It might not be translating to wins yet, but the San Antonio Spurs are making some dramatic improvements over last season. Beyond their defense showing some early signs of its potential, their offense is showing positive trends as well.
Even though their low-scoring night dropped them to 20th in offensive rating, they've been hovering around the 15 spot through the early season. Last season, they finished 21st in offensive rating.
One huge leap in the Spurs' that's remained fairly steady has been their improved passing. After finishing 16th in the league in assists per game at 24.4, their 27.7 per game is the second-best in the NBA. The Spurs' 1.96 assists-to-turnover rate is also the second-best in the league.
Heading into their win in Orlando on Friday, the Spurs had the biggest jump in passes per 24 minutes of possession, as written by NBA.com. In 2020-21, San Antonio was ranked 29th at 300. This season, they're passing at a rate of 356 times per 24 minutes. That increase of 56 was considerably higher than any other team, with second and third being Detroit (48) and Portland (38). For more context, the league average is 326.
Overall, the Spurs rank fourth in ball movement after being almost dead last in 2021. As NBA.com further noted, much of the passing is the result of their movement without the ball. Through nine games, the Spurs have traveled 19.1 miles on the court -- the highest mark in the NBA. They also boast the league's highest offensive speed at 4.96 mph and the highest overall speed at 4.42.
Should we expect the San Antonio Spurs to keep this up?
When you consider the age and makeup of this Spurs team, it's not a surprise that they'd emphasize ball movement and finding the open man over running through one or two guys. After all, one of the league's best isolation players is now a Chicago Bull, and the Spurs have to adjust.
In fact, after running isolation plays 5.2% of the time last season, San Antonio runs isolation less than any other team in the league this season at 3.2%.
While not having true stars likely will mean limited winning, it will probably contribute to the Spurs remaining one of the best passing teams in the league all season.
How well the Spurs can defend and whether or not some guys take a big leap offensively will determine if they can make a surprise play-in tournament bid. Until then, enjoy the "beautiful game lite" version of the Spurs while you can.