1 - Are the Spurs under utilizing Kawhi Leonard on offense lately?
Jesus Gomez: I don't think so, but I can see why some might. He just handled a massive offensive role earlier in the season and did well. But now that Parker is back, it's better for him to get at least some of his shots within the flow of the offense instead of having to create all of his buckets. Gasol in particular needed more shots and he's now getting them. In the postseason the Spurs might need more from Kawhi but for now it's better to share the ball.
Michael Erler: I agree with Jesus. The problem isn't that Kawhi is being underutilized these days, it's he was having to do too much earlier. He doesn't need to be taking 20-plus shots or averaging 25-plus points. The Spurs are at their best when the ball is moving and everyone is getting involved, with 5-7 guys scoring in double figures. Having one or two go off for 30 while everyone just stands around has a definite ceiling. It calls for Kawhi and Aldridge to be more efficient than the opponent's two stars, and that's going to be tough to do considering the shots they typically take. And the more predictable the offense gets, the more the ball gets stuck, the tougher the degree of difficulty on Leonard and Aldridge's shots will be. Hopefully with Parker and Green returning to health and Gasol getting more comfortable, they can continue to spread the workload, get Leonard creating more for others, and in time it'll lead to better quality shots for him.
Bruno Passos: Probably not. His usage rate has indeed dropped since Parker's return (I think it was in the low 30s early on), but it's hard to argue with the eye test and results that have come of it. The starting lineup clicks better with the ball in his hands a little less, and he's been a way more efficient player working off the catch than in isolation. I know Kawhi's capable of carrying more of an offensive load (and that certainly seems like a role he can take on in the future), but doing so makes poor use of the offensive talent around him, and it's probably a bit too taxing on his body in the long run with him still being so important to the defense.
Chris Itz: Over the first eight games of the season his usage rate was 33.5% and over the last five it's been 27.3%. The Spurs have won five in a row and were just 5-3 over that first stretch. Look, it's a small sample, and Kawhi has been great in general for the team but 33% usage is too high. While he sometimes looks like a Kobe in the making, that isn't necessarily the best for the team. I'd say that a usage of 27% is about what the floor should be and 33% the ceiling. Kawhi is too important on D to be a third of the offense.
J.R. Wilco: We may have finally reached the limit of Kawhi’s progression (for the moment, at least) because when his usage rate exploded early in the season, his efficiency took a hit. And Pop is such a stickler for maximizing efficiency that there’s nothing besides a lack of options that will force him to give a player more than they can handle well. So expect more of the egalitarian approach this season.
2 - Tony Parker has averaged 13 points per game on 52 percent shooting and five assists to only one turnover in the past four games. Is his recent good play sustainable?
Gomez: It should be sustainable. Parker is picking his spots as a scorer and is logging assists by getting the ball to the stars in the right spots, mostly. My biggest concern is an injury. We've seen him struggle with minor maladies that plague him for months. It might be hard for him to remain healthy all season, even in limited minutes.
Erler: I don't think the averages are sustainable, --I'd venture something closer to 11 points, 4.5 assists and 1.5 turnovers-- but Parker definitely needed to be more involved in the offense. He's no good to them as a spot-up shooter who just brings up the floor and then sits in the corner waiting for the bailout pass. Like most Hall-of-Famers, he's a lot better with the ball in his hands. If they're just looking for shooters for Leonard, then he's better off playing with Mills. I will say that it's pretty essential, if Kawhi and Tony are going to play together, for the shooting guard to be either be Green or Ginobili, a three-point shooter who can space the floor and be that outlet. Neither Simmons nor Anderson pose that outside threat, and it clogs things up. At least one of the two guards needs to be able to shoot threes.
Passos: He hasn't exactly faced a murderer's row of opposing point guards since he's been back, so maybe those numbers are due for some regression. Still, something a little lower than that seems possible as long as he stays healthy. Maybe 11, five and a slightly lower shooting percentage?
Itz: Absolutely! His assist percentage is below his career average and his turnover percentage is as well. I see no reason to think that he can't continue that as long as he stays healthy. He's incredibly careful with the basketball and has to do less on offense than he ever has. If anything his assist percentage may see a slight uptick. If he can stay healthy, which is a legitimate concern as one of the league's oldest-ever 34-year olds (even with Pop watching his minutes he's 68th in all-time regular season minutes and 11th all-time in the playoffs, not to mention the international play and the fact he started playing pro-ball at 16) and pick his spots it's not like 52% from the field is a crazy prospect.
Wilco: I don’t care if he maintains those numbers as long as he can be effective when the offense bogs down and needs him to step up. The reason I’m so excited about his recent play is that the Spurs didn’t tell anyone he was struggling with an injury early in the season, which made it easy to write him off. But he got some rest, and he’s been everything the Spurs need from him since his return. The Spurs can be very successful with this version of Tony Parker.
3 - Which of the new additions has been the most pleasant surprise so far?
Gomez: I've been watching Davis Bertans play since he was a member of Partizan Belgrade. The beautiful, deadly shot doesn't surprise me. Neither does the athleticism. But I didn't know he was going to be this good at team defense in the NBA. The schemes and the position he played made it hard to really gauge his potential on that end. So far, he's exceeded my expectations by doing well on switches and making the right rotations. If he continues to play well on that end, he'll force Pop to find him minutes.
Erler: This is a tough one because I really didn't have any expectations for any of them, save for Gasol, and they've all shown something. If anything, it's the holdovers, Simmons and Anderson, who've disappointed a bit. Bertans has been alright, but I'm going with Dedmon. He leads all Spurs who've played over 100 minutes in defensive rating (91.2) and he's averaging a double-double per-36 minutes as well as 3.7 blocks-per-game. The Spurs definitely need him to return to health because they can't protect the rim at all with him out. Hopefully at some point Bertans will challenge Lee for the backup four job.
Passos: I've been pleased with Pau's transition, and plus-minus superstar Dewayne Dedmon has looked great, but I'll double down on my David Lee love and go with him. I wasn't very optimistic about the guy heading into season, but I've been blown away by his effort and Spursiness. His defensive metrics can't be sustainable, but he's been a real boon in the early going as this team continues to figure itself out.
Itz: That's a tough one. My favorite new addition without question is Nico, both in terms of personality and on-court watch ability. Watching Bertans swatting shots on defense has been a small revelation. But I'm going with David Lee. He's got the hustle and hunger of a guy who's trying to prove himself to his teammates, which will go a long way within the organization. He's been great in his somewhat-limited minutes. If he keeps up his play, including shooting nearly 60% front the filed, he may be regarded as one of those sneaky-good retreads the Spurs have been known for.
Wilco: I’ve been pleasantly surprised by David Lee (I see the good offense and rebounding I expected, but his passing has exceeded my expectations and his effort on defense is a bonus) but Laprovittola has blown me away. Not that Nico has been a world beater, just that I had no idea he was capable of holding his own at this level. His ball-handling and scoring are legit, and if he’s able to defend his position then he’ll have no problems finding a job in the NBA even if he doesn’t stick with the Spurs.