Waiting For The Other Shoe To Drop
About a third of the way into the season, things are looking pretty good for the San Antonio Spurs. They've got a record of 22-5, sitting in second place in the always-dangerous Western Conference behind the one-loss Golden State Warriors.
Kawhi Leonard has morphed into a two-way superstar. LaMarcus Aldridge is growing more comfortable into his role with the team. Tim Duncan is still Tim Duncan. The rumored demises of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker seem to have been greatly exaggerated. They have the best defense in the league. They have a top 3 offense, which is only improving.
About the only thing that hasn't worked out to start the season has been Danny Green's 3-point shooting, which has plummeted to 29.4% on the season. When an NBA team's only real problem is one player's poor shooting, they're in excellent shape.
Basketball is a game of runs, and the Spurs are on an extended one right now.
Unfortunately for them, in most cases, these runs don't last forever. With all this good fortune early in the year, I can't shake the feeling that their luck is just due to run out.
Think about it for a minute. The Spurs haven't lost anyone to significant time due to injury. Their best player has gone from above-average-to-good shooting numbers to flirting with a 50/40/90 year, a level of scoring efficiency reserved for sharpshooters like Steve Nash and Larry Bird. Two older players on the roster that both just had down years have bounced back.
Keeping everyone healthy for 82 games is virtually impossible. That's something that every NBA team has to deal with over the course of a season. Someone is going to get hurt, and the next man will have to step up.
Production-wise, it's a good bet that Leonard, Ginobili, and Parker all regress to the mean a bit as the season goes on; if only because they're going to become more and more fatigued.
The irony of all this, of course, is that anyone paying attention has been waiting for the other shoe to drop in San Antonio for what is almost a decade now.
Around 2007-08, when Tim Duncan started to come down from his prime, the Spurs were written off as being a title contender. San Antonio understood their situation, and made the necessary changes, retooling their offensive attack around Parker and Ginobili. As a result, they continued to win 50+ games per season, and thrived in the West.
In 2011, after a brutal first round loss to the Memphis Grizzlies in the playoffs, San Antonio was thought to be done competing again, this time due to the age of the collective roster. They again understood their need for change, as they traded for Kawhi Leonard and upped the tempo of their offense. The payoff for this change in strategy came when they won the NBA title in 2014.
Last season was, yet again, supposed to be the Spurs' last as a contender in the West. Duncan was thought to have only one more year left, and Parker and Ginobili were supposed to be running on fumes. How could a team with only an unproven scorer like Leonard and a rapidly declining Tony Parker keep competing in a Western Conference so tough that 7 teams in the conference had just won 50+ games?
The team responded by signing LaMarcus Aldridge, and Kawhi Leonard improved dramatically on offense. Just like that, the Spurs re-positioned themselves to be in the contender discussion for the foreseeable future. And as we know; Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili all found ways to play well despite their age.
This is all to say that maybe, with this team only, there is no other shoe that drops. For the past 10 or so seasons, no matter whether in the short term or long term, San Antonio has been able to delay the effects of individual drop-off by balancing the team's offensive usage differently and giving older players proper rest.
Maybe, as with their ability to stay a contender for all these years, this is just who they are now. It seems unlikely, but everything about this team's reign at the top has been just that. And if this Spurs team is going to stick around for the entire season, there aren't many other teams that are going to be able to compete with them.
Kawhi Leonard - 27 points on 9-15 from the field, 4-7 from 3, 4 assists, 4 steals, 3 rebounds
Leonard set the tempo for San Antonio coming out of the tunnel for both halves. In the first quarter, when the Wizards came out sharp, Leonard had 9 points to keep the Spurs within striking distance. In the third quarter, it was Leonard that put the game out of reach. He had 11 points in the quarter, and had a three and a half minute stretch where he either scored or assisted on 5 straight made field goals. He also played a big part in slowing John Wall down after Wall had a huge first quarter scoring the ball.
NUMBERS ON THE BOARD
- 47: Bench points for the Spurs. They went deep into their rotation, playing 5 of their bench players over 15 minutes. As an entire unit, the bench shot 58.6% from the field, adding what was already a good night from the starters. When the entire team plays on point like this, San Antonio is hard for anyone to beat.
- 23: Stretching back to last season, this is San Antonio's 23rd straight win at the AT&T Center. You might remember their last home loss; it was on March 12, when Kyrie Irving dropped that 57-point gem to lead the Cleveland Cavalier to victory in OT.
- 1: Made three-pointer for Danny Green tonight. He's still deep in a slump, as he missed on 4 other attempts tonight. That made 3 came during San Antonio's big third quarter push, and was followed up with a nice reverse layup in transition from Green. He's missing more shots right now, but he sure does have good timing for the ones he makes.
- The old guys that played in this game, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili (Tim Duncan was out due to rest) both had very good nights. Parker played 26 minutes and recorded a double-double, scoring 10 points and dishing out a season-high 10 assists. Ginobili played 18 minutes, scoring 11 points and racking up 8 assists of his own. Considering the general expectations for both of them before the year, they're both playing lights out basketball.
- It might be time to start taking Boban Marjanovic more seriously as an NBA player. He came into the league this year as a bit of a novelty: The 7'3", 290 lbs. Serbian that seemed to come out of nowhere. He quickly endeared himself to the Spurs' fanbase with his stellar garbage-time stats early in the season, and has become something of a cult hero in San Antonio. Talent was never a question for Marjanovic, as he was a First-Team All-Euroleague selection last year. The unknown was really how he'd translate his skill to the NBA. Offensively, he's extremely skilled, and works well with his back to the basket and from the elbows. At his size, you'd think he'd just try to overpower defenders, but he's also astonishingly quick and graceful with the ball. Defensively, he's a work in progress, but (as simply as this sounds) he uses his size well, putting his big body in position to alter shots and get into position for rebounds. He struggles with moving laterally and defending pick-and-roll, which will limit his minutes. One thing remains clear, though: This guy is more than just a fan-favorite sideshow.
- The Spurs held Comic-Con night at the AT&T Center, which means a bunch of fans were at the game dressed as their favorite heroes and villains from comic books, movies, etc. Much to my chagrin, Tim Duncan didn't take this one-time only chance to sit on the bench dressed as his favorite comic book character, The Punisher for the entire game and have it be completely acceptable. Whoever was in charge of putting this theme-night on really dropped the ball here, because I'm like 80% sure Duncan would have done this had he been presented with the idea. Missed opportunities are the worst.