Three ways the San Antonio Spurs have impressed in the Orlando restart
Boasting a 4-2 record in the NBA restart, the San Antonio Spurs have overcome injuries and unprecedented circumstances to reinvent themselves on the fly.
Playoffs or not, this is the most promising portion of the San Antonio Spurs’ season by a country mile. All season long, this Spurs team dragged itself by the bootstraps along an incongruous season, playing below its ceiling and down to the level of opponents that are far worse than them. After a four-month break and some time to reflect, the 2019-20 Spurs are salvaging this season.
At the time of this article, the Spurs hold a 0.5 game lead over the Phoenix Suns for the 10th spot in the Western Conference. They’re a half-game behind the ninth-seed Portland Trail Blazers and one game behind their division adversary, the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth and final playoff spot. There are too many possibilities with a handful of games remaining to properly layout the circumstances, but San Antonio needs to continue its winning streak to stay alive.
There’s really no room for error for the Spurs pic.twitter.com/9HbXoaLFOh
— /r/spurs (@redditspurs) August 10, 2020
Regardless of what they do in these last two games or how their competitors fare, the Spurs have been extremely impressive despite missing their starting frontcourt and deploying a starting five that played only one minute together before the break. Head coach Gregg Popovich has been open about using this as a developmental period, but the players are more concerned with the task at hand — earning that final playoff spot.
It’d be a wonderful consolation, but if not, the Spurs will take all of the experience they’ve gained in the Orlando bubble and put it toward a fresh start next season. They haven’t put themselves in the playoff picture without good cause as this group is applying its skills and potential to a well-rounded lineup.
Individuals have stepped up across the board, but they’ve operated even better as a group. These are the most impressive aspects of the group’s return to play in the Orlando bubble.
Next: Making an effort on both sides of the ball
The San Antonio Spurs have picked up the intensity on both sides of the ball.
Being that the bottom-feeding teams have been eliminated from the picture, competition has naturally risen inside the bubble. Playing against elite talent every night out has given the San Antonio Spurs a different look at their approach to these games.
They’ve done a better job of guarding the perimeter and closing out on jump shooters. Their two bigs, Jakob Poeltl and Drew Eubanks, have done a wonderful job of prioritizing rebounding and defense on the interior while the rest of the lineup provides help from the weakside. It’s a more cohesive defensive effort than what they displayed all season long despite missing two of their better defenders in Aldridge and Lyles.
Offensively, the young guards are displaying some of that patented Spurs ball-movement on the perimeter and off the drive. Considering their immense number of slashing scorers, San Antonio has led the league in both passes and assists from the drive. Their 7.5 assists on the drive-and-kick lead the NBA restart while hitting 52.5 percent of shots attempted on a league-high 62 drives to the basket per game.
With the Spurs playing to their strengths, they’ve exemplified some of what they plan to be moving forward. Even though their defensive rating is higher in these last six games than it was in the regular season, they rank 15th of the 22 bubble teams as opposed to 25th on the season in that stat. Their offensive rating is at 116.3 in the last six games, which is up 4.5 points from the regular-season average.
San Antonio’s improvements on both sides of the floor can be seen best by their Net Rating, which is the contrast between offensive and defensive ratings. Their -1.1 Net Rating on the season ranked 17th in the league, but in the bubble so far, they’re at 2.6, which ranks eighth on the entire league.
The Bubble Spurs are embodying true Spurs ideals and they’ve been successful because of it.
Next: Making the most of their opportunities
Offensively, the San Antonio Spurs aren’t wasting too many possessions.
There’ve been times throughout the run of this Spurs team that wasted possessions were all too common, but they’ve been few and far between in the bubble. Fighting for their playoff lives, the San Antonio Spurs are rising to the occasion by making the most of their opportunities and taking high-efficiency shots from areas that they feel most comfortable with.
On catch-and-shoot opportunities, the Spurs are knocking them down better than almost any other team. They’ve made 44.9 percent of catch-and-shoot opportunities as a whole and 46.0 percent of their threes. Ranking second in both of those categories during their six-game run in the bubble has been pivotal to their survival in the heated playoff race.
Undermanned at the forward and center spots, the Spurs haven’t been all too efficient inside the paint. However, they’ve made up for it by getting jump shooters to their spots and converting on good looks. Their 41.9 percent on pull-up jumpers is third amongst remaining teams, which has been immense for a team that emphasizes that shot. It’s been a particularly good showing from four guys in that regard: DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Dejounte Murray and Derrick White.
NBA teams are schemed to give up the shots that the Spurs are most excited to take in today’s game and they’re shredding defenses because of it.
They’re also making the most of their touches from the elbow with a ridiculous 87 percent for 47 points from that zone. This comes mostly from Gay, who operated in that range often, and the young guards who will start in that zone and create a good look for themselves because of it.
This feeds into the same point that keeps coming up — San Antonio is playing to its strengths and patching up its weaknesses by emphasizing certain shots and defensive coverages over others.
Next: Attacking the glass
By playing above their size, the San Antonio Spurs are throwing opponents off.
No one expected the San Antonio Spurs to stand a chance on the glass without their two leading rebounders but alas, they’ve picked up the slack. San Antonio has seven players averaging at least four rebounds per game in the bubble led by Poeltl’s eight per game. There was never any doubt that he’d make his presence felt on the glass, but believing it and seeing it are different.
Heading into the bubble, there was discourse surrounding whether Eubanks or Chimezie Metu would break the rotation for the silver and black. By asserting himself in limited playing time, it became obvious that Eubanks would fill that role and so far, he’s been a revelation. The two-way center from Oregon State is at six boards and a block in 16.6 minutes per game — both of which rank second through the Orlando restart.
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However, the Spurs ranking eighth in rebounding through the restart isn’t due to the effort of their bigs alone.
The rookie, ‘Big Body’ Keldon Johnson had at least five rebounds in four of the Spurs’ six games so far while his vet, Dejounte, has just as many. DeRozan has been a major rebounding presence for the team and that hasn’t changed, but Gay is at 5.8 per gam, slightly increasing his season average as well. In 61 games before league operations shut down, White grabbed 3.2 boards per game. Excluding the game he exited with a knee contusion against New Orleans, White is at five boards per game in the bubble.
Rebounding is crucial as it generates extra opportunities and helps a team dictate the pace of their game. After ranking second-to-last in second-chance buckets on the season as a whole, they’ve been 9th in that category since the NBA restart.
It’s a testament to the heart, commitment and mental fortitude this team has shown in Orlando.