season selling DeRozan short are currently paying through the nose. He's been the engine driving San Antonio's offense, limiting turnovers, attacking the rim, and finding open teammates on the perimeter when defenders collapse.

DeRozan has performed consistently this year, and he's been the go-to guy in the fourth quarter. His rough nights are rare but fatal, as we saw against Memphis when he really couldn't get much going in either game. 

At his best, he put up 38 points and led a fourth-quarter comeback against the Timberwolves, willing them to a win in OT. He has struggled consistently this year on the second night of back to backs, and his defense still leaves much to be desired.

Still, his ability to create shots for himself and others changes the game for San Antonio, and his newfound desire to shoot the three has helped change minds that were convinced he was a dinosaur in the analytics age. He isn't a sharpshooter at 35% on about two attempts per game, but it's enough to force the defense to respect him, which opens things up for him and anyone else trying to drive.

He might have made a name for himself before Vine was a thing playing old school, but he's adapted and contributed to the spacing that is allowing guys like Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, Lonnie Walker IV and others room to attack and grow. As they do both, they help make DeRozan's job easier.

DeMar has been San Antonio's star player and veteran leader through this season, showing continued growth that raises his ceiling and the ceiling of the entire team. The Spurs will likely hold onto DeRozan and hope the team can iron out defensive problems. 

DeMar's gains as a player and expiring contract might be a juicy get for a team looking to make one final move to contend for a title, and if San Antonio can't get it together, they would be wise to explore those moves.

If he keeps playing this way and the Spurs find sustained team success, however, re-signing him seems like a much better idea than it did even a few months ago. He has doubled down on the bubble style and growing with the young guns, and been rewarded for it.

If he keeps it up, he should be an All Star this year.

Dejounte Murray

Signed through: 2024

Average salary: $16 million

Per Game: 14.6 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.7 turnovers, 1.3 steals, 0.1 blocks

FG% / 3P% / FT%: 44.8 / 30.4 / 76.7

Murray has been one of the most talked about players in Spurs circles. He's the elder statesman of the young guns, the point guard in Derrick White's absence, and arguably the best player not named DeMar.

Those who came into the season low on Dejounte bet against a 25-year-old competitor who was the youngest player to make an All Defense team, who has shown growth every year despite injures. They did so doubting his abilities as a true point guard, and his consistency.

This has been Murray's best season in both of those regards. His assist to turnover ratio of 3.1 is fantastic, and much like DeRozan his bad games are few, but nearly unsurvivable for San Antonio. He's scored under 10 points in just four of his 21 starts this year: a poor shooting game in a blowout loss to the Jazz, the same Monday against the Grizzlies, the early sprained ankle against Dallas, and an efficient 9 points and 11 assists in a win over Portland.

No player is going to go 82-82, and generally the Spurs go as Murray goes. He's that important, and he's been that consistent. There's potential for even more growth if he picks his 3P% up to near 35%.

Buy and hold, he's probably gonna be here doing his thing for a long time.

Keldon Johnson

Signed through: 2023

Average salary: $2 million

Per Game: 15.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.5 turnovers, 0.9 steals, 0.6 blocks

FG% / 3P% / FT%: 48.3 / 34.4 / 78.8

Keldon is the game breaker, the Reddit pick you should have been all in on six months ago, the exciting new guy working with a next-level proprietary energy source and only getting better.

Energy is the key for the 6'6" musclebound mustang, who flies across the court screaming his head off like a 7 year old who just chugged a two liter of Mountain Dew Baja Blast while watching Wrestlemania with his cousins.

"He's a f***ing child," DeMar DeRozan recently said with a laugh and a lot of love.

In NBA terms he absolutely is a child at the moldable age of 21, and he's already making a huge impact and putting up scoring and rebounding numbers in his first 35 Spurs games to get on lists with guys like Tim Duncan and David Robinson.

His recent performance is already priced into his tradeables. There was opportunity to buy quite low as he worked in the G League, but when he broke out in the bubble he went on an upward trajectory that has only accelerated. A quality Panini Prizm silver rookie card now runs in the $100 range.

