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The San Antonio Spurs 2018-19 Mid-Season Roundtable

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JANUARY 10: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs pours water on teammate LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs following the game agains the Oklahoma City Thunder on January 10, 2019 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - JANUARY 10: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs pours water on teammate LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs following the game agains the Oklahoma City Thunder on January 10, 2019 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)
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SAN ANTONIO, TX – JANUARY 5: Patty Mills #8 of the San Antonio Spurs, Marco Belinelli #18 of the San Antonio Spurs, and Davis Bertans #42 of the San Antonio Spurs (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX – JANUARY 5: Patty Mills #8 of the San Antonio Spurs, Marco Belinelli #18 of the San Antonio Spurs, and Davis Bertans #42 of the San Antonio Spurs (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)

Now that the San Antonio Spurs are past the halfway mark of the 2018-19 NBA regular season, the Air Alamo staff gathered to answer some pressing questions.

This season has been a wild ride for the San Antonio Spurs. It took some time for the team to build chemistry and learn the system instilled by Gregg Popovich, but things are evening out now. The Western Conference standings never seem to stay the same for more than a day, but San Antonio has hovered between the fifth and seventh seed over the last few weeks, making them a well-respected playoff contender once again.

After the Spurs focused almost entirely on defense last year, the 2018-19 squad has returned to their traditional gun slinging ways with a fiery lineup of spot up shooters and intelligent ball handlers anchored by All-NBA power forward LaMarcus Aldridge.

DeMar DeRozan is in the midst of what might be the best season of his career and Rudy Gay has been at full strength for the majority of the year. Even with all of these factors clicking, there were some rough patches for the team early.

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In a moment of defeat, San Antonio fell as far as the 13th seed earlier in the season but came back to life in December. As a result of their superb push back into the playoff picture, the Spurs have the sixth best Offensive Rating in the NBA at 112.2 with the lowest turnover percentage in the league at 12.4 percent. On certain nights, this squad moves the ball in a style that is reminiscent of San Antonio’s 2014 championship squad.

Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Kyle Anderson have all come back to the Alamo City to overwhelming responses from the hometown crowd – for better or for worse. It’s safe to say that this unit has broken away from the limitations of their down year in 2018 and are on track for a widely successful 2019.

The Air Alamo gave their takes on some of the most pressing topics pertaining to the rest of this season for the San Antonio Spurs.

Next: How many Spurs should be represented at the All-Star game?

DETROIT, MI – JANUARY 7: LaMarcus Aldridge #12, and DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs on Blake Griffin #23 of the Detroit Pistons (Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI – JANUARY 7: LaMarcus Aldridge #12, and DeMar DeRozan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs on Blake Griffin #23 of the Detroit Pistons (Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images)

How many San Antonio Spurs should be represented at the All-Star game?

Andrew Ites: The Western Conference is absolutely loaded, but I believe Aldridge and DeRozan are both worthy of making the team. They’ve each suffered cold spells at different points this season, but they’re both scoring over 20 points per game with solid efficiency numbers and filling out the stat sheet with assists and rebounds.

It’s hard to argue for anyone outside of those two, but a lot of teams would love to have two All-Star caliber players.

Kendall Garriss: A strong case can be made for two Spurs making the All-Star game this year. I believe most would contend that DeMar DeRozan is a near lock for his fifth All-Star nod and his first as a Spur. Although his scoring has cooled off a bit since the start of the season, DeRozan is still averaging an impressive 21.9 points (18th in the NBA) and career highs with 6.2 rebounds per game and 6.4 assists per game (14th in the NBA).

Front court competition in the Western Conference will be stiff, but LaMarcus Aldridge certainly made a statement with his recent 56-point performance that elevated San Antonio over the Oklahoma City Thunder in a double-overtime thriller.

Aldridge has put together a solid and, some might say, an underrated, season, averaging almost identical numbers as a season ago, which was enough for an All-Star appearance. With the absence of Kawhi Leonard last season, LMA was able to assert his role as the primary workhorse for the Spurs, boasting his best season since his arrival in 2015.

Many questioned, with legitimacy, how Aldridge’s game would be affected with the arrival of a stylistically similar player in DeRozan. However, LaMarcus’ scoring has only dropped minimally (23.1 to 20.8) with the presence of DeRozan, and his efficiency is nearing career best levels. As such, don’t be surprised if there are two Spurs representing in Charlotte this year.

