Aug 2, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, center, speaks with his players after an NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Mandatory Credit: Ashley Landis/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports
The San Antonio Spurs can come together around these three team goals
It still feels a little surreal to say out loud but the San Antonio Spurs are just over a week away from their first game of the 2020-21 NBA season. They’ve only got a few more preseason games to tack on to their record and then it’s on to the real deal.
Their lack of national TV games won’t give it away but the Spurs are quietly one of the more intriguing teams in the NBA this season. They might not have the championship aspirations that the Milwaukee Bucks or Los Angeles Lakers have but for the first time in decades were seeing the Spurs in uncharted water.
For much of the past twenty-some years, you could walk into the beginning of any given NBA season, put your life savings on the Spurs winning 50+ games and heading to the playoffs, and you wouldn’t have been called crazy. That has very much not been the case these past two years.
Heading into the second year of a mini rebuild, no one is fully certain of how the Spurs are going to play. Will they be able to come together and recapture some of the magic they had in Orlando? Or will they revert back to their old ways and head back to the lottery for the second year in a row?
Between their own internal challenges and the complications that are sure to arise from playing during a pandemic, the San Antonio Spurs are in for another truly unprecedented season.
Coming together around a few key team goals will help them stay the course over the long regular season. Here are three team goals the Spurs can hold themselves to accomplishing.
Next: Let it fly from deep
San Antonio Spurs entering the three-point barrage in a new season
One of the biggest storylines throughout training camp has been about how LaMarcus Aldridge will be melded into the style of play that the Spurs were playing in the bubble. From early talks with Aldridge, his teammates, and his coaches, it sounded like the biggest point of emphasis was getting him to shoot more threes.
It was a role that it sounded like Aldridge was embracing. Teammates were talking about how much harder it was to guard him out on the perimeter and we were all anxious to see what it would look like in action.
Aldridge’s ten attempted three-points probably isn’t going to be the norm for San Antonio but the team’s prolific shooting night from behind the arc didn’t give us a glimpse at what this offense could look like during the regular season.
In attempting 38 three’s during their first preseason game, the Spurs did something they had only done twice all of last season. They had shot 38+ three’s just two times all last season – once during a tough loss at the hands of the Grizzlies and another during a blowout loss to the Thunder.
You can’t win by simply chucking up three’s, they’ve got to be good looks too. But it looks like the Spurs could be on pace to shoot more from behind the arc than ever before.
The Spurs have ramped up their three-point production with the rest of the league over the past decade. They averaged 18.9 three-point shots per game during the ’09-10 season and shot 28.5 per game last season. The problem has been that they’ve been severely outpaced by the rest of the league.
The Spurs ranked 11th in the NBA during the ’09-10 season but finished in the bottom-five in the league in three’s attempted for the third year in the row last year, ranking 28th.
It’s not enough for the Spurs to ramp up their three-point shooting, they’ve to do it relative to the rest of the league as well. They haven’t been a league-average team in terms of three’s attempted since 2015 but this could be the year they get back to that level.
Shooting a ton of threes isn’t a prerequisite for this team’s success but it’ll certainly help. They’ve got the personnel to become more perimeter-oriented and should set a team goal of setting a new team record for three’s attempted in a season.
Next: Push the pace
San Antonio Spurs ready to push the pace more than ever
When looking at the San Antonio Spurs’ eight games in the bubble and what they mean for this season it’s important to take everything in context. Keldon Johnson’s near 65 percent shooting from three, while entertaining, isn’t quite as replicable this season as the pace the team played at during their time in Orlando.
During their eight games in Orlando, the Spurs ranked in the top-five in the league in pace and had a top-ten offense. Over those final games, the Spurs had a pace rating of 105.5. In their first game back they finished with a pace rating of 111.
Without making too much out of one game, can we all agree that the Spurs are looking to push the pace on teams this year? They’re going to get out and running and have a legitimate shot to finish as the fastest playing team in the entire NBA.
Last year, the Milwaukee Bucks led the league in pace, racking up 105.51 possessions per 48 minutes, just a hair ahead of where the Spurs were in their last eight games. And, if we can reasonably expect them to look to maintain or improve on that number as their preseason game indicates they’re planning to, then why couldn’t San Antonio finish first in the league in pace?
Clearly good things happen when the Spurs get moving. They’ve got the personnel to play at a blazingly fast pace if they choose to. Why wouldn’t they lean into that even more?
With multiple players capable of grabbing a rebound and pushing the ball up on the floor on their own, the Spurs need to make getting back down the floor and into position for open three’s a priority.
There are going to be times when the game is going to slow down and San Antonio is going to have to lean more on the half-court games of DeMar DeRozan and Aldridge but their default setting should be ludicrous speed.
Next: Start a new streak
Aug 13, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs talks with Lonnie Walker IV #1 of the San Antonio Spurs during the first quarter against the Utah Jazz at The Field House at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports
The San Antonio Spurs should be aiming to start another playoff streak
Even going back to their days as the Dallas Chaparrals, the San Antonio Spurs have never missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons. It’s a pretty mind-blowing accomplishment but the kind that comes with having the most successful trio in NBA history leading your team for almost two decades.
Now as they try to rebound from one of the toughest seasons in their history, the Spurs are looking at the playoffs as a must. Dejounte Murray said as much during his media availability during training camp and it’s clear that’s the standard this group is holding themselves to.
There is a large segment of the Spurs fanbase, this writer included, who would rather the team heads back to the lottery for a second straight year. With elite talents like Jonathan Kuminga and Greg Brown projected to be available where the Spurs picked just a few months ago, why wouldn’t you want to be in the lottery?
In my view, I’d much rather the Spurs add another elite talent via lottery pick than have slightly worse odds after being unceremoniously punted from the playoffs by a LeBron James-led Lakers team.
If you’re arguing back “well what if the Spurs upset them?” please, stop. Think about what you are saying. There is no world in which this team gets past a LeBron led team in a seven-game series. And while there is certainly value in the playoff experience that would come from making the playoffs, I’d rather the team have a higher pick.
These are all fine stances for me, a blog boy, to have. But I’m not suiting up for the Spurs. The Spurs absolutely should be aiming to make the playoffs, they should be looking to win the whole thing. If they don’t set high goals how are they ever going to better?
The San Antonio Spurs are in for an interesting year but coming together as a team around these three core goals should help them smoothly navigate what is sure to be a challenging season.