In this week’s roundtable, contributors Marilyn Dubinski, Bruno Passos, Mark Barrington, Jesus Gomez, and editor-in-chief J. R. Wilco tackle how injuries are shaping the second half of the season, LaMarcus Aldridge’s taking even more on his shoulders, Manu Ginobili’s All-Star chances, Davis Bertans’ coming out party, and whether the party scene in La-la-land is enough to lead to losses.
In the Bonus questions are posed to the panel each week. For the Spurs return home to play the Denver Nuggets, or the road games against the Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets, and Toronto Raptors, check back next Tuesday.
Kawhi Leonard had a partial tear in his left shoulder and Tony Parker twisted his ankle. Is it finally time to hit the panic button?
Marilyn Dubinski: I don’t think so. The tear wasn’t in Kawhi’s shooting arm, plus Pop said he would only miss minimal time, which turned out to be true with him returning and looking fine against Denver. Tony also returned and Saturday and looked well. I’ll reserve panicking for if those two are still on “injury management” and suffering little tweaks after the All-Star break. Eventually they need to start being able to play regular minutes in every game for this team to find its peak form for the playoffs.
Bruno Passos: I ignored a herniated disc for months, so I’m not the best person to ask about the appropriate moment to panic. Based on what we saw against Denver, though, I don’t think there’s reason to edge towards the button yet. Parker looked fine, and Leonard’s injury didn’t stop him from attacking the rim and getting to the line. The final phase seems to be situated around Leonard regaining his burst. Hopefully we see a bit of that within the next month or so.
Mark Barrington: Personal story. I fell off my bike about 3 weeks ago and landed on my shoulder. It’s not the most intense pain I’ve ever felt, but it’s constant and and annoying and I’m reminded of it every time I move my arm. I don’t know how you could play basketball with it. Panic? I’ve got that queued up in my schedule for the day after the All Star break.
Jesus Gomez: Not yet. These last few injuries, including Manu’s, seem minor. It’s the type of stuff most teams deal with at this point in the season. As long as Kawhi doesn’t have a setback on the injury that kept him out earlier in the season or someone goes down for a long time, I wouldn’t panic.
J. R. Wilco: Before the end of the Rodeo Road Trip, the only thing that can get me to panic about a Spurs season is something like the season-ending ankle issue Manu had in 2009.
Spurs dropped a nail-biter to the Trail Blazers and after scoring 30 points, LaMarcus Aldridge blamed himself. Talk about his evolution this season and the realization that surfaced about his asking for a trade.
Dubinski: I just think it’s amazing that it has worked out so well after all of that. From knowing that both sides were ready to part ways if the right deal came along to things working out better than they did when Aldridge wanted to be here is nothing short of a minor miracle. Aldridge is still himself, which was never a bad thing before or after this summer, but mutual respect on both sides that may have been lacking before has gone a long way.
Passos: I don’t think there’s been any major shift — just a guy and his team growing a bit more comfortable with one another in year three. He also has the added security of that extension, which could make speaking up in situations like that a bit easier.
Barrington: I don’t know that Aldridge has evolved. He’s always been a stand up guy, and maybe a little too honest about his emotions. What’s evolved is that the team has learned better how to respect those emotions and give him a role where he can be accountable and be a leader in his own way.
Gomez: According to Pop himself, Aldridge’s on-court struggles were caused by over-coaching. I’d typically say he’s taking the heat to shield his player, but this time I kind of believe him. Aldridge is playing like he did in Portland, where he was an All-Star. As far as leadership goes, it’s good that Aldridge has taken ownership of the team. In the past he called it Kawhi’s team, which was the right thing to do at the time. After the extension, it belongs to both of them. Good to see LA taking on that responsibility.
Wilco: I’m at the point now where I think Aldridge deserves the same amount of gushing as we give Kawhi after one of his amazing plays. He works hard, plays tough defense, stays aggressive, and makes some high degree of difficulty shots. I mean, it isn’t easy to fight for position, absorb contact and still finish with touch while moving away from the basket, you know?
Should Manu Ginobili be an All-Star this year?
Dubinski: If we’re being honest with ourselves and remembering that no one thought Zaza Pachulia was an All-Star the last two years, or Kobe Bryant wasn’t his final season, then by its definition Manu is not an All-Star. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t been amazing all things considered, and it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if the league added some sort of “honorary captain” spot for a player who isn’t an All-Star but the players, fans, and/or media want to be recognized.
Passos: Oh, no. Let the guy rest, spend time with his family and maybe record a vlog or two. Even the Spurs official Twitter account appears to have dialed back the #NBAVote support for Grandpa Juice, while still hyping his teammates.
