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Grading the Spurs starters through a third of the season

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One of these is not like the others

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Gregg Popovich recently said that if he were to grade his team he'd give them a "B+" defensively and a "C+/B-" offensively. We can debate how harsh or fair those marks are, but in the end his opinion is the only one that matters. Never the less, here's how I'd evaluate the Spurs through roughly a third of the season.

Tim Duncan: B

When Gregg Popovich explained before the season that some people are going to take fewer shots in the wake of LaMarcus Aldridge joining the team and the emergence of Kawhi Leonard, it was largely assumed he was referring to Tony Parker. There's been some of that, but no one has sacrificed more than Duncan, who's taking 3.5 fewer shots a game than last season and averaging career-lows in most statistical categories, including minutes played (26.6) and points (9.2).

Duncan's scored in single-digits in six straight games in one recent stretch and has had just two outings where he's scored more than 10 since Nov. 18, a span of 17 games (three of which he sat). Timmeh's per-36 minute numbers in other respects have held steady, including a career-high 4.0 assists, and his passing plays a huge part in making the starting lineup functional, but it seems inconceivable to think of him as the team's sixth-leading scorer.

Defensively Duncan remains as strong as ever, still the best center in the league according to Defensive Real Plus-Minus (though I'm not a fan of that metric) and leads all starters in defensive rating, trailing just three Spurs reserves overall. Ironically, Duncan's defensive numbers are better with both Boris Diaw and David West alongside of him than fellow lengthy rim-protector Aldridge, but he's usually playing less dangerous lineups in those situations too.

LaMarcus Aldridge: B-

After a rough start Aldridge is starting to figure out where to get his shots in the offense and they're starting to adjust to him as well. He's averaging 17.5 points per game in December compared to 15.9 in November despite playing two fewer minutes this month. More importantly, he's shooting 54 percent this month and his overall field goal percentage is now higher than his past two seasons at Portland, which might surprise some people. Obviously Aldridge's numbers are down across the board, but this is by far the most talented team he's ever been on and the fewest minutes he's played and shots he's attempted per game since his rookie season.

Aldridge is a stronger post player than I thought he was and has a good number of moves around the basket. He's very good at sealing off smaller defenders who try fronting him and in drawing fouls with a pump-fake when people have him bodied up pretty well. He still forces up maybe two shots a night where I'd prefer him to pass, and his play in clutch situations remains an issue, but overall I've been impressed with his steady progress.

The one thing I really like about Aldridge is that he gives the Spurs another potential hot hand. He's got that star ability, just like Leonard, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, where he can get in a zone and score four, five, six buckets in a spurt. It makes the game so much easier when you have people like that, multiple guys who can carry you through stretches when others are flat. It affords others the opportunity to lay back, pick their spots and to save their energy for defense.

Kawhi Leonard: A+

I mean... what can I even say or write about him anymore that hasn't already been said or written? He's definitely never been in my kitchen. Until a recent dip the past couple games Leonard was leading the NBA in three-point percentage by a fair amount, practically making one of every two, and his PER at the moment is higher than Duncan's ever managed in his career. He learned he won the Western Conference Player of the Week when he arrived at the arena. I bet he doesn't have a single basketball media-related thing on his phone. If he even owns a phone.

Danny Green: D

Then there's Green, who's sort of been the opposite of that; the lowest-performing Spurs rotation player by some margin. Real adjusted plus-minus hates himPERWin Shares Per-48, and Box Score Plus Minus hate him (though the latter hates Aldridge even more). NBA.com's on/off court net ratings want to throw Green off a steep embankment. He has shot the ball very, very poorly from pretty much everywhere, and even his defensive rating is the second-worst on the club. Green's turnovers are up, his blocks and steals are down, and Pop benched him in the second half against the Clippers for not being able to keep up with J.J. Redick on screens. He's a team worst -12 in clutch situations.

It begs the question, is there anything Green's doing well right now?

To my eye, he's hustling as hard as ever, if not harder. He's making hard cuts, looking for backdoor passes, contesting for offensive boards and keeping loose balls alive. If anything he's trying too hard to make things happen right now, from taking shots that aren't open to forcing plays outside of his comfort zone instead of keeping it simple. It seems he badly wants to break out of his slump, and it might be playing with his mind a little bit. The transition to playing with new teammates has been hardest on him, but Green's going to have to get used to it because Aldridge isn't going anywhere.

Tony Parker: A-

Are we sure you aren't allowed to give Most Improved Player to a 33-year-old? I never dreamed Parker would ever crack a 20 PER again, not after his nightmarish 2013-14 season. Parker's been fantastic, shooting a career-high 56 percent and a clean 50 percent from downtown. It appears as though he's stolen a page from Ginobili's playbook, becoming highly selective in his attempts and sticking almost exclusively to his strengths. Also, like Ginobili, the Wee Frenchman is scoring in compact bursts here and there, hiding in the weeds for entire quarters only to string together four straight buckets when opponents least suspect it.

Parker has been at his best in the fourth quarter, shooting 60 percent overall (and 57.1 from downtown) and 58.8 percent in clutch situations. Defensively I think he's been a bit overrated as far as the praise that Popovich and his teammates are heaping upon him (his opponents are averaging 42.5 percent shooting against everyone else in the league but 48.9 percent against him), but he has improved dramatically from last year and even his adjusted defensive plus-minus is no longer embarrassing. The only quibble with Parker is that his defensive rating and on/off ratings are still among the worst on the team but overall, he's been a pleasant surprise.