This is just one man's observations and opinions of each of our players, compared to last year. This is by no means exhaustive, and is only an eye-test. If you are a stats geek reading this, feel free to verify or debunk some of these observations.
On to the good stuff.
Tony is not putting up MVP stats like last year. But I don't think that means Tony has regressed. I think a combination of things means Tony's usage is lower. We are doing less PnR, and more motion offense. Manu is healthier, and there are actually viable backups this year. Hard to put up MVP numbers in 26 minutes a night. He could improve a bit by coming off of Splitter's picks a bit slower. From what I've seen, he comes off too fast, and Tiago's big has to switch onto him, not just hedge. This could be great, when he gets the switch and can pass the big. But if not, he is alone since he's outrun Splitter. Watching Manu, he often goes much slower, letting the big hedge but not switch, which allows Splitter to roll hard, while the small moves back over to Manu. This leaves the big in limbo and Splitter wide open. Apart from this, Tony's mid-range jumper has been deadly accurate. When Pop says "Go score" he runs out and notches a dozen in short order. I think he is in excellent form.
Manu seems to be close to where he was last year. Unfortunately, this is far, far from the Manu that we used to know who could take it on anybody, any time. But, we may not need that. His shooting is good, his passing is great, and he is once again fantastic at running the PnR with Splitter. Maybe he is able to stay healthy this year, and get better rhythm and be more of an individual force, but we'll see.
Wow. Seriously? Best numbers in years. Perhaps MVP level per 48 minutes? Running in the top 20 for shooting percentage, points, rebounds, and blocks. He's moving great, protecting the basket far better than last year, and taking it right at the rest of the league's top power forwards and centers. TD looks great! Is there anything he could do better? Well, he could maybe pick up a trick or two from Tiago in the PnR -- I've seen a few players going right around his picks.
Stephen Jackson/Kawhi Leonard
It's been so long since these guys have played, anything I'd put here would be nearly meaningless. Obviously Pop feels the team is playing well enough that he doesn't need to rush either of them back onto the court, and that suits me just fine, thanks.
Danny looks super this year. He seems like he is playing with a ton of confidence. He's shooting well, blocking shots, and right now he is having to guard the best perimeter player on each team. He seems to be at least as good as last year. And those seven three-pointers against Charlotte sure didn't hurt.
I really like Gary Neal this year. I remember two years ago thinking every time that he came on the court it was a crap-shoot: would he score more points than he allowed? His defense was poor. And his PG skills were just bad. Turnovers, poor floor leadership, inability to run PnR, etc. Gary improved last year, and much more this year. He can score from anywhere, run the PnR, handle the ball under pressure, and play pretty solid D. If almost anybody else jacks up a shot without running the offense, he gets pulled off the floor. Gary has the green light to shoot just about any shot at any time. And he and I are both confident he'll make it most of the time. Oh, and unlike some of our guys, the bigger the moment, the better he seems to shoot. Remember that game against the Clippers last year? Unbelievable outcome.
As somebody said, Neal is a no-conscience gunner. And that means when he is shooting well, he wants the ball because he's on fire. And when he is shooting bad, he wants the ball because he is due.
[Ed. note: Has anyone else noticed that Gary has added a sneaky behind-the-back dribble that he's used in big spots a couple of times already this year? It looks like it's out of the Ginobili Collection, and I feel positive that it's something Manu taught him. With defenders over playing Neal for the jumper, it really sets him up to change direction with that kind of a move and I support him making it a regular part of his arsenal. It's been successful every time I've seen him try it. jrw]
Boris is playing pretty well. He is a great passer, he seems to be in a little bit better shape than last year. He knows the system better than last year. He's still not rebounding as well as I would like for somebody 6'9" and playing PF, and I wish he would shoot more as it would open some more stuff up.
The most impressive thing about DeJuan this year is how much weight he's lost, and kept off! Having surrendered his starting spot and most of his minutes, he got serious over the summer. That's a really good sign. Not sure we have seen the entire payoff from that yet. He seems to be passing better this year, although his rebounds seem to be still down. He is a specialty player though; against certain lineups he might as well be Hercules, but against others, he is ... Tiny Tim (Dickens reference? Bah, humbug!).
I love Tiago this year. Maybe his defense still isn't top notch, but I think it is quite improved. Seems to be good enough for some good +/- in most games. But his PnR action is better than ever. In fact, it's so effective that I wonder about every possession he plays with the 2nd team if his number isn't called. His composure and balance around the basket seems to have gotten so much better. In the past it seemed like he would get off balance and end up tossing stuff that wouldn't go in more than half of the time. He is dunking when he can now, simple layups when he has to, up-and-unders, reverse layups, floaters, and tear drops too, but all under control. And his post up game is better. I believe it was Mike Monroe that tweeted something like, "If Tiago keeps making that hook shot, he's pretty much the best player in the NBA." Joke or not, I'm starting to believe it.
I don't know if Matt is the most improved player on the team, or if it's just that what he is doing now is more significant and needed than what we get at other positions, or if the current trend is just fool's gold. I never thought I would see Matt get 12 rebounds. And I never thought I would see Matt rip a 50/50 rebound away from Tiago. But both happened; I promise. But perhaps the most unreal thing I've seen this year, is Matt running a PnR with Cory, and finishing with two handed tomahawk dunk replete with a rim hang that I thought was sure to draw a T, and an emotional fist pump afterwards. Wait, stay here, I haven't lost my mind. Watch this video.
Matt's defense seems to be improved too. He's been blocking shots, although he doesn't get the whistle love that Tim does. His shot percentage is high. Best 3pt % in the league, I think. He has been working on mid-range stuff too. I've seen decent-looking floaters, and hooks, that have gone in the basket. Weird. Perhaps the most interesting thing of all is that Pop has finished no fewer than two games with 4 guards and wait for it . . . Bonner. Granted, it was garbage time, but still. Has Bonner's D improved enough to make him important come playoff time, even if his O isn't working?
That's something we'll have to wait to see.
Love what I'm seeing from Cory. So much more comfortable on the court, running the show. And where guys were coming at him last year trying to get him to turn it over, this year, he is the aggressor on both O and D. His D is most impressive though. He just seems to be an instigator of chaos. So much energy and pressure.
Anderson looked to be a middling player last year when I saw him in garbage time. Yeah, he has some athleticism and a pretty good shot. This year, he is doing more. He knows the system better. He's blocking shots. He's playing hard. He's passing. I'm glad he got called up, and hope he makes in the NBA this time around.
Another unabashed gunner. Patty thinks every shot is a good shot. And Patty is not far wrong. He's a great scorer - especially with so many other threats on the floor. and he's looking a lot better than last year. I didn't think he looked bad last year, but he was certainly unfamiliar with our system. Those lost moments are happening less and less often for him. It's great to see him settling in.
I'm impressed with this guy. I'm glad he's getting playing time, although hope that he figures out the difference between a risky pass and a bad pass pretty soon here. Because he makes a lot more of the latter than I would like to see. Remember how long it took for Pop to be comfortable letting Manu be Manu? And remember Parker's early years? I think Pop is going to let Nando be Nando, but I hope Nando quickly refines his game under Pop's tutelage to improve in important areas, and shave off some bad habits. Verdict: he could be really special.
Who did I miss, or what do you disagree with?