San Antonio Spurs: Owning up to personal past predictions
With season one writing about the San Antonio Spurs for Air Alamo in the books, it's time to reflect. Because looking back on this year, I honestly learned a lot, and even got some analysis right. But I got just as much wrong about this year's Spurs and its fanbase. And more interesting to me still than the right and wrong are the questions that still need answering it. It's time to dive into all of it.
The Right: The San Antonio Spurs need to improve their defense
At the beginning of the season, I was pretty sure the offense wasn't going to be the problem - I was right -- sort of! Okay, granted, the Spurs ranked in the bottom third of the league in both points per game and offensive efficiency BUT what I'm getting at is the defense was the problem. The defense was bad. Really bad!
The Spurs ranked 19th in points allowed per game and 17th in defensive ranking - those used to be their calling card! That's despite the young Spurs playing with maximum defensive effort and having a few bona fide studs on that end including Dejounte Murray, Devin Vassell, and Jakob Poeltl.
Poeltl, in particular, who I expected to be good on that end, blew even my high expectations away, definitively ranking as a top 5 defensive center this season, and there was notable improvement when he was in. But in today's switch-heavy NBA, one defender can only do so much.
Unsurprisingly, the Spurs were way better defensively with more of their better defenders on the floor. The problem is that seldom happened, with Poeltl glued to the bench behind Aldridge early in the season and Vassell glued to the bench until Derrick White's injury at the very end of the season.
Instead, what we got was Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan, among others, serving as minus defenders in their time on the floor when the Spurs could have been playing their actual lockdowns aces. You can make the argument that those two were needed to give the Spurs some added offensive firepower, but given that the Spurs offense was also lackluster, shouldn't the team have focused more on their defensive strength and let the young guys grow up on offense?
Beyond the raw stats, the Spurs' defense was streaky. While their offense was never fantastic this season - just look at the box scores during their worst stretches of the seasons. The Spurs gave up 114.5 points a night in their four-game losing streak starting December 27 and 113 a night in their four-game losing streak starting March 20.
These streaks saw the Spurs play a Zion-less Pelicans and a star-less Clippers. Otherwise, each score would be even higher. Still not convinced? The Spurs also gave up whopping 125 points a night during their five-game losing streak starting April 1st, 121.6 points a game during their streak starting April 28th, and 123.3 points per game in their four-game losing streak to close the season. Yeah, the offense wasn't pretty this year, but this streaky and porous defense is what cost the team a playoff berth.