San Antonio Spurs X-Factor: Keldon Johnson

San Antonio Spurs X-Factor: Keldon Johnson

It’s a new era in San Antonio, as the Spurs officially turned the page to the future this offseason after dealing DeMar DeRozan to Chicago and seeing longtime standby Patty Mills depart for a chance at contending in Brooklyn. With DeRozan gone and LaMarcus Aldridge’s departure a year ago, the Spurs are suddenly in need of a new offensive identity.

The backcourt is in good hands with Derrick White and Dejounte Murray, although each of them need to take a step forward as scorers for the Spurs without DeRozan, but in the frontcourt they need one of their young forwards to really assert themselves if they are to have a chance at playing spoiler in the play-in race. My best bet for the player on the Spurs most likely to take a big leap forward is third-year forward Keldon Johnson, as he looks to back up a quality sophomore campaign with even more involvement offensively.

Defensively, Johnson is already tremendous, providing some very important positional versatility on the wing with terrific length, size, and quickness to defend threes or fours. With Doug McDermott added to the starting lineup for spacing purposes on offense, Johnson’s presence on that end is even more important as he will find himself shadowing the top opposing forward each night in order to relieve some of the pressure off of McDermott on that end.

While his defensive chops aren’t a question, where the Spurs need him to take a step forward is on offense. The opener showed that the Spurs are going to, unsurprisingly, take an egalitarian approach to offense this season rather than trying to lean on one or two guys to carry the load. That’s a good thing since they don’t have one guy capable of taking over on a nightly basis, but it also requires just about everyone to pitch in consistently for them to make up for the lack of a go-to scorer. Johnson will have to find his spots to impact the game on offense, but with DeRozan and Aldridge no longer operating out of the midrange/post areas, there ought to be more cutting lanes and space for him to probe defenses and get to the rim, where he’s a strong finisher.

Shooting is, like with so many wings, a swing skill for Johnson, and a step forward from last year’s 33.1 percent mark from deep would be very welcomed in San Antonio on a team not exactly stocked with great shooters. The good news for the Spurs is that while it’s not a roster full of household names on a national level, there’s intriguing young talent on this roster and they are now freed of expectation and can use this season to let their younger players fully explore their abilities with ample opportunity to weather the ups and downs that come with it.

If it all comes together, they could find themselves once again in the play-in mix. That would mean a few players taking a leap offensively, and Johnson likely needs to be at the forefront of those making strides.