Jan 22, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs center LaMarcus Aldridge (12) backs up against Dallas Mavericks forward Wes Iwundu (25) at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
Here are the biggest surprises from the first month of San Antonio Spurs play
If there is one thing that we can definitively say about this year’s San Antonio Spurs team it is that they are vastly different from the group that we saw last year. The roster is largely the same, but the energy around this squad, even on down nights, is unlike what we saw last year.
We knew that change was coming. Given the success that San Antonio had in the bubble over the summer and the organization-wide insistence that the team would try to maintain that style of play what we’ve seen on the court is largely what we expected.
The Spurs have gone smaller, played a more free-wheeling drive and kick style of basketball, and have largely cut out the possessions that ended with DeMar DeRozan or LaMarcus Aldridge pounding the ball into the floor before settling for a contested mid-range jumper. It’s been a refreshing change of pace, but the results have been a mixed bag.
San Antonio hasn’t stunned us in any earth-shattering way but they’re 8-8, in 10th place in the Western Conference, and are still very capable of making the playoffs. They’ve still got plenty of time to blow us all away by doing some out of the norm like making a trade.
But until then, here are the biggest surprises we’ve seen from the Spurs through the first month of the season.
LaMarcus Aldridge has been hot or cold for the San Antonio Spurs
Last season, even as the San Antonio Spurs struggled to string together wins, they were able to rely on LaMarcus Aldridge’s scoring to be there for them on a night to night basis. That hasn’t been the case this year.
We’re only 16 games into the season and LaMarcus already has three games where he’s scored under 10 points. In all three contests, he’s been held to just four points. For context, he only failed to score in double digits six times all of last season and failed to cross the four-point mark just once.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Aldridge has also had his fair share of games where he’s been a lead scoring option for the Spurs. He’s helped them keep games close, as he did last night against the Mavericks, and has carried them to wins as he did in big road games against Portland and the Lakers.
The setbacks Aldridge has had to overcome do offer some explanation for his up and down play. Remember, he had shoulder surgery back in June and spent most of the summer and the offseason recovering from that. Knee pains have also caused him to miss time this season.
The injuries and the many miles Aldridge has put on his body might finally be catching up to him. The player we’ve seen this season bears little resemblance to the one who could be counted on to lead the Spurs any given night just a year ago.
Next: Floor general Dejounte Murray
Jan 20, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray (5) passes the ball against Golden State Warriors center James Wiseman (33) during the third quarter at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Dejounte Murray has blossomed into the two-way leader of the Spurs
While playing the Dallas Mavericks, Dejounte Murray came down awkwardly on his ankle after contesting a Kristaps Porzingis jumper. With almost all of the game left to play, the Spurs would have to watch Murray limp off the floor and not return. There has been no indication that Murray is going to have to miss time recovering.
It shouldn’t bother the Spurs long term but Murray’s absence in this lone game against Dallas was a sharp reminder of just how important DJ has been for San Antonio this season. He’s taken a big step forward and has been the impactful, two-way leader the Spurs have needed.
Season MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PTS 2019-20 25.6 4.5 9.7 .462 0.6 1.7 .369 .798 5.8 4.1 1.7 0.3 1.9 10.9 2020-21 30.5 6.1 13.6 .452 1.0 3.3 .302 .806 6.9 5.1 1.4 0.1 1.7 14.8
Without Derrick White, Murray has taken on greater playmaking responsibility for the Spurs and thrived with it. His improved patience and passing have been some of the most impressive parts of his game this season.
He’s also looked much more comfortable shooting the three. Connecting on just 30 percent of them isn’t great but the more important thing, for now, is that Murray is more willing to take and make three’s. The confidence is there and they’re now a regular part of his game, the accuracy will come.
Equally important has been the leadership role that Murray has had this year. Coaches and players alike have pointed to his communication and leadership as key points to the team’s success. That recognition doesn’t come lightly and speaks volumes about the impact that DJ has on this team.
Next: Keldon "Rampage" Johnson
Jan 22, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson (3) shoots over Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) in the first half at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
Keldon Johnson running through everything in his way
The only thing more surprising than the seemingly endless supply of energy that Keldon Johnson plays with is the sheer amount of nicknames he’s managed to accumulate in his short career. Just recently he added Rampage to a list that already includes gems like Big Body, the Mustang, and one more that I’m not going to type out.
He’s been throwing himself into the thick of the defense all season long and it’s been working. He’s currently averaging 14.3 points per game but has already set a new career-high with a 29 point performance against Houston and looks like he’ll regularly be a 20+ per game scorer when he reaches his prime.
He’s also been locked in on the defensive end. His versatility and willingness to accept any matchup stand out as highlights. He’s guarded everyone from LeBron James to Kristaps Porziņģis and has held his own for the most part. He’s tied for the fourth-best defensive rating on the team and is a large part of why Spurs fans feel optimistic about this team’s potential on that end of the floor.
The connecting thread between his offense and defense is the intensity that Johnson plays with every second that he’s on the floor. I can’t remember the last Spur who has played with this much energy for every single moment they were on the court. The young man simply does not take a moment off.
You don’t have to be the tallest, the best shooter, or the most skilled player on the floor in order to win. Sometimes it comes down to something as simply outworking the competition.
That never back down attitude shines through in Johnson’s play. He doesn’t care if he’s matched up against the greatest of all time or if a former Defensive Player of the Year stands between him and the rim, he’s coming at you with 100 percent intensity. That attitude alone is going to take him places.
What do you think San Antonio Spurs fans? Do you agree with these surprises or has something else stood out to you through the first month of the season?