Before the San Antonio Spurs were set to tip off their 2021-22 NBA season, the hot takes were flying all over the place. "30 wins, book it," said one confident Spurs fan on Twitter. "They're the least talented roster in the league," said an opposing division's article.
Yet when all was said and done, the Silver and Black defied the odds and finished as a top-10 team in the Western Conference. Sure, I don't expect Spurs fans to go downtown honking after finishing well below .500 for the third straight season, but I don't think it's debatable that this season's squad was far more encouraging than the last two.
From individual improvements to team-centric ones, the Spurs showed a ton of progress from last year's 33-39 team that also participated in the NBA Play-In Tournament. As they head into a promising offseason, here's a look at how San Antonio surprised many in what was supposed to be a total rebuild year without any postseason action.
1. The Spurs upped their pace of play dramatically
It makes sense that the San Antonio Spurs ended their season in the top five in pace. After all, their starting lineup to end the season had an average age of just 22.6 years, and young people love to run and gun.
After averaging 98.9 possessions per 48 minutes last season, the Spurs boasted a mark of 100.0 this time around, the fifth-best in the NBA. As a result, they were in the top 10 in points per game for most of the season and ended up finishing 8th with 113.2. That's also a huge step up from their offensive efficiency last year, when they finished 20th with 111.1 points per game.
With better defensive players this season came more steals that led to more opportunities in the open court. It doesn't get much better than putting up 144 points in a regulation game, even if it came against one of the worst teams in the league.
The Spurs finished 11th in steals per game after finishing 22nd last year. Much of that was due to the defense of their freshest All-Star, Dejounte Murray, who led the league in both steals per game (2.0) and total steals (138) despite missing 14 games.