Gregg Popovich’s New Right-Hand Man and Top Trade Target Boldly Hints the Spurs Can Contend for Playoff Spot: ‘We Can Wear a Lot of Teams Down’

Gregg Popovich‘s San Antonio Spurs teams of old were comprised of veteran leaders like David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. This is a new era of Spurs basketball, one defined by young talents such as Dejounte Murray and Keldon Johnson. However, Popovich still figures to lean on the team’s longest-tenured NBA player.

Thaddeus Young could emerge as a key Popovich confidant this season. He might also be a top trade target when the deadline rolls around, though he seems to feel the Spurs could make a surprising run at a playoff spot.

Thaddeus Young gives Gregg Popovich and the Spurs a vital veteran presence

The Spurs acquired Thaddeus Young from the Chicago Bulls as part of the DeMar DeRozan sign-and-trade. Although they could have tried to flip Young to another contender, the Spurs elected to retain Young. He should now play an essential role as Gregg Popovich’s wingman, of sorts.

Young is the most experienced player on San Antonio’s roster, one of the youngest average ages in the NBA. He has played for numerous coaches as a guy who is with his sixth organization. That makes him a necessary presence for Popovich both on the floor and in the locker room.

Indeed, Young told reporters — including Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News — that he would be “a voice behind coach Pop” this season, as well as someone who can lead by example and bring certain intangibles to the floor.

The Spurs could have difficulty racking up wins in a deep Western Conference, and Young might find himself on a different team come February. However, the 33-year-old feels San Antonio could surprise basketball fans this season.

Young believes the Spurs could exceed expectations

The Spurs won a combined 65 games in the last two seasons. They are entering another transitory period with DeRozan elsewhere. However, Young still believes San Antonio could take a step forward.

Young was asked Sunday whether he feels the Spurs can “surprise” people, per Orsborn. He suggested the Spurs could use youth to their benefit if they play at a fast pace.

“I think we can…If we come out off to the races and get our horses going, make sure we’re pushing the tempo and pushing the pace, we can wear a lot of teams down.”

–Thaddeus Young

Playing with pace isn’t something Gregg Popovich typically preaches.

For years, Popovich had the luxury of running the offense through Duncan. The last time the Spurs made the playoffs (2019), San Antonio ranked 22nd in the NBA in pace.

But Pop has clearly attempted to adjust his coaching style, as his team ranked toward the middle of the league in that category in each of the last two seasons. Murray’s could be unleashed as a bigger point guard, and floor-spacers like Johnson and Doug McDermott could fire at will from beyond the arc.

Young can help the Spurs in transition. But he’ll be even more important in the half court. The New Orleans native thrived as an undersized 4-man with the Chicago Bulls last season. He was terrific as a playmaker who could free teammates up with rub screens and find off-ball cutters, averaging a career-high 4.3 assists during the 2020-21 campaign. Young also the Bulls extra opportunities with relentless effort on the offensive glass.

It remains to be seen whether Young can contribute to a year-over-year improvement for the Spurs this season. San Antonio will likely try to move him if it is struggling to stay in playoff contention. His skill set could be valuable to any number of contenders looking for frontcourt depth.

Another mediocre season is also likely to bring about more questions about Popovich’s future with the organization.

When will Gregg Popovich retire?

L-R: Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich reacts during a preseason game; Thaddeus Young dunks the ball
Gregg Popovich (L) and Thaddeus Young (R) | Left to Right: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images and Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Gregg Popovich doesn’t have much more to prove as a head coach. He has won five championships and is just 26 wins shy of passing Lenny Wilkens and Don Nelson as the winningest coach in NBA history.

Might Pop’s career be coming to an end?

Jordan Schultz of ESPN reported the Spurs are preparing for Popovich to retire “within the next 1-2 years.” There seems to be a general sense he is gearing up for his next chapter.

Perhaps Popovich decides to coach another season if Young and Co. make a surprising run to the playoffs. Otherwise, the 2021-22 campaign may be Pop’s last.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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