San Antonio Spurs: Three players that need to step up against Houston
By Dylan Carter
After a hot start, the San Antonio Spurs are on their first losing streak of the season. Who is to blame for the recent struggles?
It hasn’t been an easy run for the Spurs. After dropping back-to-back games against the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat, San Antonio has dropped to the fifth seed in the Western Conference.
Even so, the margin of separation between the top five teams in the West is small and the season is young. There’s plenty of time to put together a run but it’ll take a concerted effort from the whole roster. With a balanced offense and smart defensive game plan, the sky’s the limit for the new-look Spurs.
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Each of the last two losses came by a margin of seven points in spite of major leads by both opponents earlier. San Antonio made runs late in both games to close the margin of defeat but failed to complete the comeback twice in a row. To put things simply, they haven’t been efficient on either end of the floor.
Losses against Eastern Conference teams can come back to bite teams battling for position in the West, so the Spurs will need to step up their game if they truly want to compete with the league’s elite.
It’ll take added effort to snap the losing streak against Houston on Saturday, but certain players in particular have made costly mistakes over their recent stretch of games. Head coach Gregg Popovich was quoted as calling his team’s efforts “soft” after the loss to a Miami team without their backcourt duo of Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade.
To change Pop’s mind and get back to playing winning basketball, these players need to start playing more efficiently.
Next: The Go-To Guy
It’s hard to gauge what exactly is going on with franchise cornerstone LaMarcus Aldridge over the last two games but it ain’t pretty. During the last two games, LA shot a combined 8-of-28 from the field for just 20 points, his previous season average.
A lot of his scoring has come from the charity stripe to start the year, so the fact that he’s only shot four free throws in the last two games is certainly harming his stats thus far. Aldridge’s ability to draw fouls on defenders near the basket has made him one of the more dangerous matchups in the NBA, but it seemed both Orlando and Miami made sure not to fall for his various post moves and pump fakes.
He’s also turned the ball over five times in two games. It could be much worse, but Aldridge is at his best when he’s playing a smart and efficient playstyle, which makes him such a great fit for Popovich’s system. When Aldridge struggles, the team crumbles along with him.
LaMarcus Aldridge has completely disappeared in the Spurs 4 losses this season. It’s hard to believe he’s been this bad, but below are his numbers in those games.
11.75 PPG10.0 RPG2.5 APG0.25 SPG1.0 BPG.290 FG%-30 BPM#GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/KDTmqkZnlo
— Noah Magaro-George (@N_Magaro) November 8, 2018
For the Spurs to turn this losing streak around, he’ll need to get back to his usual self and take advantage of his opportunities. Chances are, Aldridge will find himself against Houston forward P.J. Tucker throughout Saturday evening’s contest. While Tucker is a skilled defender and is capable of taking on opposing bigs when necessary, Aldridge has a considerable size and strength advantage that he’ll need to capitalize on for the Spurs to pull out a victory.
Hopefully the home crowd and intensity of the matchup will reinvigorate the heart and soul of the San Antonio Spurs.
Next: The sharpshooter
By all accounts, wing Marco Belinelli is getting his usual shots off to start the season. The problem is that he hasn’t found his shooting rhythm just yet.
For his career, Belinelli is a 37.6 percent shooter from behind the arc. Now in his 12th season, Belinelli is revered as one of the toughest shot-makers in the league for his unorthodox play style and recklessness from behind the arc. Unfortunately, Belinelli hasn’t been able to showcase his ability just yet, as he’s shooting an abysmal 31.9 percent from three to start the year.
The vet has only connected on seven of his 19 shots in the last two games and hasn’t done much on the defensive end either.
Shooting slumps aren’t uncommon in the NBA, everyone goes through it at some point. The unfortunate truth is that Marco was brought back to San Antonio to fill a dire need for three-point shooting and consistency for a team going through a transitory period. He’s supposed to be part of the solution, not the problem.
"Great organization. Great family. For me, it's like home." – @marcobelinelli on returning to San Antonio @FrostBank | #GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/Xmewy82FnJ
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) November 8, 2018
This is not to say that he’s a permanent part of the problem as his ability remains undeniable. Defenders will throw their entire bodies at Beli in hopes of stopping his shot. The problem at hand now is that it’s actually working.
For the Spurs to keep pace against a run-and-gun oriented Rockets team, Belinelli will need to rebound from his rough patch and catch fire off the pine. The status of forward Rudy Gay is still up in the air, meaning Belinelli has a chance to play increased minutes for Popovich tomorrow evening.
San Antonio needs Belinelli to be in tip-top shape if they want to retain control of the Southwest Division.
Next: The young gun
The narrative that sophomore guard Derrick White needs to step up for San Antonio has floated around well before the start of the season. Even with point guard Dejounte Murray healthy, signs indicated that White would step into an advanced role this season.
His flashes through the Austin Spurs G League Championship run and the 2018 Summer League proved that he can be a leader and ball handler for Popovich’s offense.
Now that he’s back in the lineup after dealing with a heel injury, White needs to live up to the hype.
White’s season debut was lackluster to put things lightly, as he finished with a stat line of zero points, three assists and two turnovers in 16 minutes of play. He entered the game with the starting lineup and saw limited playing time through the rest of the loss.
Also good to see Derrick White get back for the Spurs. Big opportunity for him to win minutes and a long-term role, once he's fully back.
— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) November 9, 2018
The playing time is an indication that White’s role within the rotation is not guaranteed and that Popovich is willing to pull him from games if he doesn’t perform to Pop’s liking. Saturday’s matchup with Houston is a great chance for White to show the world what he’s capable of doing while matched up with an eventual Hall of Famer in point guard Chris Paul.
San Antonio needs him to contribute one way or another. If he can play solid defense, move the ball well and take smart shots then the Spurs will be very happy with his play, regardless of the final outcome of the game.
Like all young players, White is going to have to work through some kinks along the way, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have a good game. Hopefully his pairing with DeRozan will create some open opportunities from behind the arc since floor spacing has been an issue over the last two games.
One way or another, the Spurs will find out what kind of player White truly is. If he can step up and play to the best of his abilities, then he’ll have plenty of opportunity to grow within the Spurs organization.