1- Are LaMarcus Aldridge's early struggles on offense a cause for concern?
Michael Erler: Individually, no, not really. Collectively with the starting group? Yes. And I don't know if that capable of dramatically improving for various reasons. There are systemic issues there beyond Aldridge's control that limit how efficient that group can be.
Bruno Passos: I'm not sure much of the on-court product should give reason for concern through just six games, as long as everyone's healthy. As much as we'd like the preseason to be the time to tinker and start figuring out the best way to use him, it was always going to take regular-season situations for Pop to figure his new star out. There have been bright spots, and Aldridge's hunger and willingness to 'be a Spur' are there, so I remain cautiously optimistic.
Jesus Gomez: They are concerning in a completely unexpected way. My worry was that he was going to get his numbers and his touches while inadvertently disrupting the offense before adapting to the new style. The opposite has happened. He's being unselfish to a damaging degree while Kawhi Leonard is the one asserting himself. Hopefully those two find a balance soon. It's still very early. The team will figure out how to get Aldridge more touches and he will start to be more aggressive.
Chris Itz: I'm a little bit concerned about the starting unit as a whole finding their identity. Through the first six games they have been outscored by 13 points in their 86 minutes on the floor. As for LaMarcus, I'm more concerned about his defense -- his offensive numbers, per game/per 100 possessions/advanced, are generally quite a bit lower than his career averages right now, and that won't continue.
J.R. Wilco: I don’t think there’s any reason to be concerned. The Spurs are asking a guy to come onto a unit that was for all intents and purposes operating with a hive mind. Aldridge hasn’t been plugged in long enough to be able to read a play and know how the other four guys on the court are going to react. That’s going to take time, but I’m not worried. And I say this as one of those people who had unrealistic expectations that the Spurs would storm out of the gates with their starting lineup laying waste to the competition.
2- Kawhi Leonard is averaging 22 points, six more than last season. Is that sustainable?
Erler: It is, but the Spurs should probably hope that it isn't. They need other guys in that starting lineup to get going. They're not going to beat anyone good consistently without more balanced scoring.
Passos: From the way he's looked, staying above 20 is definitely doable. He's shooting twos better than ever, but has also seen his three-point percentage dip to 30%. I think we can see both gravitate (a bit) towards his usual figures as Kawhi keeps making the case for his first All-Star appearance.
Gomez: I don't think so, not over an entire season. 21.8 points would have had him ranked ninth in the league in scoring last season, between Blake Griffin and Kyrie Irving. Leonard also has to play defense so I suspect he will dial back his role on offense a bit going forward to conserve energy.
Itz: I agree with Erler about the starters. That said, as much as I love team basketball and beautiful ball movement, I'm a sucker for Kawhi post ups/isos. I've really enjoyed watching his development into polished mid-range scorer and look forward to his silky jumpers each game. To kind of answer the question -- Kawhi can easily average 22 if that's the game plan, but it would be best if he got most of his points in the flow of the offense instead of on 15 footers, whether that's 15 or 29.
JRW: Leonard is averaging 22 partly because of his 32 point explosion against the Thunder. But that’s not to say he can’t average 20 plus a game, because of how he scored against OKC. In the first game of the season, Kawhi had a string of plays that were normal for him. Which is to say that he didn’t do anything extraordinary, and still managed to top 30 for the first time in his career. That’s just who he is now: a guy who can rack up points with a nearly endless succession of ho-hum plays. We can talk about his steal-and-score abilities another time since that’s just icing on the cake.
3- How would you define Tony Parker's play so far?
Erler: As expected? He's been in "le petit générale" mode, mostly a caretaker who gets the ball to other people and let's them work, but he's been an efficient scorer when he's looked to score. The problem more than anything is he continues to be awful defensively and that he can't really space the floor because he doesn't shoot threes.
Passos: Better than expected. His playmaking has taken a big hit (3.5 assists per) and his days of consistently getting into the paint and drawing fouls are behind him -- but I think we saw that coming. What's positive is he's been OK at staying in front of defenders, and he appears to be adapting well to his smaller role on offense. It's a bit surprising to see him shoot just one three after it being one of his few positives from last year.
Gomez: Encouraging. I agree with everyone that the turnovers and the defense are an issue but he's looked much better on offense than I had anticipated. He's not getting assists but the guy gets the defense moving, which makes it easier for his teammates to score. If his touch around the rim returns, he should be able to up his scoring. Maybe he's benefitting from my lowered expectations but I'm happy with how Parker has played so far.
