It’s been an interesting, up and down start to the season for the San Antonio Spurs. Here are our five biggest takeaways from the first half of the season.
The San Antonio Spurs have been one of the most consistent teams in the NBA over the past two decades. Season after season you could count on them to win 50+ games and pose a threat in the playoffs. This year has been remarkably different.
The season started off well as the Spurs opened the year on a three-game winning streak but things quickly went off the rails. A mid-range dependent offense and swiss cheese-like defense sent the Spurs spiraling down towards the bottom of the conference. It was a slap in the face for a franchise and fanbase that is unfamiliar with what it feels like to be several games under .500.
As we approach the second half of the season the Spurs have slowly but surely turned things around. Similar to last year, San Antonio used the month of December to right the ship and fine-tune its offense. They’ve looked like a totally different team over the past month and a half.
Some of the issues that plagued the Spurs throughout the first half of the season are still there but Gregg Popovich, his assistant coaches, and the players have all done a great job of staying positive through the tough times.
There’s still a little time left in the first half of the season but here are our five biggest takeaways from the San Antonio Spurs season so far.
Next: An influx of young talent
Lonnie Walker and Dejounte Murray provide a jolt of athleticism
Two of the most exciting points of focus leading up to the 2019-20 NBA season for San Antonio Spurs fans were the return of Dejounte Murray and the promise that Lonnie Walker had shown during the Summer League.
Lonnie Walker dominated both the Salt Lake City and Las Vegas Summer League’s, frequently looking like the best player on the floor. Fans were calling for serious minutes for Walker as soon as the year got going. A consistent point of frustration over the first half of the season has been Gregg Popovich’s insistence on playing guys like Bryn Forbes and Marco Belinelli over Walker.
Young Spurs have to work for their minutes, Lonnie’s path to playing time was no different. He’s had to bide his time and wait for his moment. When it happened it was glorious. Walker’s breakout game came in early December in a thrilling 2OT victory over the rival Houston Rockets.
Since then he’s received more consistent playing time and even made his first career start. He’s moved back to the bench now but remains a key role player for the Spurs, it’s only a matter of time until he makes his presence in the starting lineup a permanent one.
Dejounte Murray made his return to the San Antonio Spurs after sitting last season out while rehabbing a torn ACL. He’s worked through his recovery, a minute restriction, and has been impressive from the jump. Now that he’s starting to round out his offensive game he’s becoming truly dangerous.
Another subplot to the season that is particularly enjoyable is the budding bromance that the Spurs young stars have. Off-court relationships help build on-court chemistry, seeing Dejounte take Lonnie under his wing has been great to see and bodes well for the future in San Antonio.
Next: Perimeter defense a major issue
Getting burned on defense
For a team that has built its name on their defense, the San Antonio Spurs have been getting torched on that end of the floor all season. They’re 26th in points allowed per game (115 per game) and 23rd in defensive rating (112.3).
A major issue that has been nagging the Spurs all season has been the lackluster perimeter defense they’ve been playing. Most of the Spurs’ starting perimeter players have been a turnstile on defense, regularly allowing opposing wings and guards clear paths to the rim.
Three of the four worst Spurs in terms of defensive rating are perimeter players and all three play heavy minutes. The offenders and their corresponding defensive ratings are Bryn Forbes (115), DeMar DeRozan (114.1), and Dejounte Murray (113.9). Of the three, Murray’s performance is the most forgivable. His defensive rating is disappointing but he’s still playing hard. His 5 deflections per 36 minutes are third in the league among players with 25 or more games played.
Bryn’s issues are particularly frustrating because there are several better options for the Spurs to use as their other starting guard yet he remains entrenched in the starting lineup. Either one of Derrick White or Lonnie Walker would bring nearly the same shooting ability without the liability on defense.
If there is a silver lining to the Spurs sub-par perimeter defense it is that it has created more opportunities for Jakob Poelt to showcase his rim-protecting ability. He’s been sending opponents shots flying into the stands on a regular basis.