Remember that the first to buy low on Johnson were the Spurs themselves, who scooped him up when he tumbled to 29 on draft night. Spurs Twitter followed closely behind, and when the fiesta jerseys come in you'll see how many people invested their hard-earned cash in repping their belief in the kid. He's now a legit top-five contributor from that draft class, with plenty of room to get better.

RELATED: Rev up 'The Mustang,' Keldon Johnson excites Spurs and fans after Orlando performance

If you didn't get in a year ago, you missed out on the train. But the train is on its way to the launch pad, and the rocket is big enough to take everyone to the outer reaches of the solar system. Buy and hold, and see how high this young man can go.

Lonnie Walker IV

Signed through: 2022

Average salary: $3.1 million

Per Game: 11.7 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.0 turnovers, 0.6 steals, 0.4 blocks

FG% / 3P% / FT%: 41.9 / 38.5 / 78.8

If you're disappointed in Lonnie's statistical production this year, you may have been expecting too much return too soon. He seemed poised for a breakout season after starting in the bubble, and he's started every game to start the season. He's averaging nearly 12 points and 2 assists per game as essentially the fifth option in the starting unit, often defending the other team's top wing.

That's a huge jump from where he was at this point last year, getting minimal minutes behind Bryn Forbes and Marco Belinelli. San Antonio's obvious decision to clear those two from the portfolio and reinvest time and touches in their other guys has already shown promise, and Walker has been one of the primary beneficiaries.

He's shooting 38.5% from deep on 4.6 attempts per game, so those who bought gaudy real estate on "Lonnie isn't playing because he can't shoot" Island have either moved out or are very lonely.

His defensive communication and positioning could use some work, he could stand to shoot more threes, and he needs to finish stronger at the rim. At this point in his development, it would be foolish to bet against his ability to improve in those areas.

I have a sneaking suspicion that there may be a demotion in name coming for Walker that produces a slight dip in public perception for a moment, until everyone sees on the court that it was the best thing for both him and the team.

Say Derrick White slides into the starting lineup, and Walker gets "demoted" to one of the most dominant units in basketball right now with San Antonio's bench. If he becomes the sixth man alongside Patty Mills, Devin Vassell, Rudy Gay and Jakob Poeltl, he could go from fifth option to primary initiator in an instant. We'd be able to see more of his shot creation ability, and he'd have more of a green light in his head.

Consistency is a mental exercise for Walker, who has spoken multiple times about bringing his best and most aggressive game consistently, which can be hard to do if you spend most of the time standing at the arc spacing the floor.

He took a big step up in the games DeRozan missed in term of aggression, but we haven't seen him that bullish since.

If you sold on Lonnie last year, you've missed some serious gains. Rooting for regression may be cathartic, but hating won't get you any paper. He still has room to improve, and a big opportunity appears to be on the horizon.

First you do the work, then you get the minutes, then you get the touches and buckets and money. Patience is key, for Lonnie and everyone invested in him. Buy and hold.

LaMarcus Aldridge

Signed through: 2021

Average salary: $24 million

Per Game: 14.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.9 turnovers, 0.4 steals, 0.9 blocks

FG% / 3P% / FT%: 47.6 / 35.8 / 76.2

Fan confidence in Aldridge has fallen off a cliff since last year, and it's not about post-up jumpers anymore. The 35-year-old has modernized his game, picking and popping to create space for his teammates. Though he's been an inconsistent scorer and started the season shooting poorly, he's now at 36% from deep and 42% in his last ten.

He deserves a ton of credit for changing his entire business plan from what he's done his whole career to fit how the game is played today. There's growing concern, however, that the wear and tear of his post-banging career is catching up with him.

He was sidelined earlier in the year with a sore knee, and he's out against the Timberwolves with a hip issue. He's played in most of the games, but mobility has been a huge problem for Aldridge and the Spurs defensively.

