San Antonio Spurs News

San Antonio Spurs: Four reasons to be thankful this season

SAN ANTONIO, TX - NOVEMBER 21: Dante Cunningham #33 of the San Antonio Spurs, and teammates DeMar DeRozan #10, Rudy Gay #22, Bryn Forbes #11 and LaMarcus Aldridge #12 huddle before an NBA game against the Memphis Grizzlies (Photo by Edward A. Ornelas/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - NOVEMBER 21: Dante Cunningham #33 of the San Antonio Spurs, and teammates DeMar DeRozan #10, Rudy Gay #22, Bryn Forbes #11 and LaMarcus Aldridge #12 huddle before an NBA game against the Memphis Grizzlies (Photo by Edward A. Ornelas/Getty Images)
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SAN ANTONIO, TX – NOVEMBER 21: Dante Cunningham #33 of the San Antonio Spurs, and teammates DeMar DeRozan #10, Rudy Gay #22, Bryn Forbes #11 and LaMarcus Aldridge #12 huddle before an NBA game against the Memphis Grizzlies (Photo by Edward A. Ornelas/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX – NOVEMBER 21: Dante Cunningham #33 of the San Antonio Spurs, and teammates DeMar DeRozan #10, Rudy Gay #22, Bryn Forbes #11 and LaMarcus Aldridge #12 huddle before an NBA game against the Memphis Grizzlies (Photo by Edward A. Ornelas/Getty Images)

As you stuff your face and spend time with loved ones on Thanksgiving, it’s important to take note of all there is to be thankful for as a San Antonio Spurs fan.

While San Antonio’s mediocre start has sent fans into a frenzy, things aren’t too bad in the Alamo City. The Spurs haven’t missed the postseason since 1997 and put up five banners along the way. There’ve been a multitude of talented players to come through the organization and make connections with the fervent fan base including legends of the past and stars of the future.

It hasn’t been an ideal start to the season thus far, but there are plenty of reasons to give thanks as a Spurs fan this year. Being a part of such an inspirational era of basketball alone is enough to make many fans rejoice but there’s much more to appreciate than the past.

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Even if it feels like the sky is falling and the reign of the treasured organization is coming to a close, it’s still way too early in the year to determine this team’s final standing. With that in mind, it’s wholly possible to pinpoint some of the improvements that the team made from last year to this year.

Scoring has come much easier with this bunch and head coach Gregg Popovich continues to run a top-notch operation as the mastermind behind the franchise’s five title runs and continued dominance over the Western Conference. Some young players are taking leaps in their progression and others are building off of last season with a better understanding of what it takes to be a Spur.

Before we take a look at what there is to be thankful for in the past, let’s cherish that which the fanbase has to be thankful for from the past.

Next: A Storied Franchise

MIAMI, FL – JUNE 20: Head Coach Gregg Popovich talks Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs before the game against the Miami Heat prior to Game Seven of the 2013 NBA Finals (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL – JUNE 20: Head Coach Gregg Popovich talks Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs before the game against the Miami Heat prior to Game Seven of the 2013 NBA Finals (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

A Storied Franchise

Since the franchise’s transition from the ABA to the NBA, the San Antonio Spurs have only missed the playoffs four times. From very early on in the organization’s uprising, San Antonio innovated the way that the game is played by surrounding the franchise’s stars with complimentary pieces and smart basketball minds.

During his heyday, swingman George Gervin reinvented the way that the game was played by using unorthodox methods to handle the ball and score. He solidified his place in the record books by competing to the fullest extent of his ability night in and night out.

That emphasis on hard work has paid dividends for the franchise, eventually resulting in the Big Three Era which saw San Antonio hang five banners in 16 seasons. Under the guidance of Pop and the meticulous strategizing of general manager R.C. Buford, the Spurs went from a middle of the pack organization to the peak of the NBA hierarchy.

Two bona fide MVPs in Tim Duncan and David Robinson laid roots in San Antonio and made it their home because of the culture of both the team and the city that encouraged their respective  work ethics and highly intelligent styles of play.

San Antonio also revolutionized the way that the basketball world looks at European players by drafting talent from overseas and grooming them to operate under Pop’s game plan, an ingenious strategy that’s become the standard of the league in 2018.

Many fans around the world have never seen their teams win even just one championship in their lifetimes, but most Spurs fans have had the pleasure of witnessing five. Being a fan of the San Antonio Spurs is both something to be proud of and something to be appreciative of.

Next: Bryn Forbes took a Noticeable Leap

NEW ORLEANS, LA – NOVEMBER 19: Bryn Forbes #11 of the San Antonio Spurs plays defense against the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA – NOVEMBER 19: Bryn Forbes #11 of the San Antonio Spurs plays defense against the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)

Bryn Forbes took a Noticeable Leap

In his first two seasons as a Spur, combo guard Bryn Forbes received a lot of slack for his inconsistency and lack of self-assurance as a scorer. He entered the league with a rusty jump shot and often turned the ball over after handling the ball recklessly on the perimeter.

