You know it’s bad when you squeak by the Chicago Bulls by one point, but when you lose the next two by more than thirty!
The Spurs can shake off a couple of losses, right? At this point in the season, is it safe to say “this is the squad we’ve got, how are they doing?” The lone statistic created to give Spurs fans hope — when LaMarcus scores 20 or more, the Spurs win — is no more.
This week PtR contributors Jesus Gomez, Mark Barrington, Marilyn Dubinski, Bruno Passos, and editor-in-chief J. R. Wilco discuss the flaws in the current line-up that need to be assessed moving forward, Pau Gasol’s injury upgrade, and the daunting December schedule.
All questions are posed on Sunday before posting. For questions the matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers and the home stand, check back next week.
Gomez’s article floored me, but I have to say, it got me to thinking: are the Spurs fundamentally flawed?
Jesus Gomez: Yup.
Mark Barrington: Fundamentally flawed? I’m not sure what that means. They’re a team that’s inconsistent, and with two really good players who are not good at certain aspects of the modern NBA game. DeMar DeRozan is not a good outside shooter, and LaMarcus Aldridge is a big man that needs to work within an offensive system that feeds him the ball in his favorite spots. Both of these things can be seen as weaknesses, or as simply capabilities that can be planned for and used to advantage. DeRozan can create midrange offense, and score points in bunches when the team needs it, as he did against the Blazers. If you get the ball to LaMarcus in the block, he can dominate his defender. The offense needs to be structured to take advantage of that. The only other elite scorer on the team is Rudy Gay, and the rest of the team is role players who are just now learning how to play with each other. There are quite a few teams in the league with a better overall level of talent than the Spurs right now, so you can say that that’s a flaw, but the Spurs still can be a playoff team if they play to their strengths.
Marilyn Dubinski: It’s hard to say when we have yet to see them with more that 80% of their roster even available. They were built under relative duress this summer thanks to a certain corn-rowed nemesis who shall rename nameless, and they haven’t even been able to play the team they envisioned then due to a constant influx of injuries. Even with all that in mind, this team has shown it has what it takes to beat playoff-caliber competition when they play a fundamentally sound game. They know what it takes, now they just need to bring that effort on a consistent basis.
Bruno Passos: A novelist was asked how they came up with ideas for stories. Their answer was something to the tune of, “Think of a compelling problem, and then imagine a protagonist that’s completely unfit to solve it.” That’s how I think of these Spurs but, like, in a good way.
J.R. Wilco: If the test of a team is whether they’re able to live up to their potential, and failing that whether they can be consistent — then this team gets an incomplete on the first part due to their significant injuries, and a D minus on the second. Whether that equates to being fundamentally flawed, I leave to the reader.
Lonnie Walker IV returned to action in the G-League last week. How much do you expect him to help the team this year?
Gomez: I don’t expect him to help much. Having him around will give Pop another option to throw out there when things aren’t working or when someone is out with injury, but he shouldn’t get much playing time when the team is playing reasonably well or at full strength. I’m extremely excited to see him play in garbage time, though. The end of blowouts are going to be so much more fun when he’s around, and I mean that as a huge complement.
Barrington: Before the season, I didn’t think he was going to have much of an impact, but I’m changing my mind. There’s going to be lots of opportunity for him to play, and he’s going to probably take away a lot of Belinelli’s minutes by the first the year.
Dubinski: If given the chance I believe he can help them plenty. He would likely be their best back-court defender the instant he steps foot on the court, and from what little we’ve seen of him in the preseason and G-League, his offensive game is promising. As previously mentioned, the last time the Spurs gave heavy minutes to a middle-of-the-first-round pick it worked out pretty well, so why not give Walker a chance to prove himself once he’s healthy? If it turns out he’s not ready, then you just go back to your veterans.
Passos: My answer, just to save myself the disappointment, would be “not much.” Purely based on defensive upside, I’d like to see him get a crack at making the rotation. It’s just a matter of whether Pop sees him as perhaps a part of the equation, or just another problem he’d have to solve in a season replete with them.
Wilco: I expect nothing from him because he’s a rookie, and it’s the Spurs. But I’m hopeful that he’ll be able to lighten the offensive load from DmDr and LMA, and the defensive load from [checks notes] um ... whoever it is who’s playing good defense at time of reading.
