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The Spurs are committed to the process

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A tenth of the way into the NBA season, the Spurs have shown they have a lot of room to improve -- but in the meanwhile, they're winning games.

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

It's a process.

You've probably heard this before. Whether it's Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan or any random schmo with a Twitter account, the reality is that this season will be a process. Integrating LaMarcus Aldridge, a four-time All-Star, into the Spurs death machine isn't instantaneous. It can't happen without a hitch or without mistakes. There will be moments of uncertainty as the entire starting lineup needs to adjust and compensate for Aldridge's talents. Aldridge, for obvious reasons, is a different player than Tiago Splitter.

Every season, especially for a franchise that abides by the pounding the rock philosophy, is a process. This season, however, is a task unlike any other. Isolate an individual game and it won't crack the metaphorical championship rock. Eventually, after each successive game and the rotations and routines are sorted out, the championship rock should break down eventually. That's the idea, anyway.

What we've seen from the first nine games isn't anything unexpected. The Spurs have made uncharacteristic errors. The starting lineup seems stilted, operating on set plays instead of the dizzying motion that made the Spurs back into a title contender. As a unit, the Spurs look better and more polished when the bench unit replaces the starters. There is no other NBA team that improves when its best players hit the bench.

And yet, it turns out the Spurs are still damn good at basketball.Through eight games, the Spurs are second in defensive rating and fourth in offensive rating. The Golden State Warriors are the only team better than the Spurs in defense.

Kawhi Leonard is flourishing as the primary scoring option, improving across the board in every statistical category (except assists). Aldridge, after a slow start, is finding his own in the offense. Duncan and Tony Parker are filling in the offensive gaps. Danny Green has been uneven to date, but his perimeter shooting has been improving.

Here's the scary thing for the rest of the NBA: The Spurs should only get better from here. There are real holes on this team -- the second unit's small forward and defense -- that need to be ironed out.

If this is the Spurs while in process, what will they look like at their best?

Game ball

LaMarcus Aldridge: 23 points on 9-18 shooting, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block.

Aldridge delivered in his return to Portland, leading the team in scoring. He began the game calmly knocking down a mid-range jump off a pick-and-pop. Perhaps the secret to beating the Blazers was to just steal their best player.

Pop quote of the night

"I don't call any plays for him. I just let him play basketball."
- Gregg Popovich on making Aldridge feel comfortable in his return to Portland

By the numbers

  • 14,717. By recording his 14,717th rebound of his career, Tim Duncan passed Robert Parrish (14,715 rebounds) for 7th all-time. He needs 252 more rebounds to pass Karl Malone (14,968) for 6th all-time.
  • +14. Manu Ginobili's team-leading plus/minus for the game. The entire bench had a positive plus/minus, while only Aldridge (+3) and Leonard (+2) were in the positive range.
  • 10. Different Spurs scored in the game. The only Spurs who didn't score were Ray McCallum (1 minute), Kyle Anderson (1 minute) and Bonner (1 minute).
  • 3. 3-pointers for Danny Green. His performance improved his 3-point percentage from 21.8 percent to 27.8 percent. Still has a ways to go before he reaches his career average of 41.7 percent.
  • 1. Minute for Matt Bonner, who made his 2015 season debut last night. He was +2 with one rebound in his stint.
  • 0. Minutes for Boban Marjanovic, who was inactive.

#analysis

  • At one point, the Spurs were leading by double-digits on the road against Portland, the only franchise with a winning record over San Antonio, AND Parker only had three points. I had to double take.
  • If Kawhi didn't exist, you can make a legitimate case that Mills or Ginobili could be the team's Most Valuable Player to date and I wouldn't laugh. They've been that good.
  • Rasual Butler earned 15 minutes, while Anderson played the final minute. Seems like Pop has the answer to Kawhi's backup.
  • Don't blame him either. Butler is more proven and ready to fill in for the Spurs. He makes the right pass and doesn't stall the offense. His defense is also miles better than Anderson. Slo-Mo needs some more work before he finds a spot in the rotation.
  • We're seeing more glimpses of the "Beautiful Spurs" with each game.
  • Boy, that Kawhi Leonard fall wasn't pretty.
  • Also, how was that not a foul????
  • But Kawhi is a basketball cyborg, so it only took a few minutes before he re-entered the game.
  • That was scary.
  • Here's the play in question:

Twitter highlights

Stat of the night, probably.

Heck, they might both be playing in the NBA in 2023.

You take the donuts away from Boris Diaw and you take away his power. He's the Samson of eating donuts.

You can't lose with that logic. Or win, I think.

Taco Bell menu item of the game

The Spurs were the volcano taco -- an old favorite, but with a unique twist kind of like Aldridge scoring 23 points.

And that's a wrap folks. Until next time ...