The 2017-18 season for the San Antonio Spurs started well but fell off. Is there reason to be concerned?
The San Antonio Spurs started the 2017-18 well. It won four consecutive games over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat. So, all seemed well. It even came without Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker, both of whom remain out with quad injuries.
The Spurs looked like without their current team, with Leonard and Parker as additions to take them over the top. It ended some doubt about their standing in the Western Conference, too, after an offseason that was questioned.
However, the next four games were a different story. The team fell to the Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers, Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors. The Pacer game was the only loss by single digits.
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Suddenly, the Spurs are 4-4, with questions and doubt about when they’ll win next and the problems faced.
The sky isn’t falling, though. The season is only eight games old, with 74 left to play and over five months to go. That’s plenty of time for the Spurs to clean up their issues, get healthy and claim that Western Conference playoff spot.
Even with this, are there problems that might remain whether the team gets healthy or not? Potentially, as the Spurs are far from a perfect team.
Despite the issues, let’s look at the silver linings of the losing streak and what to look forward to. In other words, the positive side of these past four games.
Next: Don't forget about Dejounte Murray
4. Don’t forget about how Dejounte Murray started the season
The last five games haven’t been great for San Antonio Spurs point guard Dejounte Murray. He struggled to get his offensive game going, shooting below 40 percent in all but one of them. Head coach Gregg Popovich even removed him from the starting lineup against the Warriors.
The four-game losing streak has made it seem like an eternity since the Spurs last played well. It goes for Murray, too, who had a terrific start to the season.
MurrayMania was running wild after the Timberwolves, Bulls and Raptors games. He dominated the boards, picking up back-to-back games of double-digit rebounds in the latter two, with 14 against Toronto. His scoring looked crisp, as well, with double-digit point performances in Game 1 and 3.
Everyone christened Murray as the long-term starting point guard, supplanting the still-injured Tony Parker. The upside looked high and the future seemed bright for this 21-year-old. So, even with the poor five-game stretch, there should still be hope for the two-year pro to rebound and get out of this sophomore slump. His shot is inconsistent, but there’s still plenty to like and reason to believe the Game 1-to-3 version returns.
Next: Rudy Gay's start to the season
3. Rudy Gay not showing rust or diminished play off Achilles injury
Coming off a ruptured Achilles injury, Rudy Gay was going to be a risk for anyone to sign. The San Antonio Spurs took the chance, giving him a two-year deal in the offseason, with a player option for the second season.
The history of players returning from Achilles tears isn’t great. So, nothing was guaranteed about Gay being his old self, the one who consistently had between 17-20 points in his NBA career.
While early in the season, Gay doesn’t look like he’s lost a step on offense. Six of his eight appearances resulted in double-digit points, topping out at 22 points in 26 minutes against the Heat. He’s also hit a 3-pointer in five of the eight games, showcasing the floor spacing the Spurs were always going to need from him at the stretch four.
The past four games haven’t been as good, though, for the 11-year pro. He’s shot just 33 percent from the field for 8.8 points. That’s compared to 59 percent shooting for 14.8 points in the first four games.
Look for something in between these numbers for Gay, which isn’t a negative by any means. If he can shoot 45 percent for about 12 points off the bench, it would make for solid production as the third or fourth-best scorer on the team. That takes the pressure off LaMarcus Aldridge and the eventually-returning Kawhi Leonard.
Next: LaMarcus Aldridge's play
2. LaMarcus Aldridge looks like his old self
The 2017 NBA Playoffs and the offseason saw LaMarcus Aldridge take heat for his lackluster play, and not just in the Western Conference Finals. The playoffs were a culmination of the past two years, which saw his production fall from his glory days on the Portland Trail Blazers. From a lost dominance in the post and midrange to rebounding numbers sinking, he didn’t look like a superstar power forward.
Like the Western Conference Finals, Kawhi Leonard wasn’t available to play for the first eight games, meaning Aldridge’s role was forced to increase. After a heart-to-heart talk with Gregg Popovich and a contract extension, would the five-time All-Star step up?
Well, it’s safe to say he has. From scoring 20-plus points per game in all but one to reclaiming his rebounding ability, Aldridge looks like his old self. Even beyond the numbers, he looks aggressive and motivated to produce as the leading player. No Spur has touched his production, and likely won’t until Leonard gets back.
When the team gets healthy, if Aldridge keeps this up, he’ll make the Spurs deeper and be a terrific No. 2 option. That’s even after being part of two 60-win teams, with the second one making the aforementioned Western Conference Finals in May. Look for big things from him for the rest of the season.
Next: Kawhi Leonard will be back
1. Kawhi Leonard will be back
The glaring hole on the San Antonio Spurs is Kawhi Leonard. That’s not breaking news or something no one knew, but his absence has stood out in the last four games.
Aside from LaMarcus Aldridge, the Spurs haven’t found consistent scoring options to step up. Rudy Gay, Kyle Anderson and Danny Green had productive games but none developed into consistent No. 2 options. Instead, they’re all players that are better-suited to No. 3 or 4 options for the lineup.
When Leonard returns, he’ll push everyone to more comfortable roles, allowing them to be role players. That’s rather than being relied on to carry part of the offensive load. Anderson’s expanded role has seen his production increase, but his limited ability to stretch the floor dampens his upside in a Kawhi-less lineup. Gay has been a bench player for the Spurs, and probably won’t see the starting lineup. Green’s career never saw him be a top option on offense, so giving him an expanded role was going to be a risk.
With everyone in their previously expected roles, it should deepen the offense and give them two top scorers to carry the load. It’s even someone that can take over a game, consistently, from all parts of the floor.
Leonard will be back. It may not be soon, but it can’t be that much longer, right?