He can essentially only drop in pick and roll because he doesn't have the footspeed to switch onto smaller players, and he certainly can't cover enough ground to hedge and recover. It can be effective against a pick and roll pair that doesn't stretch the floor, but shooting distributors and pick and pop big men give Aldridge fits. 

RELATED: Spurs Film Session: San Antonio's pick and roll is dangerous, but their defense against it must improve

There's a growing collection of images of LA contesting a three point shot by a big man from about 15 feet away, because all he can really do right now is sink to the paint. When he does he gets a few good shot contests here and there, but he only has one jump in his legs and sometimes doesn't use it. 

There are games where he gets just a rebound or two. The talented defensive guards have to carry the load on rebounding and the whole foundation of the defense is shaky, which is more concerning than the inconsistent shooting in the flow of the offense.  

Spurs fans saw Pau Gasol develop into one of the best three-point shooting big men in the league at the time toward the end of his career, but he became completely unplayable because he got roasted every single time on the other end.

Aldridge isn't at that level yet, and I'm not yet ready to say that father time has won. He may recover from these lower body injuries and get a bit more spring in his step, though its hard to see him recovering to match his peak as a rim protector in previous years with the Spurs. 

There may be ways for the Spurs to limit Aldridge's defensive losses. A 2-3 zone could keep him near the rim, and moving him to the bench would give him less responsibility and a better matchup.

However, if San Antonio is looking to trade Aldridge, benching him would drive his falling stock down even further. He could still be a veteran addition for a contender who needs a floor spacing big off the bench and doesn't need him to anchor the defense (so, uh, not Brooklyn), but the return would be low and the Spurs would simply be moving on and reinvesting whatever they could as opposed to letting him walk for nothing.

I wouldn't blame the Spurs or anyone else for selling, and I'll admit that I was higher on LA coming into the year because I didn't anticipate that he'd look quite so old quite so soon. He's started seasons slow and played his way into a rhythm through his career, but this one has investors doubting he can get over the hump and past this volatile, porous stretch.

Buying seems foolish at this point, and this version of him should not be back in San Antonio next year. If he gets his legs back and fixes the defense that would be phenomenal, but right now it seems about as likely as GameStop hitting $400 again.

The good news for San Antonio is they don't have more bet on Aldridge than they can afford to lose. If his run here is over, however, the opportunity cost of leaving him in the rotation as a net negative hurts the growth of the rest of the team.

Jakob Poeltl

Signed through: 2023

Average salary: $8.75 million

Per Game: 5.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.0 turnovers, 0.5 steals, 1.1 blocks

FG% / 3P% / FT%: 58.4 / 0.0 / 25.0

The player who stands to gain the most from Aldridge's regression is Jakob Poeltl. The 27-year-old center signed a three-year deal in the offseason worth $27 million, and he's spoken about his desire to take on a bigger role.

RELATED: Jakob Poeltl re-signs with San Antonio Spurs on three-year deal worth $27 million

He'll probably be the starter for this team next year unless they make a splashy acquisition, but where is he right now? after an ineffective start to the season he's finding a groove playing his well-defined role in the offense and protecting the rim and everywhere else at a higher level than Aldridge. He can survive on switches, he's longer and more athletic, and makes a big impact there.

Poeltl isn't one of those guys who will wow you with huge numbers or growth into a three-level scorer, but he does the dirty work that doesn't show up in the stat sheet and allows the other guys to really shine. He's a stable investment in a blue-collar position of need, and more minutes for him should mean better interior defense, which is the key to the team's defense.

With Poeltl as the anchor, he provides consistency and defense that Aldridge hasn't this year. He started in the bubble, and that was a big part of why San Antonio's guards were able to play so aggressively on the perimeter on defense, because if they got beat they had faith in their backstop.

Big Jak as a starter could turn the tide on defense, but he provides no spacing with his shot and threatens to clog up an offense that already should drive a little less and shoot a little more. However, it's not like he does nothing on offense. He sets crushing screens and finishes in close, though still not as strong as fans would like to see.

Pop has played him over Aldridge in important stretches, with his rim protection keying the team's win against Boston.

