1. The Spurs saw the wheels fall off in Detroit last week. What is the Spurs’ biggest need going into 2018?
Dubinski: They need Kawhi to get healthy enough to the point that he can play every game for the sake of continuity and rebuilding chemistry with his teammates, and they need to fix whatever ails them on the road. If third is where they remain in the West, they face the very real possibility of having to get through both Houston and Golden State without homecourt advantage, and if they want any chance of accomplishing that, they’ll have to find a rhythm away from the AT&T Center.
Barrington: Honestly, I wouldn’t read too much into the woeful effort in Detroit. Even in their championship years, the Spurs have occasionally played some terrible games in the regular season and lost to bad teams. I think it’s impossible to be up for every game in the overly long NBA season. As long as they have a short memory about the occasionally stinky regular season games, they are pretty insignificant. I’m not too worried about the standings, because I see the Spurs as pretty much locked into the three seed unless something exceptionally bad happens to Houston or Golden State.
Gomez: They need to resist the temptation of going through the motions. We are a couple of months into the season, the injured players are healthy and rounding into shape and the Spurs’ record is good. As a result, what Pop calls “appropriate fear” might not be there every night. That’s a problem, because this team can’t coast on talent. They need to be focused and hungry for all 48 minutes, as cliché as that sounds. If they do that, they’ll be fine going forward.
Passos: A bit of normalcy. It’s hard to get worked up about any particular result or stat when they’ve only been at #fullsquad once so far. This season has felt like more of a process than most, but hopefully come the All-Star Break, we’ll start to see what the 2017-18 Spurs are actually made of.
2. The Spurs did not have a televised national Christmas game for the first time in 8 years. Are they ‘back to boring’?
Dubinski: It sure seems that way. They have gotten very little media attention this season, and while that’s not unusual, it has been even more pronounced with the rise of teams like Houston and Boston and intrigue of young teams like Philly and the Lakers. Compound that with no Kawhi Leonard for most of the season, and the Spurs are further under the radar than usual. I’m sure they don’t mind.
Barrington: I think there’s a feeling that they’re a little under the radar this year. Which isn’t a bad thing. NBA insiders still know that the Silver and Black is still one of the best teams in the league, but the reduced press attention is helpful for players trying to focus on basketball. And this team still hasn’t gelled completely, so focus (and health) is what they need right now more than anything else.
Gomez: They were rather boring last season, to be honest. Aldridge’s style of play is just not exciting. Leonard’s game is based more on fundamentals than explosiveness. The Spurs are also in transition. Parker and Ginobili are not big stars anymore and the beautiful passing that characterized past teams is not there consistently. I can understand why the league would want to showcase other squads, even if the Spurs are better than most of them.
Passos: They play at one of the league’s slowest paces, with its highest rate of post-up possessions. They don’t chuck threes or produce too many above-the-rim plays, and their offense remains middle-of-the-pack. You could make the case, objectively, that they’re on the boring side of things right now, and that’s OK.
3. The Spurs had 18 assists against both the Nets and Detroit. What do the Spurs need to do to get back into their “sharing the ball” philosophy?
Dubinski: They mainly need to find a balance between getting Kawhi his reps and LaMarcus Aldridge his touches while also staying within the system. Some nights the the ball moves well, sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it’s just a matter of shots not falling (as was partially the case in Detroit). Improvement will come with repetition.
Barrington: They just need consistent rotations. As long as the lineups are churned from game to game they just aren’t going to be comfortable enough with each other to really have good ball movement. Once Kawhi is cleared to play without minutes restrictions, they should be solid after a brief adjustment period of about a half-dozen games.
Gomez: The Spurs’ philosophy, to me, is “get good looks.” In the recent past, they needed a pick and roll, a pass to the corner which resulted in a drive and kick to the wing and another pick and roll to get the defense off balance. Now they don’t. Giving Aldridge the ball near the block has a similarly destabilizing effect for opponents, who have to double. The same goes for giving the ball to Leonard when he has a weak defender on him. I doubt the ball is going to move as much as it did in past seasons. If they get good looks, it doesn’t matter.
Passos: Like Gomez said, this team is something of a different beast, and the high-assist games may not be quite as frequent as in years past. There will still be nights where the offense clicks, and those should become more frequent once Leonard is back to his normal self and Pop figures out how to make the most of everyone’s strengths.
4. LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol outscored and out-rebounded Kristaps Porzingis and Enes Kanter. What kind of retaliation can we expect at Madison Square Garden?
Dubinski: MSG isn’t exactly a house of horrors for the Spurs, although they do tend to have befuddling losses there every other year. Still, if the Spurs lose I think it will have more to do with their own road woes and inability to find an offensive rhythm than anything the Knicks do to them.
Barrington: It’s not about the Knicks. It’s about whether the Spurs play with intensity and crispness or just phone it in like they did in Detroit. The Knicks are an improving team, but they should be no match for a focused Spurs squad. Given their history in New York, especially after a layoff in the Big Apple, I’m half expecting the Spurs to have another terrible game. I hope I’m wrong.
Gomez: The Knicks’ bigs are surely going to be on high alert. The key will be for the Spurs’ bigs to match their physicality, assuming it’s higher this time around. I’m expecting a better shooting game from Porzingis, but if Pau and LaMarcus are focused and ready, the Spurs should have the edge down low again.
Passos: The Spurs are 8-10 away from home, and 2-4 with Kawhi in the lineup. The Knicks are 15-6 at MSG. There’s reason to expect a loss to kick off the calendar year. That said, I think they have the right combination to counter New York’s bigs, and if the team starts figuring things out with Leonard, a win is certainly possible.
5. Pau Gasol ended his night against the Sacramento Kings with the first Spurs triple-double since Tim Duncan in 2014. What is the significance of a triple-double in the Spurs System?
Marilyn Dubinski: Triple-doubles are somewhat rare in the Spurs system because it’s all about spreading the wealth (and in fewer minutes than most triple-double getters in the league), so it’s pretty rare for someone to rack both double-digit points and assists. When someone does it’s usually a guard, so it’s even rarer for them to also get the rebounds. Also rare: a center getting double-digit assists regardless of the system, but he’s more likely to get the rebounds, hence why it has mainly been bigs getting triple-doubles in the Spurs’ ball-sharing system.
Mark Barrington: It’s not significant at all for the Spurs. The Spurs strategy is to adhere to the first half of Marx’s famous maxim, ‘from each according to his abilities ...’ Each player is given roles that they can succeed at. But there are a few players on the Spurs that are so versatile that they succeed in a variety of statistical categories, occasionally enough to log double figures in several of them. Pau is one. The other is Kyle Anderson.
Jesus Gomez: I’m sure Pau was happy about it and his teammates glad he got it. It does seem harder to log triple doubles on the Spurs, because no player holds the ball enough on offense to routinely get double-digit assists and chasing boards is discouraged. So it’s noteworthy that Pau got one. It doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things, but it was fun to watch.
Bruno Passos: The assists are obviously what stand out to you, coming from a seven-footer. It shows how special Gasol’s skillset is, and the expanded role he’s had to take on to help make things happen on offense.