At the halfway point of the San Antonio Spurs’ season, let’s break down the main storylines.
After Sunday’s game vs. the Portland Trail Blazers, the San Antonio Spurs officially hit the halfway mark of the 2017-18. That meant 41 games of basketball wrapped up, which featured plenty of intrigue, wins, news, notes and highlights. It left the Silver and Black at 27-14, the third-best record in the Western Conference.
With this checkpoint’s arrival, it’s time to break down the events of the first two-and-a-half months of the season. What was the storyline of the first half? Was there a surprise that overshadowed the first 41 games? Which injury hurt the Spurs the most?
Let’s break it all down in an analysis of the 2017-18 season so far:
*All stats are as of Jan. 7, 2018
“If I could turn back time…”
2017-18 Manu Ginobili may not be the 2010-11 version that went to the All-Star Game, but his performance through 33 games may be the most entertaining part of the first half.
Fans witnessed doses of “Manu Magic.” From multiple game-winning shots to acrobatic moves to dunks that made him look 28, it’s been a nostalgic (potential) final run. Even if it’s on just 8.9 points per game in 20.8 minutes.
Ginobili. Onions pic.twitter.com/ZXeLqpGRFZ
— The Crossover (@TheCrossover) December 9, 2017
“Grandpa Juice” can still do this at age 40, remarkably. It makes fans wonder what year it is, as he provides antics from the golden years of the Spurs franchise, when championships were the norm.
Ginobili’s work has been a footnote in an injury-filled-but-successful start to the season. Enjoy this while it lasts, Spurs fans.
Next: Injuries overwhelm
Injuries overwhelm the first half
A well-documented part of the season was the injuries. Rarely did the entire team arrive for a game healthy. Whether it was Kawhi Leonard‘s quad, Tony Parker‘s quad, Danny Green‘s groin or Kyle Anderson‘s knee, someone always filled up the injury report.
The biggest blow was Leonard, who didn’t play until the middle of December. Before that, it was a wait-and-see situation for the return of the team’s star. Head coach Gregg Popovich stayed quiet and didn’t make a notable comment until the time neared, which only added to the speculation.
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Parker missed around six weeks with this own injury. He tore his quad in the second round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs, and there was a chance he wouldn’t return until the winter. That wasn’t the case, as he returned near the end of November.
Anderson’s knee injury looked worse than it was, when he clutched it vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder and got helped off the court by teammates. He only missed eight games, before a Dec. 20 return vs. Portland.
Injuries to Green, Rudy Gay, Derrick White and Joffrey Lauvergne filled up time. Couple that with the “return from injury management” and “rest” labels for players Popovich wanted to reenergize, and it’s left the Spurs short-handed in most games.
Despite that, they sit at 15 games over .500. Trust the process, right?
Next: Opportunities arise
With injuries come opportunities. Someone has to make up the empty minutes, especially when it’s a 30-35 minute player that’s the star of your team. So, who on the San Antonio Spurs stepped up?
It starts with Kyle Anderson, a player who never broke through in his first three seasons. He didn’t top 4.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.6 assists, until the 2017-18 campaign, with career-highs of 8.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists on 52.5 shooting. It’s in 26.9 minutes per game.
Without Anderson’s replacement production for Leonard, who knows where the Spurs would be in the standings. He delivered 12 double-digit point performances from the start of the season to the knee injury, while never playing fewer than 20 minutes.
The fourth-year pro made the most of his opportunity, one that continues to arise when Leonard rests. It potentially boosted his free-agent value (restricted free agent after the season), and may make an interesting situation for the Spurs to retain him.
While not as noteworthy, Bryn Forbes has risen to the occasion in the first half. He never received an official “DNP,” becoming a steady part of the bench, with the occasional start at shooting guard. It resulted in 20.2 minutes per game, averaging 7.1 points on 39.7 percent shooting from 3-point range.
The minutes average looks high due to the ample time Popovich provided the Michigan State product in starts. That included 72 minutes in back-to-back games, along with four other 30-plus minute appearances. It’s what happens when Green, who consumes most of the shooting-guard time, misses multiple games, and when Manu Ginobili rests.
Forbes and Anderson are the youngsters that stepped up. However, it’s impossible to avoid the player that took over when the team was limited.
Next: Aldridge's rebirth
LaMarcus Aldridge’s rebirth
LaMarcus Aldridge faced a wrath of criticism from San Antonio Spurs fans, which culminated at the 2017 Western Conference Finals. Kawhi Leonard injured his ankle on the controversial Zaza Pachulia closeout, leaving Aldridge as the go-to player against the Golden State Warriors.
Lackluster production and a public callout from Gregg Popovich resulted, however. He combined for just 34 points in three games, including two 8 point performances in fewer than 30 minutes per game. Offseason trade rumors followed him, especially around the 2017 NBA Draft, and made it possible that the Texas product’s tenure would end at two seasons.
Seven months later, it’s difficult to believe any of this happened.
The Spurs started the season without Leonard, which put Aldridge in the driver’s seat, again, except for two months, not three games. It was a different player than anyone saw in 2015-16 and 2016-17, as the potential six-time All-Star returned to an aggressive style of play, demanding the ball and working to get touches. This was successful, as his point production soared (17.3 to 22.2), the rebound total increased (7.3 to 8.4), and he kept the Spurs afloat, with the No. 3 spot in the Western Conference. Not bad for a player that looked gone about seven months ago.
Even when Leonard returned, he and Aldridge coexisted fine. They can’t get into a rhythm until the former plays consecutive games, but once the playoffs arrive, these two should turn into a solid one-two punch, which was expected after the 2015 offseason.
The 32-year-old could be on his way to a sixth All-Star appearance. If so, it’s well-deserved as the only player to represent the Spurs in Los Angeles.