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Mid-season report: What do we know about the Spurs?

Tony Parker is San Antonio's three-point marksman, Patty Mills is their shutdown defender and you'll never guess who's been "too healthy."

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs made a minor roster move to commemorate crossing the halfway point of the season, waiving Austin Daye Saturday night and calling up JaMychal Green from the Austin Toros of the D-League with a 10-day contract, essentially swapping one 15th-man for another. You can read what Jesus Gomez and I think of the transaction here and here. The TL;DR version is that Daye shot the ball far too poorly, he didn't compensate for that slump in any other facet of the game, and once Kawhi Leonard returned, his roster spot became superfluous, especially with other NBA teams sniffing around at Green, who's been tearing it up in Austin.

So, what else is going on with the Spurs, who reached the halfway point at 25-16, exactly on pace for 50 wins despite all their injury woes (the nominal starting lineup of Tiago Splitter-Tim Duncan-Kawhi Leonard-Danny Green-Tony Parker had played two games and 21 total minutes together before Sunday night's forgettable wipe-out of Utah).

For starters, Patty Mills has been a huge difference-maker ever since returning from off-season shoulder surgery on Dec. 28. He's not shooting as well as last season, making 42.9 percent of his shots compared to 46.4 last year and hitting only 37.0 percent of his threes compared to 42.5 in 2013-14. But he's still scoring more because he's been anything but shy since returning, leading the Spurs with 15.4 field goal attempts per 36 minutes. Mills has also been playing more, 22.9 minutes this season compared to 18.9 last year, mostly due to injuries to Parker, Leonard and, more recently, Marco Belinelli.

Surprisingly, however, Mills has made his biggest impact in his own end. He's second on the team in net rating (9.7) mostly because he's also second in defensive rating (95.1), just behind Leonard's 94.7. Considering that Mills has only gotten to play with Leonard for one game, it's quite impressive for him to be able to stand out in such fashion when the rest of the Spurs have struggled considerably without "The Claw's" services, to the point where Gregg Popovich admitted the team "stinks" defensively without Leonard. The Spurs' defensive rating with Mills not on the floor is 101.0, just to give you an idea.

When it comes to net rating among Spurs teammates, the top combinations (four of the top five, five of the top seven, six of the top 11, and seven of the top 13 pairs) are Mills with somebody. In particular, the undersized combo of Mills with Cory Joseph has produced a 15.0 net rating over 91 minutes, 110.9 points per 100 possessions to 95.9 against. Add Ginobili to that duo and the net rating bumps up to 18.7, over 36 minutes.

The slight Mills doesn't have much of a reputation as a defender. Nevertheless he was fourth on the club in defensive rating last season, behind only Splitter, Green and Leonard. Among Spurs, he was second only to Ginobili in net rating. No doubt his numbers are inflated somewhat by the fact that, like Ginobili, he never starts so he gets to play the bulk of his minutes against opposing second units, but he also logs enough time against the stars that you can't dismiss his stats completely.

While Mills might not be able to keep up this pace defensively, he has absolutely been a boon to the Spurs in his short time back and when you add the improved Joseph to the equation as well, Pop definitely has options to work with if Parker gets hurt again or continues to struggle.


This is going to sound weird, but lately I've been worried that Manu Ginobili's been too healthy. I know, it's a ridiculous statement to make, especially considering who we're talking about. And I swear I'm not trying to jinx him (you shouldn't believe in jinxes anyway). Obviously Ginobili's dealt with the usual bumps and bruises, missing a game here with a shoulder impingement and a game there with back spasms, but he hasn't had any significant maladies so far this season, the kind that keep a player out a week or longer.

Usually such a thing would be fantastic news. With Ginobili, 37, I'm not so sure. He's played in 35 of the 41 games, meaning he's on pace for 70. I'd really prefer for him to play around 65 or so. He's also averaging 25.1 minutes per game, the most he's played since 2010-11. And they've been hard minutes, too. The Spurs haven't had the luxury of too many blowouts and Ginobili's had to take on a bigger role down the stretch of games, especially in terms of playmaking, with Parker and Leonard both missing so much time. He's attempting more shots and free throws in any season since 2010-11 and averaging a career-high 5.0 assists.

Manu missed chunks of December and January the last two seasons with hamstring issues (and also April in 2012-13), but a commitment to conditioning, stretching and a healthier diet have all helped prevent that so far this season. Or maybe he's just been lucky. Either way, I'm concerned that he won't be as fresh for a postseason run this spring if he keeps up this pace. Obviously I'm not wishing him any injuries --I wouldn't do that with anyone, let alone Ginobili-- but hopefully Pop will take greater care in giving him time off here and there against lesser opponents over the second half of the season.


Finally, I was heartened to see the Spurs beat Portland the other night because it kept alive the chances of them achieving what has long been my personal, extremely anal white whale for the Spurs: Beating everybody they play at least once during the regular season.

It's dumb. It's meaningless. Last season they went 0-4 against both Houston and Oklahoma City and then they beat the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals anyway on their way to a 'chip. I don't care. I still want them to do it once.

In 2012-13 they lost both regular season games to the Knicks and the Heat. In 2011-12 they never beat Milwaukee. Miami or Chicago in a lockout-shortened season. Boston got 'em both times in 2010-11. Utah won all four (!) meetings in 2009-10, Portland all three and Chicago both again, but the Spurs lost 32 games that year, so a lot of people beat them. Milwaukee, with noted Spurs-killer Richard Jefferson, did them in twice in 2008-09, and so did Orlando and Cleveland. Detroit did the deed in 2007-08, as did Boston. The Cavs beat 'em both regular season meetings in 2006-07, but technically the Spurs did settle the score against them in June. Still, the Bucks won both that year too, so no dice. In 2005-06 the Pistons won both revenge games after the previous Finals, playing with ridiculous intensity in those games (I've long held the theory that their motivation slipped after the Mavs upset the Spurs in the second round of the playoffs, and that the would've found a way to beat the Heat if the Spurs were still alive in the Western bracket).

Not since 2004-05 have the Spurs done it, and that's why 2004-05 remains the most fun, complete, Spurs season of all-time. Well, that or all the Ginobili dunks. Definitely one of the two.

The funny part is that the toughest obstacle for the Spurs to pull it off this season will probably be the Pistons, who've already beaten them at home. San Antonio hasn't won at Auburn Hills the past couple of seasons and Detroit's size and athleticism give them a lot of trouble. The Thunder might be a thing too, so we'll see about that.