Ethan Farina: Two members of the San Antonio Spurs should be represented in the 2019 All-Star game. DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge have put together very impressive seasons. DeRozan is playing more efficiently than ever, has integrated smoothly with a new organization, and is handling more play-making responsibility than ever before. He’s increased his assists per game from 5.2 last year to 6.4 this season. An increase in play-making would reasonably go with an increase in turnovers but DeRozan has avoided that. He only averaging 2.6 per game, up from his 2.2 per game from last year.

Aldridge has been as consistent as ever throughout the season, but he’s really turned it on since the beginning of December when the Spurs started to turn the corner. Maybe it just took some time for him to adjust to playing with another mid-range dominant scorer in DeRozan, but Aldridge has been a force over the past month and a half. His performance against Oklahoma City Thunder in the game of the year so far should be enough to get him into the All-Star game. Additionally, what other Western Conference big men are more deserving? Anthony Davis and Nikola Jokic are the only two who come to mind. Maybe Gobert and KAT but those two aren’t clearly better. Outside of Davis and Jokic you would be hard pressed to find a Western Conference big who is more deserving of an All-Star spot than Aldridge.

Alex Goodwin: I’d say the Spurs need only one representative for the All-Star game. Aldridge has played well, but given the circumstances surrounding DeMar DeRozan’s departure from Toronto he has adjusted seamlessly in San Antonio and adapted his game to fit Pop’s system.  With injuries to Dejounte Murray and with Bryn Forbes and Patty Mills better suited to play off the ball, DeRozan has become San Antonio’s primary distributor and while pacing the team in the scoring department.

Not to slight Aldridge who has played extremely well this season, but in a crowded Western Conference frontcourt which includes Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic, LeBron James, Paul George, Steven Adams and Kevin Durant, Aldridge becomes a tough sell.

Albert Pérez Oyola: LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan are both deserving of an All-Star spot. However, only one may get the actual nod, and it may come down to DeRozan. DeMar is averaging 21.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 6.4 assists per game, which are all better numbers than rookie Luka Doncic (except for the rebounds where the Slovenian holds an edge by averaging 6.7 rebounds) while having a better shooting percentage and a better team record. My expectation is that DeRozan makes the roster as a reserve.

Dylan Hunter Carter: How many Spurs deserve to make the All-Star game and how many Spurs will make the All-Star game are two separate discussions entirely. In my opinion, both Aldridge and DeRozan deserve to make the team for their combined efforts in keeping San Antonio afloat this season. Without either one of them, this team would likely fall apart because of their nightly contributions.

With that said, this team won’t get the national recognition that they deserve unless the Spurs move up into a top four seed. If only one of Aldridge and DeRozan is going, I believe that DeRozan will head to Charlotte because of the narrative surrounding his season and the voting competition in the backcourt compared to the frontcourt. Aldridge has been the team’s MVP over the last month and a half but DeRozan’s massive start to the year gives him the edge.

Next: Who has stood out to you the most this season?

SAN ANTONIO, TX – DECEMBER 11: The San Antonio Spurs huddle up during the game against the Phoenix Suns (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX – DECEMBER 11: The San Antonio Spurs huddle up during the game against the Phoenix Suns (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)

Who has stood out to you the most this season?

Andrew: This is a difficult question because so many different Spurs have played important roles this season. I think Derrick White has impressed me the most. His development has been key to the team’s turnaround over the last month-and-a-half and we knew he would have to step up in Dejounte Murray’s absence for this to be a successful season.

Kendall: Alright, here’s where I have to eat some crow. Over the offseason, I was a huge critic of the Bryn Forbes re-signing. I thought he was a great story and had an exciting tear during the 2017 Las Vegas Summer League, but I didn’t envision him making much of an impact on this roster. Granted, my apprehension about his role stemmed from what I perceived to be a logjam at the guard position prior to losing Dejounte Murray for the season and seeing Derrick White and Lonnie Walker also fall victim to aliments that would hold them out of play for a portion of the season.

However, I have to say Forbes has been a giant bright spot for this Spurs team. Forbes, the third-year man from Michigan State who played modestly last season, clocking about 19 minutes per game, is averaging career highs across the board. Once again, the Spurs have worked their magic, transforming an undrafted player into a legitimate starting point guard on a team competing for a playoff spot. Bravo, Pop and company, bravo.

