Even in this tumultuous period in the United States, there are still some constants we Americans can safely rely upon. Despite heavy roster turnover and the retirement of Tim Duncan last summer, the San Antonio Spurs are still one of those American constants.
It seems like the more things change with the Spurs, the more things stay the same. San Antonio has the league’s second-best record at 35-9 and are fourth in offensive efficiency and third on defense.
A lot of that has to do with the sustained excellence of Kawhi Leonard, who’s continued to improve offensively after winning the NBA’s last two Defensive Player of the Year awards.
|Kawhi Offense||Minutes||FGA||FG %||3 FG %||Points||Assists||FTA||FT %||Usage %||PER||O Win Shares|
In just about the same amount of playing time, Leonard has become much more of a focal point in the Spurs’ offense, as shown by an increased usage rate that’s the 10th-highest in the league. Leonard is attempting two more shots per game, which accounts for the slight dip in his field goal percentage, and is getting to the line at a much higher rate. And he is on pace for double-digit offensive win shares, a big increase from his number last year when national treasure Gregg Popovich didn’t rely on him as much offensively.
LaMarcus Aldridge is as efficient as ever, averaging 17.5 points per game on 50.4 percent shooting, and has even hit 15-of-31 from three this season in a couple of more minutes played per game in his second season with the Spurs.
After a disappointing loss to Oklahoma City in last year’s Western Conference semifinals, Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford did a lot of work on this team in the offseason. Of the 17 players who logged minutes for the Spurs last season, only eight remain on this year’s roster.
Six players — Duncan, Andre Miller, Matt Bonner, Kevin Martin, Ray McCallum and Rasual Butler — have either retired or have yet to see NBA game action in 2016-17. Boris Diaw was traded to Utah, Boban Marjanovic signed a lucrative deal with Detroit and David West went to
ring chase play under Steve Kerr with Golden State.
Duncan’s main replacement has been Pau Gasol, the offseason’s big-ticket signing for Popovich and Buford, and was excellent this season before breaking a bone in his left hand on Thursday. That injury will likely keep him out of action for several weeks. Gasol was the team’s third-leading scorer at 11.7 points per game and was shooting 51 percent from the field and playing really efficient defense statistically. He even hit 20 of his 43 3-point attempts this season. Gasol will be hard to replace until his expected return sometime in March.
In which Patty Mills works harder than anyone on the floor to get an open three-point look pic.twitter.com/yzmzXh4Axx
— Bruno Passos (@brunosteps) January 24, 2017
Fewer minutes for aging Spurs legends Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili has meant that other role players have had to take on more of the offensive burden. Holdovers Danny Green and Patty Mills have done just that. After a down shooting season last year, Green is back up to shooting 42.9 percent from three, seventh-best in the league. Mills is up to 43.5 percent from three, fourth in the NBA, while averaging over 10 points per game for just the third time in his eight-year career.
They’re not the only Spurs stroking it well from deep. Young reserves Kyle Anderson, 23, and rookies Davis Bertans, 24, and Dejounte Murray, 20, are all at at least 40 percent. And San Antonio may have gotten another draft night steal in Murray, the 29th overall pick last June from the University of Washington. Starting for an injured Parker, Murray scored 24 on Thursday against Denver and 14 in the big overtime win Saturday over Cleveland.
Several Spurs players may be shooting very well from three, but the Spurs are actually one of the only elite teams to not attempt many treys, going against the conventional wisdom that’s sparked huge offensive success for Golden State and Houston this season. Only Chicago and Minnesota attempt fewer 3-pointers per game than San Antonio’s 22.5, yet the Spurs lead the league in percentage at 41.4. They also lead the league in free throw percentage, at 81.9 percent.
This Gasol injury will be the first true test for a team which hasn’t lost more than two in a row all season. Free agent signing David Lee has started in two of the three games since, including a 14-point, 11-rebound performance against the Cavs. It will also mean more playing time for 27-year-old center Dewayne Dedmon, another offseason acquisition who’s played very efficiently in just over 15 minutes per game this season. San Antonio also signed veteran big man Joel Anthony to a 10-day contract for depth.
While San Antonio is off to its typical blistering start halfway through the season, a looming question is whether they’ll be able to contend with the high powered offenses of Golden State and Houston in the playoffs. The Spurs average approximately 94.1 possessions per 48 minutes, a pace which ranks 27th in the NBA. That pace pales in comparison to the Warriors and Rockets, who are second and fourth in the league in pace, respectively.
If the Spurs can slow these games down, play strong defense and hit their threes, they should be fine. And despite all the roster turnover San Antonio went through over the offseason, some things will never change. As long as Popovich and Buford are in charge, the Spurs are going to be one of the NBA’s elite franchises.