Itz: I dunno, really. It looks like his body is in good shape, but he's having some other issues and it's not like he's going to become better at defense or anything. He's scoring efficiently, .538 eFG%, but according to basketball-reference.com, he's turning the ball over at a career high rate while posting career lows in assist rate and usage.
JRW: Fair but not great. Thing is, the Spurs don’t need Parker to be great anymore. As long as he can be in that fair-to-middling range, and hold his own on defense (fingers crossed) then the Spurs will be fine. That said, I’d rather not talk about his defense for another few weeks – hopefully it improves over time.
4- Who should be the fourth wing in the rotation, Kyle Anderson or Rasual Butler?
Erler: Of those choices? Butler. But the real answer is None of the Above.
Passos: To double-down on a reference I've already made:
Gomez: Kyle Anderson. He's probably not going to work out, not with that bench unit. His skill set doesn't fit well alongside Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw. But I want him to get every chance to earn a permanent role, playing in different lineups and at different times in the game. If by the New Year he's still not helping the units he's part of, then erase him from the rotation.
Itz: I haven't been impressed with either. They're both shooting poorly and not doing much else. I guess I'm pulling for Kyle to learn to play off of the ball or a trade.
JRW: Butler, for sure. Let Anderson continue to pick up what he needs to in practice and garbage time. I haven’t seen anything so far that makes me think he’ll never be an NBA player, but I’ve seen very little to encourage me that he has a future with the Spurs. The Spurs can make it through the regular season with a guy like Butler getting regular rotation minutes.
5- What's the biggest surprise around the league so far?
Erler: Probably the Pistons hot start, for no other reason than their bench is giving them NOTHING, and it's still not mattering because Andre Drummond has been so dominant. Through the first two weeks he's been like the best player in the East.
Passos: Andre "Big Penguin" Drummond. His numbers across the board are ridiculous (20 and 20, with almost 2 blocks and 2 steals per game) and Detroit is rolling. The way the team is structured, with shooters and slashers around him, it's not impossible for Drummond to hang around 18 and 17 for the season.
Plus, he's like a way more likeable DeAndre Jordan.
Gomez: The Pelicans are 0-6 but with their injuries that was kind of expected, I guess. So I'm going with the Trail Blazers not being terrible. Damian Lillard is a star, C.J. McCollum is making the leap, Mo Harkless looks like a player and there are still other guys who could play better. I did not see that coming. They will fall back to earth soon but I don't think they will be one of the five worst teams in the league.
JRW: I’m blown away by Utah – did not see them coming. Sure, they might not be able to sustain this through a whole season, but I wasn’t expecting them to be anything more than a fringe contender for the 8th playoff spot in the West. The fact that they’re doing this without a top-flight point guard makes their future even brighter should they ever acquire one.
Itz: There's a part in Lonesome Dove where Augustus reveals to Captain Call that one of his longtime foes/rivals, Pedro Flores, has died:
Call asks Augustus, "Didn't Pedro make a try [to steal his horses back]?"
"No, he didn't, and for a very good reason," Augustus said.
"What reason would that be?"
"Because he died," Augustus said.
"Well, I swear," Call said, stunned. "Is that the truth?"
"I wonder what killed him," Call said. Pedro Flores had been a factor in their lives off and on for thirty years, though probably they had not actually seen him more than six or seven times. It was surprising, hearing he was gone, and though it should have been a relief, it wasn't, exactly. It was too much of a surprise.
[Augustus says he doesn't know any details]
"Well, I swear," Call said again. "I never expected that."
"Oh, well," Augustus said, "I never either, but then I don't know why not. Mexicans don't have no special dispensation. They die just like the rest of us."
"Pedro was tough, though," Call said.
After all, the man had more or less held nearly a hundred-mile stretch of the border, and for nearly thirty years. Call had known many men who died, but somehow had not expected it of Pedro, though he himself had fired several bullets at him.
"I'd like to know what took him," Call said.
"He might have choked on a pepper," Augustus said. "Them that can't be killed by knives or bullets usually break their necks falling off the porch or something. Remember Johnny Norvel, dying of that bee sting? I guess Johnny had been shot twenty times, but a dern bee killed him."
To Augustus's surprise, Call sat on the porch and took a big swallow from the [whiskey] jug. He felt curious - not sick but suddenly empty - it was the way a kick in the stomach could make you feel. It was an odd thing, but true, that the death of an enemy could affect you as much almost as much as the death of a friend.
"I didn't know you liked that old bandit so much," Augustus said.
"I didn't like him," Call said, "I just didn't expect him to die."
"He probably never expected it either," Augustus said. "He was a rough old cob."
I'm not surprised by Kobe's play. I'm surprised that it makes me sad. He's one of the greatest to have played the game and was a great foe for a long, long time.