Feb 27, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich talks to his team in the second against the New Orleans Pelicans at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
The national media hardly acknowledges the San Antonio Spurs
Stop me if you’ve heard this before but the San Antonio Spurs are flying under the radar again. You know what they say – death, taxes, and the national media ignoring the San Antonio Spurs.
After missing the playoffs for the first time in over two decades last year, expectations were low for this year’s Spurs group. Many thought they’d be headed back to the lottery again, even yours truly. But I’ve never been happier to have been wrong.
The Spurs have been one of the biggest surprises in the NBA. Led by the newest, most efficient version of DeMar DeRozan, a much improved Dejounte Murray, and a cohort of other young players, the Spurs have fought their way into the thick of the playoff race in the Western Conference.
Still, outside of a few very well-written articles from The Ringer’s Dan Devine and Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix, the national media has largely ignored what’s been happening in San Antonio.
Frankly, I’m not that upset about it. Most of the coverage from major networks these days seems to be focused on why small-market stars should flee to LA or New York and I’d rather never hear the Spurs mentioned by the worldwide leader in sports than listen to their rationale for why Dejounte Murray deserves to play for a better team.
But it is interesting that the Spurs are still being ignored despite their impressive season. Here are a few reasons why it could be happening.
Next: Spurs haven't won big, national TV games
Feb 27, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich talks to guard Dejounte Murray (5) in the second half against the New Orleans Pelicans at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
The San Antonio Spurs rarely make it onto the biggest stage
One of the biggest reasons that hardly anyone in the national media is talking about the San Antonio Spurs is because they’re almost never on the biggest stage. When the first half of the season schedule was released the Spurs were one of just six teams to not have a single nationally televised game.
San Antonio did eventually make it onto national TV. Their game against the Houston Rockets in early January was flexed to TNT. But without James Harden, that matchup doesn’t quite have the pizazz that it used to.
When the Spurs have had good wins against some of the better teams in the NBA they’ve occasionally been too late for most NBA fans to consider tuning in.
Early in the season, just as they were in the midst of a four-game losing streak, the Spurs traveled to Los Angeles for a series of games against the Lakers and Clippers. The Spurs decisively won both games, one against a full-strength Lakers team and the second against the Clippers minus Paul George.
The Clippers and Lakers are two of the most popular teams in the league and both are considered title contenders, beating both of them should have led to more recognition for the Spurs. But the games didn’t happen until 10 pm EST, too late for most people not on the west coast to tune in.
With a few more games on NBA TV during the second half of the season, the Spurs will have a better chance at using a national platform to bring attention to how well they’re playing.
Next: A lack of star power
Mar 1, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward DeMar DeRozan (10) looks over in the first half against the Brooklyn Nets at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
The San Antonio Spurs lack a big name star to carry them
Another thing that’s preventing the Spurs from getting the national attention that they deserve is their lack of star power. Moreso than almost any other North American professional sports league, the NBA is a star-driven league. The Spurs simply don’t have the star power that other teams do right now.
This isn’t to say that the Spurs don’t have star-level players, they undoubtedly do. DeMar DeRozan one of the biggest snubs from this year’s All-Star game, Dejounte Murray should get Most Improved Player consideration, and Keldon Johnson was just named to the Rising Stars game. But none of those players move the needle on a national scale.
Hate it if you want, it’s just the way things are. If you need proof, just think about where ESPN had DeMar DeRozan in their preseason rankings. They had him at 82nd and Murray at 83rd, players above them included Lonzo Ball and Tyler Herro. That should tell you all you need to know about how much respect the Spurs stars get.
Look, of all the bones I have to pick with how the Spurs are covered on a national scale, this is the one that bothers me the least. Whenever a star emerges in a small market the conversation quickly becomes focused on when/if they’re leaving and why they should/shouldn’t go.
Go talk to a Milwaukee Bucks fan and asking them how annoying that quickly gets. If the Spurs young stars ever get the recognition they deserve I’m sure talks of if they’d be better off in New York won’t be too far behind.
Next: The Spurs aren't winning in an attractive way
Mar 1, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Nicolas Claxton (33) goes in for a shot against San Antonio Spurs forward DeMar DeRozan (10) in the second half at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
San Antonio Spurs using defense to fuel their impressive season
You’d be hard-pressed to find a sports cliche more accurate than the well-known phrase “offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships.” And this year, as they have so often in years past, the Spurs are winning with their defense.
Last season, the Spurs were objectively horrible on defense. They gave up 113.5 points per 100 possessions, the worst mark in franchise history and the fifth-worst defensive rating in the NBA. This season they’ve turned things around, holding opponents to 110.3 points per 100 possessions, good enough to have them ranked 10th in defensive rating.
Having the 10th best defensive rating in the league is nothing to sneeze at. But it doesn’t do justice to how well the Spurs have been playing since they inserted Jakob Poeltl into the starting lineup.
Since Jakob became the starting center the Spurs have been putting the clamps on every opponent they run into. Over the past 11 games, they’ve had a defensive rating of just 107.8, the third-best defense in the league over the same period.
Poeltl is probably the most underrated defensive player in the league at this point and he’s not the only stalwart defender the Spurs have playing for them. Dejounte Murray should make an All-Defensive Team at the end of the season, if Derrick White can stay on the court he could end up right next to him. Devin Vassell has also been remarkable on defense and is going to springboard this team to new heights once he establishes himself in the rotation.
Defense is a crucial part of winning games but it doesn’t get you on SportsCenter. Unless you’re a real basketball nerd or a devoted Spurs fan, you probably don’t care about how many deflections Dejounte is getting or how often Poeltl is contesting shots. But if Bradley Beal goes for 40 in a loss you can bet that’s going to get prime-time air.
Defense isn’t sexy, it doesn’t get you talked about, but it wins games. And between the two, I’d prefer the latter.
Look, the San Antonio Spurs being ignored by the national media is nothing new. This happened when the Big Three were in town and it’ll probably be happening a decade from now. That’s just the nature of a defensive-minded team playing in a small market. Don’t get too flustered by it, they’ll pay attention when the Spurs start another historic playoff streak.