Last year, Forbes earned a consistent role in the lineup, playing 19 minutes per night as a bench scorer and floor spacer. He increased his productivity and shot the ball well, but there were still blatant holes in his game. Forbes deferred to other players way more often than he should’ve and continued to mishandle the ball when asked to serve as a primary playmaker.

Forbes took note of the holes in his game ahead of the 2018 offseason and got to work, honing his jump shot and ball handling skills to become a serious option for Coach Pop after signing a two-year deal to stay in San Antonio.

Let it fly, Bryn! ???#GoSpursGo https://t.co/6oobs8kSHD

— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) November 20, 2018

The product of Michigan State is in the midst of his best pro season yet, putting up 13.1 points and 2.3 assists in 29 minutes per game as a starter. In the summer, Forbes tightened his handle and decision making by opting for smarter passes and an added level of comfort in his jumper both inside and outside of the perimeter.

At 25 years old, Forbes increased his true shooting percentage to 58 percent with an offensive box plus/minus of 1.5. He’s become an increasingly confident spot up shooter which is a welcomed and exciting change from previous seasons. Forbes has shown flashes of what he could do in the past, but this year presented a window of opportunity for the young gun and he’s run away with his chances.

Sophomore guard Derrick White was slated to start in place of the injured Dejounte Murray ahead of the season, but Forbes earned the position for his consistent effort. Though he’s still a defensive liability in many senses, Forbes is noticeably more active on that end of the floor.

As long as he’s making an effort to close out on shooters and force the ball out of the hands of opposing points guards, he’ll be an important asset for San Antonio.

Next: A Comprehensive Offense

SAN ANTONIO TX – October 8: Head Coach Gregg Popovich and DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs look on during practice (Photo by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO TX – October 8: Head Coach Gregg Popovich and DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs look on during practice (Photo by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)

A Comprehensive Offense

With Kawhi Leonard sidelined for all but nine games last year, the Spurs transformed their game plan and became a defensive minded squad that won by limiting opponent’s shot attempts and dictating the pace of the game.

This season, everything seems to have changed.

While defense remains a primary focus for the ball club, an enhanced offense has taken precedence in San Antonio this year. The Spurs, while rusty at times, are working to get back to an offense structured around keen ball movement, off-ball motion, catch-and-shoot threes and the playmaking of All-NBA shooting guard DeMar DeRozan.

After struggling to regain their identity as an offensively gifted squad, the Spurs returned their focus to three-point efficiency in the new season. San Antonio currently ranks third in the NBA in three-point percentage, connecting on 38.1 percent of their shots from behind the arc.

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Even while increasing the quantity of their passes when pushing the ball around the perimeter, the Spurs have taken care of the ball at an unparalleled rate. They’ve got the lowest turnover percentage of any team in the league at 12.1 percent and have the fourth best assist-to-turnover ratio with 1.89.

Popovich is still getting this group acclimated to playing alongside each other in his system; these things take time. After leading this team for over two decades, Pop has a wide assortment of plays and strategies for his team to memorize. It’s impressive how he’s integrated new players and emphasized the pace-and-space mentality of the contemporary NBA while getting his guys to take care of the rock and find the shots that they’re most comfortable with.

Even if it’s meant a worse defensive effort, the Spurs have finally returned to a plausible and efficient modern offensive scheme which makes them a lot more fun to watch.

Next: Rudy Gay is Back at Full Strength

SAN ANTONIO, TX – NOVEMBER 18: Rudy Gay #22 of the San Antonio Spurs dunks against the Golden State Warriors (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX – NOVEMBER 18: Rudy Gay #22 of the San Antonio Spurs dunks against the Golden State Warriors (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

Rudy Gay is Back at Full Strength

After battling through recurring problems with his heel last season, starting small forward Rudy Gay is noticeably more engaged and energetic than he was through his 57 games last year.

Gay has already eclipsed his total starts from last year (6) with 10 in 13 games and has learned to make the most of his opportunities in the aforementioned Spurs offense.

Though he’s always been a commendable shooter, Gay has been lights out from range this season with a three-point percentage of 48.5 on 2.5 attempts per contest. His efficiency has come across the board, leaping from an effective field goal percentage of 50.6 percent last year to 55.8 percent this year.

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Equally as important to Gay’s game is the added bounce he’s got in his step this year. He’s jumping higher, running faster and moving quicker than he did at any point in the 2017-18 season which has been a huge help to a team that struggled with a lack of physicality last year.

Having Gay back at full strength is invaluable for this squad. His presence as the third man up behind LaMarcus Aldridge and DeRozan is wildly important to the team’s overall success since he often picks up the slack left by his All-NBA teammates.

Rudy has used his returned athleticism to attack the boards with more ferocity than he did in his first run with the Spurs. The 32-year-old is averaging a career-high 7.5 boards per night for his highest average since he was a Sacramento King in 2016.

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As long as he can stay healthy, Rudy will continue to set the tone for his teammates.

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