Lack of star power clearly hurting the San Antonio Spurs

SAN ANTONIO, TX - APRIL 18: DeMar DeRozan #10 and LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs look on against the Denver Nuggets during Game Three of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - APRIL 18: DeMar DeRozan #10 and LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs look on against the Denver Nuggets during Game Three of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images) /

DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge are supposed to be the San Antonio Spurs two best players but so far they haven’t been playing like it.

During the Los Angeles Lakers’ dissection of the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday, there wasn’t ever a definitive point where the Lakers took control of the game. From tip-off onward, LeBron James and Anthony Davis were simply too much for the Spurs to match. LeBron looked in total control of the offense, putting together another triple-double effort just a day after he had laid one on the Dallas Mavericks.

There was a brief stretch in the second half where Dejounte Murray became the best player on the court. He gave everything he had and was dominating on both ends of the floor. His effort alone almost pulled San Antonio back into the game.

Dejounte has been the Spurs’ best player through the early going’s of the season. And that’s great. It’s nice to see that he’s playing like the two-way start that we had hoped he would be capable of becoming. It’s thrilling to see him lead the Spurs in rebounds, assists and steals despite being on a minute restriction. But it shouldn’t have to be like this.

As impressive as Murray’s play has been thus far, it’s also thrown a sharp light on the disappointing play of LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan. Calling the play of San Antonio’s two leading scorers “disappointing” isn’t just click-bait. There is real substance to back this up.

This is San Antonio without DeRozan on the floor with Aldridge on vs. Aldridge off, and the Spurs without Aldridge with DeRozan on vs. DeRozan also off.

This is a small sample…. that reflect the same sample we saw throughout most of last year.

— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) November 4, 2019

Matt Moore with The Action Network first brought this trend to many Spurs fans attention on Twitter and it has gained traction since then. It’s from a sample size, and on/off-court rating needs a lot of context around it but there are general takeaways that can be gleaned from the numbers.

As it stands today, San Antonio has a -.9 net rating when DeRozan is on the floor and a +11.1 rating when he is on the bench. It’s even worse with Aldridge. San Antonio is at -4.3 when he is on the court and +19.9 when he sits.

Many had higher expectations for DeRozan coming into this season. He had a career year in several areas in his first season with the Spurs and the thinking was that a full off-season in the Spurs system would only improve his game. So far that’s not looking accurate. The return of Murray was always going to have an impact on DeRozan’s assist numbers. Seeing a drop in that category isn’t alarming. DeRozan’s scoring is close to where it was last year as well, he’s at 20.3 points per game last year as opposed to 21.2 last year.

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The two biggest things that I’ve seen so far that have contributed to the Spurs’ negative net rating when DeRozan is on the court has been his streaky shooting and decreased aggression. It was especially clear in the game against the Portland Trail Blazers. In that contest, DeRozan came out slow, missing a few opening shots and turning the ball over.

The slow start had a deterring effect and DeRozan seemed to start looking to set up his teammates more than looking for his shot. That’s well and good, DeRozan is a solid playmaker. But he’s at his best when he’s aggressive and attacking the basket. He turned that part of his game on in the second half and the result was an 18 point third quarter that helped the Spurs recapture the lead for good. That third quarter DeMar DeRozan is the player that the Spurs need him to be on a nightly basis.

Aldridge is another story altogether. This isn’t hyperbole, he’s having one of the worst seasons of his career so far. His scoring is lower than it has been at any point since his rookie season at just 16.5 points per game. That would be fine for a normal NBA player, but the Spurs can’t afford for Aldridge to be normal. They just fully guaranteed his $21 million salary for 2020-21, for that much money they need him to be the All-NBA talent his capable of being.

There are a few things that San Antonio could do to get Aldridge back in his bag. One change that could help would be reinserting Rudy Gay into the starting lineup. Trey Lyles has been solid, but there could be some value in adding more shooting to the lineup to give Aldridge more room to operate down low.

Aldridge and DeRozan are good players, maybe the best two on the team. But they, along with the coaching staff, need to take a hard look at what they’ve been doing so far and make adjustments. San Antonio is 4-2 on the season but they’ve lost both of their games against tough Western Conference competition. If they want to make that fabled 23rd consecutive playoff appearance they need their stars to play like stars.

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The route to solving the Spurs struggles when DeRozan and Aldridge are on the court isn’t clear. But the need for it is. Dejounte Murray can be the future of the Spurs but for now, in this present moment, he needs help from the two All-Stars on the team.