It is safe to say that the end-of-season awards have been elusive for the San Antonio Spurs. While a perennial contender for the most part of the century, the organization puts a premium on the sum of its parts instead of focusing on individual accolades.
This team-first attitude began with the Big Three and continues to be the heartbeat of the team today thanks to holdovers from that era such as Patty Mills and Dejounte Murray. That, combined with its small-market status, has cemented the team as one of the league’s least flashy winners.
True to San Antonio’s unassuming team culture, the last individual award netted by a Spur was Kawhi Leonard’s Defensive Player of the League title in 2016. Taking into account the wider All-NBA spots, LaMarcus Aldridge’s Second Team and DeJounte Murray’s Defensive Second Team berths in 2018 figure to be the rearmost accolade by a player donning the Silver and Black.
Now, on full blast towards a youth movement and in the thick of the playoff race out West, are the Spurs in play for any individual awards at the end of the campaign?
San Antonio Spurs won’t have a chance at these awards
Most Valuable Player
To cut to the chase, no, the Spurs have zero shot at bringing home an MVP award this season. Tim Duncan in 2003 was the last Spur to be named league MVP. Alas, Kawhi in 2017 was the Silver and Black’s last candidate for the honor. Even in a parallel world, the most valuable player will not be coming from San Antonio. But hey, we can also say that for 28 other teams after results are announced.
Rookie of the Year
It is a worst kept secret among Spurs aficionados that Gregg Popovich is not the coach to lean on rookies heavily. As a result of long stability, newcomers are deemed more as complements instead of cornerstones in their first season. Tim Duncan in 1998 was also the last Spur to be named as the association’s best newcomer.
In the Spurs’ defense, TD was the last lottery pick of the organization before this year. Devin Vassell, the 11th overall pick in the 2020 draft, is the highest selection by the Spurs in more than two decades. The Florida State product, a two-way menace, is simply not getting much opportunity to play as much as his classmates.
For now, the best rookie will not be coming from San Antonio. Even so, the ROTY is not a barometer of success for rookies. Look for Devin to get more chances at wreaking havoc on defense and displaying his pure shooting stroke and maturity on the court, such as this:https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2021/03/27/0022000697/140/d963fc2e-7b99-23e6-8fed-bd908e1cdf42_1280x720.mp4
Executive of the Year
This award still exists, but the Spurs are not world-beaters in free agency or trades. Parting with LMA, trading for Marquese Chriss, then waving him to sign Gorgui Dieng to beat out other suitors is not a recipe that screams “Brian Wright is the best GM this season!”. But that Dieng signing was a pleasantly sly move, reminiscent of San Antonio’s niche of lowkey front office craftiness when RC Buford was still at the helm.
Next: Pipe Dreams
Aug 13, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Nigel Williams-Goss #0 of the Utah Jazz passes against Dejounte Murray #5 of the San Antonio Spurs and Jakob Poeltl #25 of the San Antonio Spurs during the third quarter at The Field House at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports)
San Antonio Spurs have an underappreciated DPOY candidate
While the past two seasons have been asterisks, San Antonio has always been known for boasting the stingiest defenses in the league consistently for decades. As proof, the organization has produced four Defensive Player of the Years in its history with Alvin Robertson in 1986, David Robinson in 1992, and Leonard in 2015 and 2016.
After a disappointing campaign on defense in the previous year, the point-stopping Spurs are back. Following an abysmal 24th-ranked D last season, San Antonio is now 9th in opponents’ points per game and is only a hair below the top 5.
Catalysts on the defensive resurgence for the team are Jakob Poeltl and DeJounte Murray who has been among the league leaders at defense in their positions. Poeltl only allows opponents to shoot 41.2% as a primary defender, which is impressive since most of the shots that he guards are in the paint. He is also 9th in the league in blocks per contest despite modest minutes. Meanwhile, Murray forces the opposition to shoot 6.3% below their usual shooting splits, along with a similar ranking in steals per game at 9th.
That being said, the chances of a Spur getting the honor are slim. Both candidates are easily bested by other DPOY frontrunners. Ben Simmons is an otherworldly stopper who can handle all positions who leads the 2nd-ranked 76ers defense. Myles Turner is a game-changing block artist who leads the league in the category with 3.5 a game. Rudy Gobert is the pilot of the Jazz team who owns not only the league’s best record but also its 3rd stingiest defense.
