Feeling the chill: When asked this morning in Cleveland to deliver a temperature reading of the team through ten games, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich shook off the incredulity of the question ("Nobody's ever asked us that in 19 years. Nobody cares what the temperature's like. We don't exist") and stated that, "The temperature of our team is we aren't anywhere close to where we were at the end of last year."
The eye test certainly confirms his hypothesis, as do the numbers. The Spurs are a miserable 24th in offensive rating so far (98.9 points-per-100 possessions), 22nd in shooting percentage (43.4 percent), 24th in three-point shooting percentage (32.4 percent) and 18th in turnovers (14.9).
It's not one or two guys dragging down the rest either. Pretty much everyone aside from the two point guards are shooting horrifically -- from Tim Duncan (.458) to Kawhi Leonard (.443) to Danny Green (.402) to Manu Ginobili bringing up the rear (.391).
Here's the thing: Most of those guys struggled out of the gates last season too. Ginobili, who's been a slow starter historically, made 40-97 (.412) field goals through ten games in 2013-14 and was 11-of-41 from downtown (.268). He's hit 34-of-87 so far this season, and 10-of-34 (.294) from deep. If you want another encouraging sign, consider that Ginobili started last year very conservatively in terms of aggressiveness. He had 10 measly free throw attempts in his first 14 games. This season he's already taken 39 freebies, second-most on the Spurs. Ginobili's plus-minus numbers and net rating continue to be otherworldly.
Duncan, meanwhile, started even worse last year, shooting at a woeful .425 clip through November, a span of 15 games. He picked it up significantly thereafter, making 50.5 percent of his attempts the rest of the way.
Leonard, who has canned just 26.9 percent of his threes, made just 10-of-42 (.238) through November last year. His percentage from downtown in the ensuing months: .361 in December, .435 in January, .500 in February (two games), .480 in March and .360 in April.
I point to the three-point misfiring as practically the entire root of the team's struggles. The awesome Paul Garcia from ProjectSpurs.com collected a bunch of relevant stats and they all say the same thing: Ball movement is not the problem. The Spurs are passing it as much as ever --336.1 passes per game this season to 332.9 last year-- and using passes to create buckets as much as ever. 65.0 percent of their baskets have come via an assist this season compared to 62.1 percent last year. The only difference is the ball simply isn't going in the bucket. If the Spurs had made two simple little threes per game more, they'd be shooting 41.3 percent from downtown right now and averaging 101 points instead of 95 and nobody would be asking what's wrong with them.
The defense isn't resting: As badly as they've struggled to put the ball in the hole, the Spurs have been able to tread water because their foes have struggled even more. They're third in the league with a 96.0 defensive rating, a figure that would've led everyone last season and is far stingier than the 100.1 mark they finished with, which was good for fourth in 2013-14. It's a stunning achievement when you consider that Tiago Splitter's been available for all of 11 minutes so far, but to be fair, Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills missing all these games have probably helped contribute to it in a positive way as well.
The Spurs have played a few of the most dangerous teams in the league already in Phoenix, Golden State, Houston, the Los Angeles Clippers and perhaps the most lethal of them all in Dallas. They didn't win all those games, but no one has scored over 100 on them, even on SEGABABAs. Interestingly enough, Leonard, Green and Tony Parker all rank in the bottom half in the team's individual defensive ratings. Duncan, Ginobili, Diaw, Matt Bonner and Cory Joseph have all been positively stifling.
They miss Splitter, no question, but I think he's overrated in the respect that he's this hugely influential figure against everybody when really he's someone who's absolutely necessary when you play teams like Sacramento, New Orleans and Memphis, but someone who doesn't move the needle against the perimeter-oriented squads out there. Against half the NBA Splitter is more of a luxury than a requirement. Splitter's biggest value, to be honest, is that he allows Pop to rest Duncan more and to get away with it. So far Duncan has been far-and-away the team's best, most consistent player, just four rebounds shy of recording a double-double in all nine of his appearances and scoring exactly 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 points once each.
The Spurs are on schedule: The quick-and-dirty way I always project what the team's record will be is to not worry about injuries or back-to-backs and stuff like that because I figure all that stuff will balance out over the course of 82 games. My method is very simple: I assume all 41 home games will be wins, regardless of who's playing and who's tired or whatever and that most road games against any decent competition, i.e. the other nine playoff contenders in the West (Clippers, Thunder, Warriors, Blazers, Rockets, Mavericks, Grizzlies, Suns and Pelicans) plus the top six in the East (Bulls, Cavaliers, Raptors, Wizards, Hawks and Hornets) will be losses. Add it all up and it works out to 59-23.
Obviously it won't play out that way at all. The Spurs will drop a handful of home games here and there and may in fact lose a few roadies to some bad teams (in fact, both of these things have already happened in the first 10 games). But they'll win some road games against the top-15 too (again, it's already happened at the Clippers and Warriors). The idea is that anytime they drop one they shouldn't you give them a mental "minus-1" and anytime they win one you didn't expect you give them a "plus-1."
All of that is a fancy way of explaining that through ten games the Spurs are right on schedule at 6-4, given the early tough schedule. If they win tonight at Cleveland they'll actually be ahead of the pace I've got for them, and if they lose, they'll be right where they're supposed to be.
In other words: Don't panic either way.
End of Dayes: If there's one grand, sweeping declaration I can make through these first 10 games, it's that I am tired-tired-tired of the Austin Daye experiment and would be perfectly content if he was a former Spur by the time you finish reading this sentence. His continued presence on the roster befuddles me daily and I can assure you that I am hardly alone among my colleagues.
Daye continues to chuck away, having taken 40 shots in 77 minutes, a rate of .519 attempts per minute. The next-closest Spur is Ginobili at .397. All that prolific shooting would be okay if Daye could, you know, make anything. He's shooting .250 overall and .167 from three. Daye has yet to get to the free throw line, rebounds at a Bonner-esque level and offers nothing of consequence elsewhere. He has a negative PER after 77 minutes, which is really difficult to do and I'd be shocked if they don't unload him at some point for something, anything, even if it's a 2nd-round pick from whatever year "Interstellar" is supposed to take place in.
Speaking of negative PER's, the Kyle Anderson Era has gotten off to an inauspicious start let's say and I think it'd be for the best for everyone involved if Belinelli and Splitter returned to the lineup ASAP and the kid from New Jersey got to spend some quality time exploring Austin. He just can't throw it into the ocean right now, and it's starting to stick out, even on a team of slumping shooters.
This has been your Spurs through 10 games report. As always, please try to contain your excitement, Tim.