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3 Things we learned from San Antonio Spurs win over Toronto Raptors

San Antonio Spurs DeMar DeRozan Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
San Antonio Spurs DeMar DeRozan Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
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San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio Spurs

Dec 26, 2020; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan (10) and Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby (3) fight for a loose ball in the first quarter at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs toughed out a 119-114 win over the Toronto Raptors

I don’t think DeMar DeRozan bears any ill will towards his former team for trading him to the San Antonio Spurs. But you can certainly tell that playing against his old friends brings out the best in him.

Over his first four contests against the Raptors in a San Antonio Spurs uniform, DeRozan had averaged 20.8 points, 7.5 assists, and 8 rebounds per contest. In his fifth matchup with Canada’s team, he posted an impressive line of 27 points, 8 assists, and five rebounds while shooting 58 percent from the floor.

DeRozan has been on a tear to start the season. His eye-grabbing showing against the Raptors was coming on the heels of a similarly impressive performance against the Memphis Grizzlies. Through two games he’s averaging 27.5 points, 8.5 assists, and 7 rebounds per game. If he’s able to sustain those numbers across the full season they’ll be career-high marks by a fair margin.

DeMar’s well-rounded game is nothing new. He’s been filling up stat sheets for over a decade now. But there was one aspect of his game against the Raptors that grabbed the attention of Spurs fans and could be something we see more of going forward.

DeMar DeRozan is going to start shooting more three’s for the Spurs

One point of continual frustration for San Antonio Spurs fans during DeRozan’s first two seasons with the team was his apparent refusal to shoot three’s. He’d never been a great three-point shooter but his hardline stance against them was starting to rub Spurs fans the wrong way.

In year three it looks like that trend could be changing. The Spurs have put a renewed emphasis on taking more three’s this year and DeRozan is getting in on the action. He didn’t have any attempts from deep in the opener against Memphis but knocked down three of his four attempts against Toronto, including two clutch threes down the stretch.

As DeRozan would tell the media after the game, more three’s could be on the way.

DeRozan on his big night shooting 3s: "I always had it. I got frustrated when people made it seem like I couldn’t shoot threes. I just chose not to. Now I just try to mix it up within the flow of the game. Just doing it more, understanding that it’s beneficial to us…"

— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) December 27, 2020

It’s not just DeRozan, Gregg Popovich also said that three’s will be a larger part of DeRozan’s game this year.

DeRozan didn’t need to shoot three’s to be effective. He’s so crafty at getting to the rim or driving and kicking to open shooters that he didn’t feel that he needed to be a volume shooter from deep in order to be dangerous. At least that was the rationale he gave JJ Redick earlier this year.

Still, we’re not going to tell DeMar not to shoot three’s. He doesn’t need to turn into the next Splash Brother, he just needs to hit enough of them to force defenses to respect him on the perimeter and force harder closeouts. That sounds like something he’s determined to do this year.

Next: Getting back to the Spurs way

San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio Spurs

Dec 26, 2020; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan (10) passes the ball in the fourth quarter of the game against the Toronto Raptors at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs are getting back to their pass-happy ways

When they were at the best and most watchable the San Antonio Spurs beat their opponents by methodically slicing them apart with precise passing. That was something that they had gotten away from over the past two years.

They ranked 13th in assists last year and 16th a year before, a far cry from the Beautiful Game Spurs. But it looks like they’re trending back to their old Spursian ways.

San Antonio carved the Raptors up, driving and kicking like crazy until they found open looks. They totaled 36 assists tonight and got everyone involved, with six players finishing in double figures. And as Lonnie Walker told reporters, it’s been a cognizant effort on the part of the team to get back to that style of play.

“It’s extremely fun. It’s not like it’s individual basketball where we are dribbling the ball 30, 40 times in 1 possession. We are all getting involved within the flow, no one is icing each other out. We are just playing the Spurs way”

The Spurs way indeed. And as much fun as it is for the players it’s just as fun for the fans. Spurs fans grew up on pass-happy basketball, we were never going to be satisfied watching one player dribble the ball to death. If you want that, head a little bit east and watch James Harden and the Rockets.

This team probably won’t reach the levels that the Beautiful Game Spurs did but you can bet that they’re going to try. And even if they fall short at least they’ll be fun to watch. I’ll take that over what we saw last year every day of the week.

Next: The playoffs are in reach

San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio Spurs

Aug 9, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; San Antonio Spurs’ Derrick White (4) passes the ball around New Orleans Pelicans’ E’Twaun Moore (55) during the first half of an NBA basketball game at The Field House. Mandatory Credit: Ashley Landis/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs look like they can make the playoffs

This is probably an overreaction to two very early regular-season games but bear with me. And remember, last year the San Antonio Spurs started out 3-0 before an eight-game losing streak torpedoed their momentum.

Still, this team looks so much better than the group last year. They’re moving the ball well, playing with higher energy, and there’s a level of nastiness and tenacity brought by guys like Keldon Johnson that is incredibly refreshing to see.

The defense could still use some work but give that some time and I’m confident we will see improvement. So many of the key players are still quite young and the player who might end up as the best defender on the team someday, Devin Vassell, is still just a rookie. The more they play together the more they should improve on that end of the floor.

As solid as the Spurs have looked so far, they’re still missing one of their best players. Derrick White hasn’t taken the floor yet but his time could be coming soon. Before the game against the Raptors, Gregg Popovich hinted that White could be back soon.

If the Derrick White we see this year is the same or better than the player we saw in the bubble then this team should definitely be considered a playoff contender. His shotmaking and smooth passing are only going to further elevate the Spurs’ offense and his willingness to throw himself in harm’s way for the sake of better defense will go great with the energy that players like Keldon are bringing.

Greatest Free Agent Signings in San Antonio Spurs History. Next

The San Antonio Spurs have got out to a strong start but can they keep it going? We will see tonight when they take on the New Orleans Pelicans.

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