However, do not count out a Spurs candidate for the award in the foreseeable future, especially when they routinely make plays like this.https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2021/02/01/0022000320/173/4338b403-95b5-131a-35c1-ed0799916e1e_1280x720.mp4
Gregg Popovich is a perennial contender Coach of the Year
The San Antonio Spurs have the coaching G.O.A.T manning the sidelines in Gregg Popovich, but the league has a big chance of looking elsewhere for Coach of the Year. Despite the Spurs being one of the campaign’s more surprising stories and Pop steering the wheel towards a likely playoff return, San Antonio is far from having the league’s most valuable coaching story this campaign. It also does not help that there is a voter’s fatigue for him having already received the award multiple times.
Utah’s Quin Snyder and Phoenix’s Monty Williams have led their squads to surprising 1st and 2nd seeds in the West at midseason. After seasons of being stuck in the middle of the West, the Jazz possesses the league’s best record and appear poised to challenge the LA teams for supremacy in the conference. The same can be said for the Suns, who are well on track to return to the postseason after 11 years.
If the Spurs improve on their record and secure a playoff spot, Pop should be an honorable mention for the award. But given this season’s upstarts, do not count on him adding another coaching hardware to his illustrious collection.
Next: Real Contenders
Mar 12, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills (8) and guard Dejounte Murray (5) celebrate after scoring against the Orlando Magic in the second quarter at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
Most Improved Player
This campaign has seen a lot of big jumps. Some have evolved from being limited role players into becoming primetime ballers and fringe All-Stars. In debates for Most Improved Player, names such as Detroit’s Jerami Grant, Houston’s Christian Wood, and Boston’s Jaylen Brown are most commonly thrown around, and for good reason.
But San Antonio has one of its own to insert in the shortlist for deserving MIP candidates: DeJounte Murray. Having already been recognized as the youngest player ever to crack the All-Defensive Team in 2018, DJ is starting to grasp his potential to be one of the league’s deadliest two-way players.
While known more as a defensive commodity for casual fans, DeJounte has massively improved on offense. As the Spurs’ lead guard, he is also tasked with leading Pop’s diverse sets and setting the tone with his passing and penetration. Last year, his indecisiveness was suspect in his game with plays like this:https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2020/02/23/0021900846/235/5d7021ca-add0-6be0-85f0-d91170555c23_1280x720.mp4
But this season, it has been more of this:https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2021/02/14/0022000414/567/e1334039-b369-b938-9a1d-c1bfb9bc99f3_1280x720.mp4
His shooting has also steadily improved; from a paltry 26.5% clip from downtown in 2018, he is now in the low 30s on increasing volume, with room for ample improvement. His 70% rate at the charity stripe has also risen to an impressive 81.4%. Last season’s troubling 2 turnovers per contest has now decreased to 1.7 despite playing nearly six more minutes per game. Overall, his 15.7/7.0/5.3 stat line is a tremendous jump from last year’s 10.9/4.8/5.8.
Again, individual awards are boosted by team success. If San Antonio treads water amidst a tough schedule and clinches a playoff spot, the discussion on Dejounte for MIP will become louder.
Sixth Man of the Year
The Silver and Black has consistently trotted out great second units, with the team’s bench usually among the league’s best. This season has not been any different from that Spurs-ian norm. San Antonio’s backups are 7th in both points per game at 38.4 and plus/minus at 0.8.
In years past, Pop has resorted to his bench players to shift the tone of the game and provide a stylistic change. Famously, we have seen Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills dominate opposing second units with rapid-fire passing and shooting. This year, the head of the snake on the bench is the only holdover from that troika, Mills.
“FIBA Patty” is poised to record career highs across the board to the tune of 12.8 points per outing on an almost 40% rate from three. Most impressive is how the Aussie star has lifted the Spurs on multiple occasions with his bombs off the bench. One notable Patty Mills game is his 27-point explosion against the Clippers where he tallied a career-high 8 triples. This season, he has been playing as if being controlled by a game console where he fires at will, put to good use, as in plays like this:https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2021/01/05/0022000105/545/84ee9fe3-6409-0523-4d97-b638e645408f_1280x720.mp4
Ultimately, Patty should be up there for 6MOY consideration, a crowded list that includes Utah’s Jordan Clarkson, Toronto’s Chris Boucher, and Philadelphia’s Shake Milton.
No San Antonio Spur is a favorite for any of the individual awards, but the very fact that they have legitimate candidates at some honors is a testament to the pleasant rise of the Silver and Black from last season’s frustrating campaign and its looming growth in the foreseeable future.
As impressive as these players are, the San Antonio Spurs will need to button down and grind out some tough wins over the next month and a half if any of them want a shot at bringing home some hardware.