Jak stock is cheap, stable, and an underrated part of this team's success. Buy, hold, and increase minutes.

Derrick White

Signed through: 2025

Average salary: $17.5 million

Per Game: 10.7 points, 1.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.3 turnovers, 0.7 steals, 1.3 blocks

FG% / 3P% / FT%: 36.7 / 33.3 / 83.3

Some fans were quick to blame the two losses to Memphis on Derrick White's return, which is a bit silly. It's easy to point to his return and the subsequent disarray and link the two, but it's not that simple. He needs to get back into a groove, which is a bit more challenging with no preseason and two injury recoveries.

Still, what he showed in the bubble was real. He shot about 39% from deep on almost 8 attempts per game, which this team needs. He can run pick and roll, score at all levels, play off ball, and defend better than most NBA guards. That's why they signed him to a four year deal in the offseason worth $73 million.

Some people called it an overpay, which is curious because it means they know enough about basketball to know of White, but not enough to know how what he does makes him worth every penny. He's a winner plain and simple, and probably should be starting alongside Dejounte Murray, and finishing most games.

White stock will probably never be lower, so if you want to buy now is the time. My guess is that his contract will be largely viewed as a bargain less than halfway through his deal. The big question for the Spurs is how to find minutes for the other guys like Walker, Devin Vassell, Patty Mills.

Devin Vassell

Signed through: 2022

Average salary: $4.13 million

Per Game: 5.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.4 turnovers, 1.2 steals, 0.3 blocks

FG% / 3P% / FT%: 37.5 / 40.0 / 88.9

Vassell came into this season the most NBA-ready rookie the Spurs have had since Kawhi, unsurprising considering he was their highest pick since Tim Duncan.

He's shown himself to be a true hooper with an all-around game, already showing flashes beyond the 3-and-D floor many had pegged him at. His three-ball took a while to start falling, but he's at 40% now and having a solid two-way impact on San Antonio's absurdly efficient bench unit. He's showing some more confidence and control off the bounce in mid-range recently, which is going to be huge for his growth if he continues to develop there.

He's a good rebounder with long arms, he has an innate feel for where to be and when to make the extra pass, and he learns in real time after any mistakes.

He's played 18 minutes per game this year, and 13 per game in the last three with White back. Pop has adjusted by going to a 10-man rotation, and we'll see if that holds.

In any case, it seems that in the long run he'll grow into a starter and probably a very good one, and his days in Austin are likely over before they began.

Buy and hold, this guy is going to be special sooner or later. He has the best combination of proven talent, high ceiling and untapped value in the whole portfolio at 20 years old.

RELATED: Grading the 2020 NBA Draft | Spurs land elite wing Vassell, Duke standout Jones

Patty Mills

Signed through: 2021

Average salary: $13.286 million

Per Game: 14.1 points, 1.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.0 turnovers, 0.7 steals, 0.0 blocks

FG% / 3P% / FT%: 46.3 / 41.9 / 93.1

Patty came into this season by far the longest tenured Spur, and he's playing some of the best basketball of his career. He's followed through on his commitment to play like FIBA Patty, dissecting defenses in pick and roll and scoring at all levels. 

He's provided a reliable punch off the bench as the team's best shooter, hitting 42% of 6.5 attempts per game on the season, both top marks on the team. His ability to get buckets was never in doubt, and this year he's doing it in more ways than he ever really has in the NBA.

He's the last guy whose primary job is shooting threes, but also the last guy who is a smaller, weaker link on the perimeter defensively. Surrounded by capable if not consistent help defense, he can guard the point and get in the guy's jersey while everybody else digs in and helps. I call it the Patty trap, and it's worked well this year in a few games.

Patty's shooting ability, championship experience and veteran leadership would be valuable to plenty of teams, but none more so than the Spurs.

There's an emotional investment here, and for good reason. Mills has been the heart and soul of this team for quite a while, a vocal leader, a hall of fame teammate whose jersey will one day hang in the rafters between Duncan, Ginobili, Parker, and whoever comes next. 

