Through exactly two months of the 2017-18 NBA season, who were the top five stars for the San Antonio Spurs?
The San Antonio Spurs played 30 games in the 2017-18 season, moving past the quarter mark. This was mostly without Kawhi Leonard, who missed 27 games with a right quad injury. In his absence, players stepped up and took on larger roles, including the youngest ones on the roster that were hardly seen in 2016-17.
Without the performance of a handful of Spurs players, where would this team be? At 20-10 and No. 3 in the Western Conference, maybe nowhere near this mark. Especially without the redemption of a former All-Star.
So, through 30 games, who were the five best players for the Silver and Black? Let’s take a look.
5. Danny Green
For most of Danny Green’s career, he was a prototypical “3-and-D” player, or someone who basically just shoots 3-pointers and plays great defense. The latter won him a spot in the All-NBA Defensive Second Team for the 2016-17 season.
Through the first quarter of the season, both of these aspects in Green’s game remained. That included a 36 percent mark from 3-point range. He even added 1.2 blocks per game on top of 1.1 steals.
Danny Green wasn't about to let this one go! pic.twitter.com/xhTEYOW45O
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) December 7, 2017
The former UNC Tar Heel shined in the early stages of Kawhi Leonard’s absence, putting up a handful of double-digit point games. It was needed to propel the offense, when everyone had to step up their role and fill in the missing 25 points from the team’s superstar.
However, in December, Green didn’t look like the same player from October and November, potentially due to a groin injury, that kept him out of games against the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks. In games he played, he only scored more than 6 points twice, too.
Despite the recent struggles, Green’s presence can’t be overlooked through the first quarter of the season. Once healthy, he’ll compliment the Spurs’ stars.
4. Pau Gasol
It was always assumed Pau Gasol would re-sign after opting out of his contract. He did, except the San Antonio Spurs gave him $48 million over three years (the third season is partially guaranteed). It was a surprising figure, as it put a dent in the team’s cap space for 2018 and provided a commitment to an aging star.
Through nearly 30, Gasol’s numbers have slipped, even with just one fewer minute per game than the 2016-17 campaign, which brought on multiple career lows. He averaged 10.3 points and 7.5 rebounds, highlighted by a poor start to December of 7.3 points and 6.4 rebounds on 40.4 percent shooting.
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These numbers don’t look great. Especially for someone who played consistently well for nearly 15 years. However, it’s enough to be a solid compliment to LaMarcus Aldridge, in the paint and from behind the arc. That was seen throughout November, shooting over 50 percent from the field on 12.1 points and 7.9 rebounds.
With Leonard back, those numbers may not stick and steer more toward the December numbers, even with a productive three-game stretch. Gasol played sparingly against the Rockets (4 points in 18 minutes) and will see more rest as the season continues, with “DNP-Coach’s Decision” appearing next to his name (this happened in the Suns game).
Gasol will be valuable to the Spurs. There’s no question about that. He may just fall down a peg or two in 2018.
3. Kyle Anderson
Someone needed to take Kawhi Leonard’s starting spot upon injury. This role went to Kyle Anderson, who struggled to find success in his first three seasons for the San Antonio Spurs. He never broke into the starting lineup (due to Leonard) and couldn’t get more than 16 minutes per game.
Then came this opportunity, which Anderson delivered on. He never stood out or had a flashy performance, but played well and above any expectation given to him, with 8.9 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists per game on 51.6 shooting (36.4 percent from 3-point range).
The second half of November represented the best of Anderson, with six consecutive double-digit point performances. Two of them were double-doubles. He also had 11 steals over a three-game stretch.
An injury derailed the UCLA product’s momentum, however. He suffered a sprained left MCL vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 3. A two-to-three week timetable was given to him. At two-and-a-half weeks, it’s possible this concludes soon. Although the Spurs haven’t provided an update on his status.
Upon return, Anderson’s role will change, despite playing well. Leonard already reclaimed his starting spot, which pushes his former replacement to a crowded bench. He should see double-digit minutes, but the production won’t approach what happened in the first two months of the campaign.
2. Rudy Gay
Signing Rudy Gay was always seen as a risk for the San Antonio Spurs. Especially when other Western Conference teams acquired Chris Paul, Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Carmelo Anthony. The Spurs took on someone that ruptured his Achilles in January, didn’t step on the court for the rest of the 2016-17 season, and had to overcome a bleak history of players returning from this ailment.
Well, through nearly two months, Gay showed no issue being productive. If anything, he performed as the team’s second-best player.
The stats won’t appear like the Rudy Gay of old. He didn’t average 20 points per game or take most of the team’s shots. Instead, the 11-year pro had an impressive 48.7 percent mark from the field for 12.3 points in 23.5 minutes. Efficient numbers for him as the No. 2 or 3 player in the offense.
Despite LaMarcus Aldridge’s early-season dominance, Gay took over a handful of games for the Spurs. He topped 20 points four times, including 22 against the Los Angeles Clippers in November.
After Kawhi Leonard’s return, Gay may take fewer shots but remain a key part of the offense. He’ll work as the sixth man, a role he worked all season, aside from four games. Throw in the stretch four spot next to Aldridge and Pau Gasol in different lineup combinations, and it makes the UConn product a valuable member of the rotation for the rest of the season.
Next: LaMarcus Aldridge
1. LaMarcus Aldridge
Without question, LaMarcus Aldridge was the top star for the San Antonio Spurs in the first two months. That was after his tumultuous offseason, with trade rumors, a sitdown with head coach Gregg Popovich and a three-year contract extension that came out of nowhere. It kept Aldridge off the market in 2018, as he had the option to terminate his contract before the 2018-19 season.
The five-time All-Star looked like a different player, taking over the Kawhi Leonard-less offense. He played aggressively and found the momentum that was absent for the past two-plus years, since he was last on the Portland Trail Blazers. It sparked the Spurs to a 19-8 start and the No. 3 spot in the Western Conference.
For the San Antonio Spurs, LaMarcus Aldridge has played out of his mind this season. pic.twitter.com/OeMSNDzEZk
— Duncan Smith (@DuncanSmithNBA) December 17, 2017
Through 29 games, Aldridge averaged 22.4 points and 8.4 rebounds on 49.1 percent shooting. The points production exceeded his best Spurs numbers by 4.4 and the third-highest mark of his career, as of Dec. 18.
Will this continue for the remainder of the season, however? With Leonard back, Aldridge shot just 38.6 percent. In the game the former missed, on Saturday night, the 32-year-old hit 50 percent of his shots. It’s a minuscule sample size, as Leonard played fewer than 20 minutes in both contests, but will be something to watch.
Who were the best performers of the season so far? Which players will move into the top five by midseason?