Frozen conditions have been surrounding the San Antonio Spurs lately. Not only has their schedule been frozen after an outbreak of COVID-19 cases struck the team, but freezing temperatures struck their hometown for most of the week.
Being a resident of San Antonio, I was affected pretty heavily by the winter storm that swept through the entire state of Texas. Sunday night, my pipes froze, followed by two days of extremely sporadic power in the midst of freezing outside temperatures. Fortunately, a relative was one of the mere 33 percent of San Antonio residents that didn’t experience power outages, so I was able to spend two nights at her house while I waited for my power and water to be restored.
While I had it pretty easy compared to many Texans who were in much more dire situations, I still got a firsthand look at just how powerful extreme weather can be.
While the Spurs were being isolated in a Charlotte hotel for the past six days, I had some time laying under three blankets wearing three pairs of socks to brainstorm ideas for my next article. One day, as I used a dustpan to scoop two inches of snow off my car’s windshield, the idea for this one popped into my head.
The San Antonio Spurs are proving doubters wrong
So far this season, just about everyone has been wrong about their overall expectations of this year’s San Antonio Spurs — myself included. Not many thought Gregg Popovich could have this team tied for the league’s eighth-best record with 38 percent of the season in the books, yet here we are.
As we await the return of the Silver and Black to the court next week, I wanted to take some time to call out some of the freezing cold takes we’ve all seen about the Spurs that are being thawed out in front of our eyes. We start with a frequent offender.
Next: Cold Take No. 1
1. The San Antonio Spurs will finish 12th in the West at 29-43
Offender: Bleacher Report
I know the San Antonio Spurs didn’t look like they’d make much noise considering their performance last season, but this prediction was ridiculous from the start. Last season’s team was plagued by two defensive black holes getting way too many minutes at the wing position. Still, the team won 45.1 percent of its games despite having the fifth-worst defense in the league.
This December prediction from Bleacher Report had this year’s Spurs finishing with a 40.2 percent winning percentage, a mark they haven’t fallen to since the 1996-97 season. Those 29 wins had San Antonio with a 15 percent probability of reaching the NBA playoffs.
Forward to present day, and the Spurs have won 59.3 percent of their games, a mark better than each of the last three seasons.
I get it — it’s rough having to predict how all 30 NBA teams will fare in an upcoming season full of more unknowns than usual. I don’t blame the author for thinking the Spurs might be a below .500 team, but the degree to which he was off here is what deserves to be called out.
Next: Cold Take No. 2
2. “Trey Lyles will be a fringe player that will likely round out the starting lineup”
That’s right. I’m certainly not immune to cold takes myself. In December of last year, I took a shot at predicting the Spurs’ starting lineup locks, fringe guys, and potential break-ins with the season approaching. Using a combination of past tendencies and personal judgment, I predicted DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Dejounte Murray as locks for the starting lineup (which turned out to be accurate).
I was correct in saying Trey Lyles would be a fringe player capable of losing his starting spot, but I didn’t go nearly as far as I should’ve when you consider what’s happened with him since. After starting in 53 games last season, Lyles has only started in two of the Spurs’ 27 games so far and is playing the least amount of minutes of every player in the rotation.
Trey’s minutes have plummeted from 20.2 to 11.8 this season, and he’s only made an appearance in 14 games, with many of those minutes being in garbage time. Still, Lyles has been the consummate professional in accepting his reduced role, which has earned a lot of respect from his teammates and Coach Popovich.
To be fair to me, I don’t think anyone could’ve seen Coach Popovich diverting so wildly from what he’s used to. Still, I was way off on this one, so I earn a callout just as anyone else would.
Next: Cold Take No. 3
3. “Aldridge, DeRozan, Mills, and Gay will dominate the offense”
Offender: The Athletic
On December 20th of last year, John Hollinger wrote an extensive preview (subscription required) of the San Antonio Spurs’ for The Athletic. In it, he detailed what was wrong with the team in 2020 (hint: a lot of things). Like many others, Hollinger assumed this season would be much of the same, with veterans inefficiently dominating the ball to the tune of another mediocre season.
While wishing for a starting lineup of Murray, White, Lyles, Jakob Poeltl, and Keldon Johnson, he didn’t sound very convinced that would be something Coach Popovich might test. Surprisingly, Coach Popovich granted one of these lineup change wishes early on, inserting Johnson into the starters in what’s been the smartest lineup change all season.