Don't get me wrong, Patty is playing some of his best ball and I believe in him as an asset both now and moving forward. He also makes everyone around him better. Even if his production fell off a cliff, The Spurs would likely hold on until his value hit zero and let him ride into a Fiesta-colored sunset.

San Antonio has good reason to be diamond hands on Patty Mills, a wonderful player and better person. He's not leaving.

Rudy Gay

Signed through: 2021

Average salary: $16 million

Per Game: 11.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.2 turnovers, 0.7 steals, 0.6 blocks

FG% / 3P% / FT%: 42.6 / 34.1 / 75.9

Gay is impressing me with a bull run after a sluggish start to the year on both ends. He struggled to hit open threes from the jump, and his defense looked a step slow on the perimeter. Poeltl rounding into form certainly helped him there, and now he can showcase some perimeter switchability without getting burned to the basket.

Gay is rather shockingly near the top of the league in terms of individual defensive rating, which speaks to his efforts to get more nimble and the overall strength of that second unit.

He can go get you a tough bucket when the offense gets stagnant, but he can also force bad shots and disrupt the flow. A veteran leader and professional bucket-getter of his pedigree could be worth something off the bench to a contender, especially on his expiring deal.

He still has a good deal of value for the Spurs, and his buy in and fit with the young guys has been about as solid as you could expect. Sell if you'd like, but I'm holding for now.

He's out against Minnesota with a hip issue.

Trey Lyles

Signed through: 2021

Average salary: $5.5 million

(2019 stats)

Per Game: 6.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.6 turnovers, 0.4 steals, 0.4 blocks

FG% / 3P% / FT%: 44.6 / 38.7 / 73.3

The Spurs bought low on Lyles after that whole Marcus Morris DeMarre Carroll Devis Bertans debacle. He quickly became a starting stretch four for the Spurs, and slowly grew into the role.

In February and March of last year he was hitting his stride and scorching hot, but the league suspended play for months. As he got ready to play in the bubble, he had an emergency appendectomy that knocked him out of playing.

When he returned this year, he couldn't find any minutes behind Keldon Johnson and Rudy Gay. It remains to be seen what Lyles' role with the team is moving forward. He was a heck of a rebounder last year, and if he can defend multiple positions and shoot threes at a decent clip there's value there in areas of need for the Spurs.

Luka Šamanić

Signed through: 2022

Average salary: $2.824 million

(2019 G League stats)

Per Game: 15.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 3.2 turnovers, 0.7 steals, 0.7 blocks

FG% / 3P% / FT%: 43.0 / 30.7 / 77.1

By far the most popular Spurs penny stock on the market, the 21-year-old has unicorn potential.

Some fans are impatient with the early growth of this long-term investment on the Spurs' part, especially when they can point to Brandon Clarke and say, "should've taken him instead."

I'd be lying if I said that wasn't my immediate reaction on draft night, but if you find a genie be careful what you wish for. Had San Antonio taken Clarke, they almost certainly would have missed out on Johnson, who is already a solid player and has a higher ceiling.

Back to Tall Luka, as he's affectionately known. San Antonio reached for him on draft night because they had two first-round picks and wanted a home-run swing on a long-term project.

Some fans pointed to him being sent to the G League bubble as a sign that he was a bad pick, but not every investment pays immediate dividends. Raw, high-potential prospects like Šamanić don't wind up in San Antonio often, so why sell low two years into a five-year plan after buying pretty high on draft night?

He needs time to clean up his handle and improve his feel for when and how to use his extraordinary physical gifts, and more time in the G League should help.

Haters will certainly have things to say about Luka, but he's a value play long-term who should be fun to watch in the "Gubble" in a week, along with rookie Tre Jones. He might even take a jump that boosts coaching confidence and really gets his stock moving.

And if Luka doesn't take off ahead of schedule that's fine too. If you buy, buy and hold for the long term.

