Modern basketball has taken a stronghold over the San Antonio Spurs in Orlando
By Dylan Carter
By accepting this push into the modern era, the San Antonio Spurs are finding a new identity based on the strengths of their core of the future.
Everyone comes to a point where they need to face the music and accept a reality that they’re not necessarily prepared for. Life is full of unanticipated twists for better or for worse and people are innately averse to leaving their comfort zones. That’s been the case for the San Antonio Spurs up to this point but now, there’s no denying the truth of the matter — the future has arrived.
Without their most recent All-Star, LaMarcus Aldridge, and two starters, San Antonio has been forced to throw together an unlikely lineup that features their star wing at the power forward along with the four pillars of their youth movement.
After a 60-game stretch of reluctance, head coach Gregg Popovich unleashed his ‘King Ghidorah’ of rising stars. The triad of Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Lonnie Walker IV is learning to coexist. As they slash to the rim, they reposition themselves around the perimeter and near the basket for dump-offs or catch-and-shoot jumpers. While White and Murray aren’t natural jump shooters, they know that they have to be in order to survive. They’ve taken 30 triples amongst them, connecting on 13 of them at 43.3 percent clip.
#SpursFamily, how are y'all feeling?
Highlights from today's thriller ? pic.twitter.com/074i1KNDbb
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) August 2, 2020
Not only are these young guys adapting to the team’s needs, but the players around them are adapting too. With DeMar DeRozan in a new role, manning the four-spot as a starter and throughout the rotation, San Antonio is one of the fastest teams in the league. During these two games in the bubble, the Spurs are tied for the fourth-highest PACE of competing teams at 106.0. They’re making the most of fastbreak opportunities and are covering a ton of space on the floor.
Four of the Spurs’ five starters are threats to take their defender off the dribble and create a lane to the basket. It’s the same ideology that’s made Russell Westbrook a triple-double machine — slash to the basket, draw help defense and find the open shooter on the perimeter. If there’s no open 3-pointer, the next man up drives to the basket and repeats.
The Spurs are still the league-leader in mid-range shot attempts but don’t rely on it nearly as heavily as they once were. Most of those shots are coming from DeRozan, who’s having an easier time taking slower opponents one-on-one from the power forward. It’s not a strategy that will hold up against teams with star fours, but it worked out just fine against formidable opponents in Jaren Jackson Jr. and Nemanja Bjelica.
By no means is DeRozan an ideal defender to slot in at the power forward position, but taking him off of perimeter players and inserting three athletic, defensive-minded players gives San Antonio a better chance at getting in shooters’ airspace and limiting offensive output in a guard-dependent league. Not to mention Poeltl has been incredible in 26.4 minutes per game in the Spurs’ first two matchups.
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While foul trouble kept him sidelined for a significant portion of the win against Memphis, advanced stats indicate that Poeltl has been insanely effective when on the court. Somehow, the Spurs’ net rating with Poeltl is 30.4 in about 52 minutes. Without taking all too many shots, Poeltl influences the game by giving teammates space with his screens, creating extra opportunities on the glass and daring defenders to go near him in the paint.
Between Poeltl’s mastery of paint defense, the three-headed monster in the starting backcourt and energetic playmaking from Keldon Johnson off the bench, the Spurs have managed to rank eighth in opponent effective field goal percentage in the bubble. Granted, it’s only a two-game sample size, but the Spurs were 23rd during the entirety of the regular season. This is a grand showcase of their growth as a group and an organization entering a new era.
After months of preparing for a lottery draft pick and repeated defeats in the Orlando bubble, the San Antonio Spurs are giving their fans something to be excited about.
If they don’t make the playoffs then so be it — At least the future is assuredly bright.