Ethan: The player who has impressed me the most has easily been Bryn Forbes. Forbes was in the spotlight the moment Dejounte Murray tore his ACL. He’s risen to the occasion. His stats have to be viewed with the understanding that he’s had an unexpected minutes increase but the way he’s filling up the stat sheet and filling previous holes in his game has been remarkable.

He’s increased his volume without sacrificing efficiency. In fact, he’s improved his efficiency. Field goal percentage has jumped from 42% to 46%, three-point shooting took a similar jump from 39% to 42%. His player efficiency rating has gone from 9.1 to 12.0. He’s playing harder on defense and increased his playmaking. Together with Derrick White he’s forming a solid backcourt that the Spurs can rely on every night. I’m very high on Bryn.

Alex: Derrick White has impressed me the most halfway through the season. After having to get back into the groove of playing after a foot injury, he’s been a shot in the arm for the Spurs starting five.  With a 6’8 wingspan, White has flashed potential as a two-way player with great defensive performances against Kyrie Irving, Mike Conley, Russell Westbrook and Kawhi Leonard.  Offensively he’s provided the offense with a shot in the arm averaging nearly 17 points in the last ten games while shooting a hyper-efficient 63 percent from the floor.

Albert: Derrick White. His play has looked promising and has surpassed most expectations that we had for the sophomore guard. Spurs fans must be thrilled at the prospect of his development alongside Dejounte Murray heading into the future of the franchise. He has shown outstanding basketball IQ, and overall composure while handling himself as a prototypical Spur.

Dylan: In the face of great adversity, both Bryn Forbes and Derrick White have stepped up to don the San Antonio guard rotation with Dejounte Murray sidelined. With the combination of Derrick’s passing and Bryn’s shooting, the Spurs backcourt has been a great surprise this year. They both deserve a lot of recognition for their maturity this year, and yet neither of them have surprised me as much as Davis Bertans this year.

No, his stat lines don’t necessarily jump off the page for many fans but Bertans is performing with groundbreaking efficiency this season. Of all eligible players attempting four or more three pointers per contest, Bertans’ insane 48 percent three-point shooting makes him the No. 1 marksman of the group. His fit with DeRozan and Aldridge is seamless, I’d like to see Bertans as a staple in San Antonio for years to come.

Next: Who would you like to see SA target at the trade deadline?

Who would you like to see San Antonio target at the trade deadline?

Andrew: I think a low-risk deal for Jabari Parker would be a great trade for the Spurs. They wouldn’t have to give up much for a player who has essentially been benched in Chicago, Parker still has the talent that made him the number two overall pick, and there is a possibility that San Antonio’s coaching staff could get the most out of him.

If he doesn’t work out it won’t really matter because the Spurs wouldn’t have given up much more than a second-round pick or two in the deal, and San Antonio wouldn’t be counting on him to totally transform this team.

Kendall: Many can agree that the one piece that the Spurs are currently missing is a versatile wing. I believe a solid option to fill that void could be Courtney Lee, who’s currently riding the bench on the tanking New York Knicks. Lee in San Antonio just feels right. He reminds me of a player cut from the Danny Green cloth, sporting the 3-and-D style of play. Lee is a career 38.9 percent three-point shooter, which would fit in nicely with the Spurs, who currently rank as the best three-point shooting team in the NBA.

Lee has only played in 10 games for the Knicks, missing the early portion of the season due to an injury. That coupled with the fact New York is posting the second-worst record in the league and is more than content with developing their young players and vying for a top pick in the 2019 NBA Draft makes the opportunity for a deal a legitimate reality. I believe a Pau Gasol-for-Lee swap would benefit both teams. Gasol, who has also played minimally this year, is only guaranteed $6.7 million after this season while the Knicks would be able to get the last two years of Lee’s $24 million ($12 million in 2018-19 and 2019-2020) off the books as they prep to go star hunting this summer. With both teams standing to benefit, this could be a realistic deal as we get closer to the trade deadline.

Ethan: I’d like to see the Spurs make a move for Kent Bazemore or Robin Lopez at the trade deadline. Bazemore is currently recovering from an ankle injury but was playing well before then. Lopez is a rock-solid defender and rebounder who would add depth to San Antonio’s front court. Pau Gasol’s contract is guaranteed for only $6.7 million and could be taken on by either Chicago or Atlanta could take it on. San Antonio also has two first round picks in 2019 it could use to sweeten a deal. I’m not too attached to those picks. The 2019 draft isn’t deep. San Antonio does have a track record of finding gems in the later parts of the draft and develops players well but if the right opportunity arises and the picks are included in a deal it wouldn’t be that big of a loss.