Barrington: His basketball play this year hasn’t been all star level, but he should go just as a recognition of his exemplary career and contributions to the sport. Plus, he gives the best interviews in basketball, so he’ll at least provide some good quotes after the unwatchable debacle which is the NBA All Star game.
Gomez: He certainly doesn’t deserve to be one. There are at least 10 or 15 guards in the West having a better season than him. Some of them probably have incentives in their contracts that kick in if they become All-Stars, so it would be a shame if they don’t get it so that Manu can get a symbolic recognition he might not even want. The support his candidacy is getting from Argentina is gigantic, though. A lot of top athletes, including Lionel Messi encouraged people to vote for him. The president did the same. He’s going to get more votes than he ever did, which is crazy.
Wilco: They gave the fans the right to vote for this very reason: so they could see the guys play that they want to watch. I’d love for him to get the chance to have another star next to one of his seasons on Basketball Reference, but even more — I want him to be able to rest.
On the SEGABABA the Spurs were at risk of dropping a game to the Sacramento Kings and then Davis Bertans happened. Was this game an outlier or is this what one can expect as Davis’ career continues to unfold?
Dubinski: He’ll never be featured enough that those kind of numbers become the norm, but seeing him get hot from three after seeing some consistent minutes of late should be no surprise since that’s his specialty. He’s also showing improvement in other aspects of the game such as getting in position on defense and distributing the ball, so he definitely seems to be coming around as an NBA player.
Passos: The shooting (6 of 9 on three-pointers) should never surprise you. That’s Bertans’ premier skill, and something that will always have value. But the fact that he’s gotten better at the other things — defensive rotations, rebounding, and contesting without fouling — means that he can stay on the floor even when the shots aren’t there. That’s the most important factor for his career, which will mean eruptions like the one against the Kings could become a more common occurrence.
He was an nonentity in the following game against the Lakers, so I’m going to say ‘outlier.’ He’s still a guy who can have the occasional explosive outing, but he’s just not consistent enough to be a regular rotation player.
I wrote the previous answer before the Spurs played the Nuggets on Saturday. I was wrong. All I have to say now is ... FREE BERTANS!
Gomez: Bertans has been one of the best shooters in the world since he was a kid playing for Partizan Belgrade in Serbia. The Spurs are now taking advantage of that, having him come off screens to free him or using him as a screener. He’s more than a spot up shooter. So the threes are not surprising at all. That’s why even with everyone healthy, Pop should find time for him when things are not going the Spurs’ way. If he gets free a couple of times, he can change a game.
Wilco: I love Davis and want only good things for him. He’s so much fun to watch and he has even less emotional expressiveness than Kawhi. But 6-9 is from deep is the very definition of outlier. Doesn’t mean I can’t root for 66% from deep every time he takes the court though.
The Spurs looked gassed in Los Angeles. What in your mind most contributed to the loss?
Dubinski: Lots of things played a role: fatigue, too much travel, too many injuries to key players, being in the midst of a 9 games of 11 on the road where they have consistently struggled all season, etc. My main takeaway from that game was the bench was a no-show, which was the complete opposite against Sacramento and Denver, and the results speak for themselves. It also didn’t help that they may have caught the Lakers at a bad time. They’ve won four straight since (gag)
LaVar opened his mouth again, perhaps to show support for Luke Walton, plus you never want to face good players who know they’re on the trading block.
Passos: It’s usually a combination of factors — road fatigue, injuries, and a lackluster performance — but this felt like one of those losses where Tony was sorely missed. The Spurs had 21 assists and 20 turnovers and couldn’t seem to get anything going in the half court.
Barrington: What do I look like, a psychiatrist? They just turned in a pathetic effort, and the Lakers took advantage. It wasn’t just the players, as Pop didn’t do a very good job coaching that game. I often say that you can’t get up for every game in an 82 game season, but the Silver and Black have been turning out lackluster efforts pretty consistently on the road, so it’s not just the fatigue of too many regular season games. They’ve been trying to get by with a bunch of different makeshift lineups, and the team’s intensity just isn’t there. I’d like to think it will get back on track when they get everyone back from injury, but that remains to be seen.
Gomez: Two of their best players missed that game. We are so used to that by now and, as Pop would say, the Spurs can’t just feel sorry for themselves when they are shorthanded. But any team that is without a couple of key players will have a smaller margin of error. The Spurs were sloppy with the ball and allowed a bunch of threes that day and Kawhi Leonard wasn’t there to bail them out. It’s that simple.
Wilco: Expect a loss from this team in every game that the bench struggles and Kawhi is on Return From Injury Management. Man, I’m really coming to abhor RFIM.
As always, if you would like to contribute a question to the Roundtable, contact Jeph Duarte firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @jeph_duarte