Next: Looks like a slow trade deadline for the Spurs
Upcoming trade deadline looks slow for the San Antonio Spurs
The February 6th trade deadline is typically one of the most exciting days of the NBA calendar but it looks like it will be a slow one for the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs have historically avoided the making huge changes mid-season, that trend appears to be holding true this year.
San Antonio has plenty to offer on the trade market. They’re sitting outside of the playoffs right now and could very well punt on this season, collect assets and young players, and look to the future. However, that’s not really the Spurs way. If anything they’d probably be more inclined to do some slight retooling in order to make a stronger push for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference.
DeMarre Carroll, DeMar DeRozan, and Bryn Forbes are all names to keep an eye on as the trade deadline approaches. We’ve covered the interest the Orlando Magic have shown in DeMar DeRozan this season before and as they’re still fighting to solidify their position in the East that interset could still be there. They just lost Jonathan Isaac for a good chunk of the season and do need scoring help.
Things can heat up at a moment’s notice at the trade deadline. We’ve seen it happen too many times to not acknowledge that possibility. It looks like the San Antonio Spurs will be holding but nothing is certain.
Next: LaMarcus Aldridge has modernized his game
LaMarcus Aldridge extending his game past the three-point line
After spending most of his time with the San Antonio Spurs in the post and mid-range, LaMarcus Aldridge has finally embraced the three-pointer and in doing so has totally changed the team’s offense.
Things really got started in a December 23rd game at Memphis where Aldridge went three of five from behind the arc and led San Antonio to a resounding 145-115 victory over the Grizzlies. Since then he has been averaging five three-point attempts per game and has been knocking down an outstanding 56 percent of them.
Last year San Antonio was able to survive shooting the fewest three’s in the league by being the NBA’s most accurate team from behind the arc. They’ve employed a similar strategy this season. They’re 29th in the NBA in attempts from behind the arc but thanks to LaMarcus’s marksmanship they’re now the fourth most accurate team in the league. They’ve connected on 37 percent of their attempts as a team.
Very rarely do you see a player change their game so drastically this late in their career. Coming into this season, Aldridge’s career-high for three-pointers made in a season was 37. He’s at 42 coming into tonight’s game against the Miami Heat and has shown no signs of slowing down.
On a personal level, Aldridge has changed his game to his own benefit. He’s scoring more effectively, taking less of a beating, and it receives a lot of love from his teammates for adapting his game as needed. No player has benefitted from his new style of play more than his star teammate, DeMar DeRozan.
Next: DeMar DeRozan making an All-Star push
DeMar DeRozan is making a push for his fifth All-Star Team
With LaMarcus stretching his game out past the three-point line has come an increased amount of space for the Spurs guards to get to the rim. No one has benefitted from this more than DeMar DeRozan. He’s at his best when he’s attacking downhill and going to the rim.
The Spurs upgraded offense and DeMar’s high level of play just helped San Antonio take down three of the toughest teams in the NBA in the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, and Boston Celtics. We also saw DeRozan leverage his stellar play into his first Western Conference Player of the Week award of the season.
On the season DeRozan is averaging 22.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 5 assists per game while shooting a career-best 53 percent from the field. Those numbers are very comparable to his previous All-Star seasons. He’s doing things that we have never seen before from a Spur.
DeMar DeRozan is the first player in Spurs history to have 10 straight games with 20+ points while shooting over 50% from the floor.
— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) January 11, 2020
If DeMar does end up on an All-Star team it will likely be as one of the final wild-card spots. His competition for those few spots will come down to guys like Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Devin Booker, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. All great players, but only CP3 should be able to match up with DeRozan if he can maintain this impressive level of play.
It’s been an up and down season for the San Antonio Spurs but they’ve turned things around and are finding their stride at the perfect time. The second half of the season, including the brutal Rodeo Road Trip, will surely test this team. Stay tuned Spurs fans, this is where the fun really begins.