Alex: This one may be a bit of a reach but, I’d love to see Jonathan Simmons make a return to the Alamo City. After having a decent first season in Orlando, Simmons has fallen out of the head coach Steve Clifford’s lineup and the Houston native’s numbers are down across the board His familiarity with the Spurs system, athleticism and manageable salary make should make him an attractive option. In addition, with Rudy Gay currently out there is no one on the roster who can fill the role of the athletic two-way wing.  R.C. Buford should kick the tires on Simmons and see what happens.  In order to acquire Simmons, San Antonio would likely have to part with Marco Belinelli to make the math work, but Simmons is an upgrade defensively from the 32-year-old Italian and that would make the deal worth the risk.

Albert: It’s clear the team is in need of a defensive specialist wing player. The struggle all season long has been the defense, and although the coaching staff has worked tremendous miracles by mitigating the early season defensive deficiencies, the truth remains that the Spurs lack the personnel to defend at a consistently elite level necessary if they are to make a deep playoff push.

Dylan: One player that I’ve been fixated on lately for the Spurs is Jae Crowder, I think he brings a certain level of versatility that could push the envelope for this squad. The Spurs have had some real tough characters over the years but they’re lacking that backbone now.

I think Crowder’s physical nature, team-first mentality and defensive potential would make him an excellent fit in San Antonio. Utah is getting back on track as of late so I’m not sure what it would cost but Crowder would be a fun presence to add.

Next: Second Half Expectations and Goals

MIAMI, FL – NOVEMBER 07: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs blocks a shot by Hassan Whiteside #21 of the Miami Heat (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL – NOVEMBER 07: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs blocks a shot by Hassan Whiteside #21 of the Miami Heat (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

What do you think the team should try to improve on in the second half of the regular season?

Andrew: The Spurs have improved dramatically on defense since the beginning of December, but they’re still prone to give up huge offensive outbursts on occasion.

I believe the defensive numbers will continue to look better as all of the new pieces of this team learn the intricacies of Pop’s system and develop chemistry together, so this problem may be solved in the next month or so.

Kendall: Defense, defense, defense. Scoring is not the issue for this Spurs team, which has shown that any player can drop 20-plus points on any given night. In the month of December, the San Antonio Spurs were by far and away the best team in the NBA, leading the league in nearly every shooting statistic and holding the league’s best net rating (10.2). Their offense will surely come back to earth so the emphasis should be focused on shoring up the other side of the floor if they truly want to contend in the Western Conference and make some noise in the playoffs.

While the defense has been improving all year, the absence of a former NBA All-Defensive player in Dejounte Murray has been abundantly clear at times. The acquisition of a legitimate two-way wing could take this team to another level defensively. Further, I believe as Jakob Poeltl gets more comfortable operating in the Spurs system, he can develop into a formidable defensive asset going forward.

Ethan: San Antonio needs to improve its play on the road in the second half of the season. They’re 7-14 away from the AT&T Center and a lot of those wins have come against sub-par teams. The annual Rodeo Road Trip will be a great test for this team. With games against the Kings, Warriors, Blazers, Jazz, and Raptors this trip will be far from easy. San Antonio has traditionally been a dominant team at home but given their position in the Conference standings they will likely have to win games on the road if they want to make it out of the first round. They haven’t proven that they can do that yet. That needs to change in the second half.

Alex: Honestly, the biggest improvement San Antonio has to make is 4th quarter defense. In 20 losses the Spurs have posted a defensive rating of 118.2 in the final 12 minutes, good for 26th in the NBA.  In the 25 games they have won, the Silver and Black have a defensive rating of 105.3 in the fourth quarter.

Lineup changes may be in order to get Rudy Gay on the floor more during crunch time because the lineups with Patty Mills and Bryn Forbes on the floor simultaneously during the closing as they have been in various points during the season is just too small and lacking defensive ability to be sustainable. Coach Pop is going to have to choose one or the other in order to get a longer more athletic player on the floor such as Gay or Davis Bertans who are more equipped to switch on pick and rolls.

