Here we are, 10 games away from the conclusion of the 2018-2019 regular season. While this won’t be a season in review article, I still want to talk a little bit about the improvements and what we’ve seen take place throughout the season. Around the NBA there was a ton of player movement this year. From trades, unnecessary drama, leaked information, and hell even outlandish comments like some unnamed guy told the second best player in the NBA, that they don’t need him to win a championship. Crazy. Whatever I guess.
Anyways, in San Antonio, this season has been a lot different from what we have all come to expect. San Antonio dealt with a lot of different critiques, criticisms, roster movement, and overall, it was just an entirely different year. San Antonio for just about all of the Gregg Popovich tenure, have traditionally used the two big set. This season primarily, you very rarely see it. Whether it be the struggles of Pau Gasol (isn’t on the squad anymore), The inexperience of Jakob Poeltl (he’s actually a stud, Spurs won the trade) you don’t see it nearly as often, but there’s a reason to this.
The Stretch 4, baby.
The emergence of the Spurs players, Rudy Gay and Davis Bertans in the stretch 4 role has been TREMENDOUSLY IMPORTANT. While going into this year, the Spurs were looked at as a team that was most likely going to be one of the worst at three-point shooting. Looking at it now, it’s a completely different case, but that was an actual concern going into this season. While the play of many like Bryn Forbes, Marco Belinelli, Derrick White, and others definitely has helped the 3 point shooting, the literal term “Stretch” at the 4 position has been the boost SA needed. In this day and age, the athleticism and isolation basketball is at its peak. Having a guy like Davis who embraces his role, with a quick trigger who is 6’10 is more than useful. A 6’10 PF who can move well with and without the ball, solid passing, oh, and shoots 45% from 3. That’s a totally different dynamic that isn’t seen much in San Antonio. The length and shooting helps out a bunch considering you have 2 HOF Badge level mid-range deadeye’s in LMA & DDR.
Rudy Gay is one player who I have come to literally love with all of my heart. OK, not that serious but I really like him. He has helped out this team in ways that are way deeper than just the stat sheet. Routinely, he guards positions 3-4, at a very high level. The footwork is phenomenal, considering he’s an older player, he still moves very well on both ends. He has a knack for finding loose balls, being a true hustle, grinder type player. Being a true “Spur”. His length on this team is very much needed because while he is 6’8, his length and skill are good enough to push LaMarcus to the 5. That is important because you move LaMarcus into that so he can guard bigger and not as versatile, and athletic players. Well, of course, there are some centers in the NBA who are just mutants, typically not every team has Joel Embiid or Nikola Jokic. Slower footwork, combined with an area not as big to cover, using basketball IQ, defensive tactics and anticipation has to be correct, and LMA in that role as a 5, has really had him shine and play some of his best ball on that end.
Recently, you have seen the Spurs play a little bit more of a two big set with Jakob’s continued season success, against some 2 big teams or 1 athletic PF/C, but that isn’t for a majority of the game. Lastly to Rudy though, he literally used to throw away stats sheets (s/o Ben for the info), not even wanting to look or hear or see about them after games. He has completely changed himself as a player, really buying into the Spurs system, and I think it will prolong his career by at least three years. He fits in his role so well and has maintained some pretty solid efficiency while doing it. His three-point shooting is at a career-high 42%, and it seems as the season goes on, he continues to get better.
9-1 in their last 10, coming off that 9 game win streak:
That win streak was very fun. I will be the first to admit it. Big wins, even a comeback win like the one over Milwaukee. Big wins like ones over Denver, Golden State, Portland etc. you saw Spurs basketball throughout that entire streak. The passing was phenomenal, Guys getting open shots, completely giving their all defensively, the defense was something that was HUGE over those 9 games. Derrick White, a big steal from the 2017 draft, is playing defense at an All-Defensive team rate. Over the nine-game stretch, he was guarding Damian Lillard (13-30)-(3-10 3pt), Steph Curry (9-25), Russell Westbrook (7-17) among other high-level talents.
Against Dallas, Luka saw a lot of Derrick White, he ended his night at 5-18. Derrick White has been great defensively, he fights through screens well, active hands, solid on rotations, him and Dejounte next season will be a phenomenal back-court duo. Speaking of defense, DeMar DeRozan has been the Spurs best defender since the RRT. The proof is in the pudding. It’s all on tape. Making plays defensively, playing smart. His basketball IQ and willingness to not only facilitate and drop 22 a game but defensively since that terrible trip has been admirable and really rubbed off on everyone. The defense has been key for the Spurs most recent success. Going into the playoffs, I don’t see a team who really wants to face San Antonio, especially if they get home-court.
The Spurs have been great offensively, until this past outing against Miami. The Heat consistently ran a 2-3 zone, which gave the Spurs fits in the first half. A wise man told me, the key to beating a zone is “Patience, Passing & Penetration”. San Antonio didn’t seem to do much of it in the first half and ended up dropping to almost a 20 point deficit throughout. In the 2nd half, the Spurs attacked the zone, picked up the pace and really began to come back, ultimately a little bit too late, although DeMar would love to get that TO back after making a phenomenal defensive play.
All-in-all, it seemed as if the 2-3 zone gave them problems and it is a little worrisome, but in the end, my faith is in Popaveli to steer this ship away from danger.
During the win streak, you saw the Spurs ball-movement look incredible. The passing, the cutting, just easy baskets honestly. Playing smart, a bunch of high screens for DeMar, making free throws. Simple, effective, consistent. Transition shooting has been much better as well, Marco Belinelli has improved mightily throughout the year, especially after his early season struggles. LaMarcus Aldridge has been great once again for the Silver & Black. Consistent play, averaging 24-10 on 55% shooting before the streak ended Monday.
Him and DeMar have been great together, to say they “needed a superstar” is laughable at this point. For the Spurs to continue to succeed, they need to “Trust The Process”. Continue to build within, unless a certain 7’0 guy from Golden State or that 7’3 guy in Dallas changes his mind and wants to come to the better city. I’m sort of joking. San Antonio’s youth looks strong, as Metu & Walker spend most of their team either DNP or in the G-League, the hope for them is very high. #5 isn’t healthy yet but when he is, boy oh boy watch out. HOF Dimer Badge, HOF Break Starter, the Spurs are running baby. All-in-all, very happy with how the Spurs have looked recently, their key to long-term success and to rebuild that win streak and make a push, is to continue to play smart. High IQ plays.
Don’t try to out-shoot anybody, or be overly physical, attacking everything and not thinking everything out. Be consistent on defense. Communicate, understand your rotations, rebound the basketball. Just play smart basketball. Pass off good shots for great shots, cut consistently and effectively, if/when in iso continue to separate but also keep your head up for open passing/driving lanes and lastly, MAKE YOUR FREE THROWS. The Spurs formula seems quite easy, and it’s worked for years. Although with a new group, we’ve seen them grow exponentially since the start of this season. San Antonio is in a great spot right now, I believe success will continue to come, as long as they continue to buy in, and play Spurs basketball.
Spurs next 3 games:
@ Houston: W
@ Boston: L
@ Charlotte: W
5th seed after Tuesday.