Fortunately for the Spurs, the days of stubbornly relying on veterans seem to be a thing of the past for Popovich and the coaching staff, as the statistics suggest. Although all four veterans are still crucial for San Antonio on offense, they haven’t been unnecessarily dominating the offense, as Hollinger suggested might happen.
Through 27 games, here are the top seven scorers (points per game) for the Spurs:
1. DeMar DeRozan – 19.8 2. Dejounte Murray – 15.1 3. Keldon Johnson – 14.5 4. LaMarcus Aldridge – 14.1 5. Patty Mills – 13.2 6. Derrick White – 11.8 7. Rudy Gay – 11.2
As you can see, the youth movement has infiltrated the veteran offense party that hurt the Spurs last season. In their 32-39 season last year, the leading scorers were DeRozan, Aldridge, and Mills, with Gay at the seventh spot. Their combined 63.4 points per game made up 55.6 percent of the team’s total points.
This season, the four veterans are combining for 58.3 points per game, equating to 52.5 percent of the total offense. There’s no question that the Spurs being less predictable on offense is leading to success.
Hollinger wrapped up the preview by predicting a similar record to that of Bleacher Report, suggesting they’d go 31-41 to finish 13th in the West. Brrrr.
Next: Cold Take No. 4
4. The Spurs’ young core isn’t in the top six of the NBA
Offender: All NBA GM’s
Speaking of the Spurs’ youth movement, it seems that The Athletic wasn’t the only guilty party in underestimating them. In the annual NBA GM survey leading to this season, the San Antonio Spurs seemed to be completely forgotten in one particular question: Which team has the most promising young core? The results were as follows:
1. New Orleans Pelicans – 41% 2. Memphis Grizzlies – 22% 3. Atlanta Hawks – 11% Boston Celtics – 11% Denver Nuggets – 11% 6. Dallas Mavericks – 4%
While I realize the season is still less than halfway over, it’s interesting to see that half of the teams chosen for this question are playing below .500 basketball heading into March. The San Antonio Spurs, meanwhile, couldn’t even garner four percent of the vote despite having a young nucleus of Murray (24), Johnson (21), Walker (22), White (26), and Vassell (20).
To this date, Murray and Johnson are the team’s two leading rebounders and are also both in the top three in points per game. White is also finding his footing after an injury-plagued start to the season and is coming off a season-high 25 points against the Charlotte Hornets.
Devin Vassell has also already proven to be one of the steals of the draft with his incredibly smart, almost mistake-free basketball. The Spurs are currently sitting with a better record than all the teams mentioned in the survey. Something tells me their young core will be noticed more as time goes on.
Next: Cold Take No. 5
5. Finish Line’s randomly insulting tweet out of nowhere
Offender: Finish Line
For a retail chain with six San Antonio locations, Finish Line certainly made an interesting choice when they decided to compli-sult the San Antonio Spurs over one month before the season.
In a tweet that easily could’ve been solely about promoting a team in the sport they profit significantly from, Finish Line decided to turn their approval of San Antonio’s fresh new fiesta jerseys into a backhanded compliment.
Quote-tweeting a Bleacher Report tweet showcasing the jerseys, Finish Line tweeted the following:
They won’t win many games next year, but at least they’ll look good. These are ? https://t.co/PGYnoqmlvT
— Finish Line (@FinishLine) November 13, 2020
Unfortunately for whichever intern was operating the company’s account that day, #SpursTwitter quickly rose to the occasion to ratio the sentiment quickly and firmly. “I’d say let’s boycott FinishLine but nobody shops there anyway,” said Twitter user @2dadfall.
Rodrigo Bravo (@mrbravo365 on Twitter) even went so far as to dig up dirt on how infrequently Finish Line has succeeded in getting decent engagement on their Twitter account until their controversial Spurs tweet.
Bro, we have 5 championships while you lost market share to Footlocker for 5 years. Y'all losing money & interest.
You need some engagement since your tweets dry af. You haven't had engagement like this since your HBD Drake tweet and that only comes once a year. I get it. pic.twitter.com/tXJN03pQuT
— Rodrigo Bravo (@mrbravo365) November 13, 2020
Whether or not the Finish Line tweet was only meant to attract more interaction with fans, saying “they won’t win many games next year” has proven to be both unnecessary and factually inaccurate so far in 2021.
For that, Finish Line’s icy comment lands as the most freezing cold of them all.