Albert: I would like to say the defense, but in doing that I would be taking away the leaps the team has made on that side of the floor. Asking anymore of this crew wouldn’t be fair to them. Could they improve? Yes, but their ceiling is certainly low when it comes to the defensive side of things. Another area of improvement is three-point attempts. The Spurs are still last in the NBA in three-point attempts while having the best percentage from downtown.

Dylan:  Criticizing Gregg Popovich’s actions is not something that I do often, but I don’t think Pop has made the best decisions with the team’s rotation at times this year. At any point when Quincy Pondexter checks into a game, I think about how much more exciting it would be if Lonnie Walker IV subbed in. Of course, young players need time to grow and adapt within the culture of the team, but Pondexter joined the Spurs around the same time as the rook, so what can he provide that Lonnie can’t?

Walker has been healthy for a short while now and has been tearing things up in the G League, so I believe Pop should trust his rook and get him some regular season playing time. The same goes for Ben Moore, Drew Eubanks and Chimezie Metu, who can all provide valuable minutes based on shifting matchups and lineup changes.

Next: What predictions do you have for the rest of this season?

LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 15: San Antonio Spurs Forward DeMar DeRozan (10) talks with head coach Gregg Popovich during an NBA game (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 15: San Antonio Spurs Forward DeMar DeRozan (10) talks with head coach Gregg Popovich during an NBA game (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

What predictions do you have for the rest of this season?

Andrew: I wrote about how the Spurs could earn home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs this season, and I believe that is a realistic goal for this team.

The Blazers, Rockets, and Clippers are the only teams in San Antonio’s way, and I think the Spurs are capable of passing all of them if they continue to play the way they have been in December and January. If the Spurs can secure home court in the first round, I think they have a good shot of reaching the Conference Finals, which would be a successful year one for this new look San Antonio squad.

Kendall: I’m cautiously optimistic. The months of November and December showed Spurs fans the very worst and best that this team can be, respectively. This team can compete with the best squads in the league every single night. However, while there have been steady improvements, I still have questions about the defense, and this Spurs team still struggles in road contests (18-6 at home and 7-14 on the road through 45 games).

Despite the loss of Dejounte Murray for the season, this team has the potential to not only make the playoffs but to be as high as a 4 or 5 seed in the Western Conference. DeRozan and Aldridge have been excellent all year and players such as Derrick White and Bryn Forbes have been pleasant surprises, but I believe that this team’s ceiling is contingent upon the success and health of Rudy Gay. In his second season with San Antonio, looking fully recovered from his Achilles tear two years prior, Gay has been a do-it-all player for the Spurs and I contend that he will be the reason the Spurs either don’t make the playoffs or will advance to the second round.

Ethan: I have a few predictions for the rest of the season. We have yet to see an explosive “give me the ball and get out of my way” game from DeRozan. It’s coming. He’s broken the 40-point mark in each of his past two seasons and has yet to do so this year. If you haven’t already circled the February 22nd matchup with the Raptors in Toronto, you should. DeMar is to drop 50 on his former team and Raptors fans will probably love it.

I don’t think San Antonio makes a trade at the deadline. The team has been solid and there isn’t really a player on the trade market who they could acquire that will truly push them into the upper echelon of the conference. I’m not opposed to making a deal before February 7th, I just don’t see it happening. Finally, San Antonio is going to make the playoffs and start a new streak of winning 50+ games.

Albert: It’s difficult to picture the Spurs missing out on the playoffs at this point. However, anything can happen as most teams remain bunched up in the Western Conference and the Spurs are a game away from going 6th to 9th place. The team chemistry has gradually improved, and they’re playing much better consistent basketball than they were at the beginning of the season. As with any other Spur year, they may surpass our expectations and find themselves playing meaningful games in May, but we shouldn’t hold our breath.

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Dylan: 

Considering their exponential growth over the course of the season thus far, I can see this team fighting until the very end and landing a playoff spot between 4-7 in the Western Conference. I think both DeMar and LaMarcus will have their peaks and valleys, but the team will continuously work to fill holes in their strategy and uplift each other.

Playoff expectations come down entirely to the matchup, but I think San Antonio could give any team a run for their money in the postseason, barring injury or unforeseen circumstances. This isn’t the same Spurs team as last year and Popovich has done an excellent job of getting this team to mesh so San Antonio may be in line for a little playoff run if the stars align.

Next. The San Antonio Spurs should trade for Aaron Gordon

When things are all said and done, I think we’ll look back at this season as a year to be proud.

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