Drew Eubanks

Signed through: 2023

Average salary: $1.765 million

Per Game: 2.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, 0.2 assists, 0.4 turnovers, 0.2 steals, 1.4 blocks

FG% / 3P% / FT%: 29.4 / 0.0 / 60.0

Eubanks fought and worked for a three-year minimum deal in the offseason after coming in undrafted. The undersized center has endeared himself to fans, coaches and teammates alike with his activity, motor and intensity.

He missed the past few weeks due to COVID protocols, but he's back in there now. He's especially important on nights when Aldridge is out, serving as the emergency backup big man.

If there is an online highlight that you can buy of a Drew Eubanks bench celebration, get as many as possible. I'm (mostly) kidding, this is (definitely) not financial advice.

Overall Portfolio

Strengths

This team protects the ball, shares it, and goes a million miles per hour in transition. That starts with DeRozan, Murray, Johnson and Walker.

DeMar's growth has driven success for San Antonio, and Dejounte is meeting some pretty lofty expectations.

Keldon's energy is rare, powerful, and impossible to replicate. It looks like he's powered by Tony Stark's arc reactor. Lonnie is miles ahead of where he was at this time last season, and he could wind up in a better situation soon.

Aldridge is still getting his buckets in the flow of the offense, which allows the other guys to get theirs.

The second unit with Patty, Devin, Rudy and Jak is a legitimate force to be reckoned with, and adding Derrick back to the mix helps. They have a lot of long positions on exciting young players.

The Spurs are deep, which is extra important in a year when the coronavirus pandemic is making players ill and testing the depth of many teams across the league.

More than that they play for each other, and that's something that's hard to quantify.

Weaknesses

San Antonio's defense is a messy work in progress, showing big gains some nights and poor performances on others. Guarding shooters in the pick and roll is a tremendous problem, and Aldridge has been at the center of it.

The penetration collapses the defense, and shooters either get open threes or drive to the rim against a discombobulated defense. Everybody, top to bottom, could pay more attention and communicate better on defense. When they don't, they pick the ball up out of the bottom of the hoop and try to score against a set defense.

That leads to less transition and more misses and turnovers, which leads to points the other way. It's a vicious cycle that kills the Spurs in certain games. Confidence is key, but hasn't seemed consistent.

Opportunities

San Antonio could find something special with Derrick White in the starting lineup and Lonnie leading the bench. If the guys all just believe in themselves, shoot a bit more freely, and defend a little more rigidly, they can be the team that beat the Lakers, Clippers, Celtics and Nuggets.

There are ways to cover Aldridge's weaknesses on defense, like a 2-3 zone, or more Poeltl, and there's still a chance he gets his legs back under him.

If things go really sideways for the Spurs, they can decide to move on from the vets on expiring deals, sell at the deadline, and start building toward next year.

It seems more likely that they'll tweak a few things and compete.

Threats

The West is still stacked, and full of the point guards and forwards that give San Antonio's defense fits. The Warriors are back, the blazers, Rockets, Grizzlies, Suns, Nuggets, Clippers, Lakers and Jazz are all playing well and  ahead of the Spurs in the standings. Sacramento, Dallas and New Orleans are talented but not far behind.

The Spurs have a reputation recently for playing up and down to competition. In my eyes, it's more about variance and parity in the league. Any team in the league can beat you on any given night. Even the banged up, West-worst Timberwolves will send out a roster of guys who are all in the NBA for a reason.

San Antonio has shown they can lock in and beat the best, but they still need to do that against the hungrier, less heralded teams.

Assessment

Despite their noted flaws, overall this team is heading in the right direction. They have plenty of young players who are producing at a high level and have plenty of room to grow.

Good luck finding 81 players better than DeMar DeRozan this year, he's been playing at an All-Star level. Derrick White and Dejounte Murray are one of the more formidable young guard pairs out there, and Keldon, Lonnie and Devin have so much raw talent and potential.

Aldridge's defense and the team defense is a concern, but the pieces are there to make this a dangerous defensive team with a few tweaks.

The meteoric rise for this team might not happen this season, but the overall plan seems likely to pay off in the long run.

Again, this is not financial advice.