After a slow start, San Antonio's new-look offense is beginning to find its rhythm. On a per-possession basis, it's one of the most efficient in the NBA, top-two in the league in field-goal percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio, averaging 106.3 points over their four-game winning streak.
The scary part, though, is that this is an 18-4 team -- with the league's second-best point differential -- that still hasn't learned what its offensive ceiling is.
While they've jelled exceptionally well as a defensive unit, the new pieces are still finding their bearings on the other end of the floor, and the old guard is adjusting, as well. A 51-point blowout against lowly Philadelphia has skewed the numbers just a bit, but we've seen enough encouraging signs through 22 games to think that the Spurs should be able to dominate teams on both ends of the floor on a regular basis.
Here are some things we know:
Kawhi Leonard is fire
At this point it seems the only thing that can slow Kawhi down is a bad Philly cheese steak. Here's a look at his shot chart up to today:
Leonard is doing damage from all over, finishing strong at the rim and making a league-leading 50% of his three-point shots. He's letting loose with confidence and purpose from all over the floor, no matter who's defending him.
Kawhi Leonard gets an and-one with a strong move pic.twitter.com/IQr3vXKzy7— Chris Itz (@Chris_Itz1) December 1, 2015
Kawhi's feel for the game has never been better, and he has a deliberate way of breaking down a defense that's all his own. Guys like Kevin Durant and Paul George move with more fluidity, and Russell Westbrook and LeBron James attack with more violence, but Whi's built-in computer appears to continuously be reading the floor, recalculating probabilities and determining best-possible outcomes.
My jaw is on the floor. So smooth. So right. pic.twitter.com/NXY6bpfsG7— Chris Itz (@Chris_Itz1) December 1, 2015
Defenses will continue to find ways to test Kawhi the creator, as it's becoming clear containing him is now more than a one-man job.
Tim Duncan is water
When you pour Tim Duncan into a cup, he becomes the cup. When you poor him into a bottle, he becomes the bottle. And when you ask Big Fun to adjust to a peripheral role on an offense that features two other frontcourt players, he obliges with verve and aplomb.
A career-low usage rate has seen Duncan's scoring drop incrementally (albeit below double digits) and his free-throw rate significantly, while his game has moved further and further away from the basket.
And yet, Tim Duncan boasts the team's second-best net rating (and an 111 Off Rtg), functioning as a Swiss Army knife of sorts for the Spurs' loaded starting lineup. He's still a rock in the low post, and that over-the-right-shoulder fling remains as effective as it is unconventional, but his passing from the perimeter has been especially impressive this year:
The Biggest Three, since 1902. pic.twitter.com/o3Jzg8bbqN— Chris Itz (@Chris_Itz1) December 6, 2015
The Spurs' best post-entry passer is back at it. pic.twitter.com/UIAbzSwf85— Chris Itz (@Chris_Itz1) November 15, 2015
Oh, and he's still playing all-world defense.
Danny Green is icy (for now)
Most Spurs fans will be familiar with Verde's mercurial ups and downs, but that ebb and flow has traditionally happened within a system he's grown into through the years. We're through 25% of the regular season and Green still doesn't seem comfortable in the offense.
Last year, Green shot 42% on threes and and 47% on twos. This year, those numbers have dipped to 29.% and 36.2%, respectively. A larger number of his shots have come at the end of the shot clock, and he appears to be catching the ball out of rhythm a lot more than last year.
Green's value on the defensive end will keep him in the starting lineup, and in time his shooting should come around.
Aldridge is still picking up the pick and roll
The pick and roll is both misdirection and reveal; setup and punchline. San Antonio doesn't possess an elite athlete to overwhelm defenses, but Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are more than capable of setting the table and now have another talented roll guy to complement them.
But Aldridge, as you may have noticed, has taken some time to get accustomed to the flow of the Spurs offense, and that begins with the pick-and-roll action. His 0.85 points per possession as the roll guy places him in the 22nd percentile (and that was in the teens before playing the Sixers).
Part of that comes with chemistry. Aldridge is still figuring out when to keep the ball moving and when to step into his shot. The following play ends up in a made basket, but it's not the ideal shot the play should produce:
Tony is doing a great job of sucking defenses in, though, and looks like the one below have become more common as the two grow accustomed to playing with each other. Aldridge also does a good job of sealing off the diminutive Thomas, which results in an open look he should be able to hit on at a good clip:
Double screens can also wreak havoc on defenses. Both of these plays make the help guy commit to either leaving Aldridge alone or forfeiting an open three to Kawhi which, as we've learned, is a bad idea. More often that not moving forward, I expect LMA to make the right play, whether it's taking the easy bunny or assisting on the three-pointer.
Tony Parker is rolling
While Aldridge is still settling into the pick and roll, Tony Parker is thriving in it. His per-game numbers (13ppg, 5apg) don't leap off the web page, but they're coming at an impressive efficiency, with less turnovers than ever and a 57% (!) field-goal percentage, and a lot of that is attributed to his playmaking in the PnR, which currently places him in the 91st percentile among his peers, according to NBA.com.
In fact, Spurs ball-handlers on the whole are the second-best in the league at scoring off the pick and roll. (I'll give you one guess at which team is number one)
Passing still rules all
The Spurs are playing at a low number of possessions per game, but that's not to say they're playing slow or letting teams relax. Their league-leading 350-plus passes per game takes its toll on opposing defenses. Good teams can get tired out by this level of activity, and bad teams can simply get exposed.
The Spurs have kept their turnovers low to start the year, which has also been key in letting the defense set, as they're not allowing younger teams kill them in transition.
The Foreign Legion lives on -- with reinforcements!
Reduced to a hydra of Boris Diaw, Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili for the first few weeks, the bench is looking more robust with each game. Pop continues to show trust in Kyle Anderson; David West is looking more comfortable, and Jonathon Simmons and Boban Marjanovic are making the case for being NBA rotation players.
Yes, it was the Sixers, but 51 points is 51 points, and a group that pulls off that kind of win on the road without three key players is worthy of praise.
The Spurs' depth this year is remarkable, and so is its potential to be elite on both ends of the floor.