The march of young players to the Developmental League is in progress as the NBA's minor-league training ground has begun play in the last week. The Spurs recently sent Cory Joseph up Interstate 35 to Austin - a route he has learned quite well during his short career in San Antonio - and today assigned newcomer Nando De Colo to play with the Toros as he learns the Spurs' system. While we'll all miss De Colo's flair, wonderful passing and terrible passing, this is a great opportunity for the young Frenchman to get what he can't on the currently constituted Spurs roster: consistent playing time.
Update: De Colo's assignment was only for one game. (Project Spurs was all over this yesterday.) So it's only Joseph making his way to Austin for the foreseeable future.
Keeping in mind the hamstring injury to Danny Green in last night's 99-95 overtime victory over Memphis, the two players headed to the D-League leave the Spurs with only five healthy perimeter players on the roster: Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Gary Neal, JAMES ANDERSON!! and Patty Mills (unless you prefer to call him Party Mills, because it's an easy typo and it just makes sense). The decision to send both Joseph and De Colo to Austin at roughly the same time perhaps speaks to Green's availability. If Danny's injury had the Spurs' training staff concerned it's difficult to believe they'd leave just five players on the roster to man the three perimeter positions on the court. It could also speak to Gregg Popovich's willingness to use Boris Diaw at the small forward spot alongside two other bigs as Tim Duncan talked about last night, though that can't be something the coaching staff views as ideal given Diaw's speed and, well, girth.
Note: I spoke with Green briefly after last night's game and he told me he injured his left hamstring in the first quarter before continuing to play on it. But his leg tightened up in the third quarter after halftime, and the training staff elected to hold him out as a precaution. This is totally unofficial as he was on his way to get it worked on, but he seemed confident he'll be OK going forward.
Kawhi Leonard's injury situation isn't as clear, however. Prior to last night's tip, Pop said he would still be out of the lineup for the immediate future and at least the current homestand. Given the fact the Spurs have been on the road for a while (not sure if you had heard), Leonard hasn't had a chance to practice with the team for nearly three weeks. Pop didn't allude to any lingering effects of the tendinitis in his left leg, so we'll see what it looks like later this week.
So it's been a pretty tumultuous stretch of days for the Spurs, but a come-from-behind win over Memphis did a lot to validate Pop's "Restgate" decision and allow Spurs fans to just take a breath of fresh, victorious air. Here's a recap of the last couple of weeks.
- Nov. 15 wasn't a great day for the Spurs. They blew a 12-point fourth-quarter lead in a 104-100 loss to the then-undefeated Knicks and lost Kawhi Leonard to lingering tendinitis in the process. The loss left San Antonio 7-2 at the time, but a looming road trip without the team's best perimeter defender was much more of a concern. Since then all the Spurs have done is go 7-2 without Leonard - including a 5-1 road trip - while even losing backup small forward Stephen Jackson to a broken finger along the way. (Pop said last night Jackson is still "weeks" away from returning.) There have been some strange lineups and perhaps some fortunate outcomes, but San Antonio's depth has much to do with that. Pop has been mixing and matching ever since he lost his two small forwards, and he's found success in doing so, surprising no one.
- Leonard and Green are arguably the Spurs' best perimeter defenders, but Jackson is the guy Pop likes to stick on the bigger offensive wing threats in the league. After losing Kawhi and Jack during a single three-game homestand, the biggest worry for this team was defense and rebounding, two areas San Antonio was working hard to improve. Not only are Leonard and Jack two of the best the Spurs have in each category, they also possess great perimeter size. Since then it's been a real group effort to play defense and rebound, and to the surprise of many given the personnel available, San Antonio has been fantastic defensively. The Spurs rank No. 2 in the NBA in adjusted defensive efficiency (an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions adjusted for strength of opponent offense; they're also ranked in the top 5 in terms of adjusted margin of victory and adjusted offensive rating). So despite missing two of the team's best defenders, the Spurs have actually improved defensively since they lost the two to injury.
- The Big 3 is rolling. After early season struggles from Parker and back spasms for Ginobili, the two have finally joined Tim Duncan in producing consistently.
- The 14-4 Spurs, after playing 11 road games in November - more than a quarter of their road games for the entire season - will get some much-needed time off. The three full days off prior to Wednesday's game against the Milwaukee Bucks will be the longest stretch of rest for the team thus far.