This week Pau Gasol’s injury status went from a soreness to a stress fracture. He’s facing an indefinite recovery timeline. How does this development change the Spurs’ plans?
Gomez: It probably won’t change their plans much. They have a competent third center in Poeltl, so they’ll hopefully ride this injury out without making any moves. I do wonder if Pop will introduce more pick and roll action to the second unit now that its best facilitator is gone. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to at least try to do that, to have more variety once Pau returns.
Barrington: It’s great for Jakob Poeltl, who is finally starting to look comfortable in the Silver and Black and will only get better with more playing time. Pau was the best Spurs big at setting up the offense and making assists, and his absence will cost the Spurs some wins, but I think this was going to be his last year in a Spurs uniform anyway, as next year’s contract is only partially guaranteed.
Dubinski: Contract aside, Pau’s value is showing in his absence. Coincidentally or not, this team hasn’t been what it was since the first nine games of the season when he last played. As for how it changes the Spurs’ plans, I think they’ve known all along that it would be a while until he returns, so while they’ve had to change their plans from the beginning of the season, I don’t believe that particular bit news changed anything in that moment.
Passos: I’d note that the “stress fracture” designation has since changed back to “foot soreness,” which is probably the bigger concern right now. I’d say it makes a big difference, as a short-term strain with a long-term silver lining. His absence has paved the way for regular minutes for Poeltl, but it also took away the Spurs’ hi-lo game that they used so effectively to feed Aldridge easy buckets around the basket. In the end, the Spurs will probably be stronger for it.
Wilco: It only changes the Spurs’ plans as it relates to scoring the ball, as Pau wasn’t changing any games with his defense. It also gives Poeltl more playing time which allows him to develop. It is an interesting stat that Gasol has played 8 games so far this year, and the Spurs began the year 6-2. I wonder if there are any other stats that support the argument that Pau’s injury is the one that the season pivoted on.
Pop said Kawhi “wasn’t a leader” Kawhi said that was “funny”. How much more sniping do you expect leading up to the first Spurs/Raptors matchup?
Gomez: Some more talk is inevitable, especially as January approaches and the Raptors’ visit to San Antonio grows nearer. Both guys are going to be asked questions and will have to answer them. That’s fine with me, as long as we get some clarity as to why Leonard asked out as a result, even if the real answer is simply “because I wanted out.” I typically don’t mind some drama but in this case I’m only interested in figuring out what happened.
Barrington: I hope we’re done with it. It’s become tiresome.
Dubinski: Even though Pop was directly asked about Leonard’s leadership, part of me hoped he’d avoid it considering the media has taken Leonard’s side and has been piling on the Spurs all season, and this just gave them more false ammunition. Hopefully this is the end of that stuff at least until that game, if not forever, and if we have to hear anything else about it hopefully it’s honest answers from Leonard (although I wouldn’t bet money on it).
Passos: Not much, probably, unless more details emerge from the rift. As things stand, I don’t think it’s a topic Pop wants to rehash all that much. (For the record, though, I think it’s fun.)
Wilco: The less that’s said, the better — with one caveat. If the two of them agree to a full-length no-questions-barred side-by-side press conference on pay-per-view with the proceeds going to charity. Otherwise, don’t keep striking the deceased equus.
Between November 18th and December 22nd, the Spurs have no more than one day between games. Is that a good thing (rhythm) or a bad thing (no time to practice and adjust)?
Gomez: It’s a home-heavy schedule. Only six out of the next 15 games will be played away from the AT&T Center, so I think they will be fine in terms of rest. I think the new starting lineup and Derrick White both need reps in order to get better, so it might help to have games every other night. The only big issue is Pau’s injury, but that’s out of the Spurs’ hands anyway.
Barrington: With so many new Spurs this year, it would be nice if they had more time to work on plays in practice, but with the abbreviated preseason and the lack of time off, that’s not going to happen. I still think the team will eventually get better at playing together, but it’s probably going to continue to be ragged for the remainder of 2018.
Dubinski: It definitely starts taking a toll, especially with the team as shorthanded as it’s been all season. It didn’t escape me that the Spurs were behind almost every other team in the league in number of games played in the first month of the season, so it was going to average back to the mean eventually, and that appears to be now.
Passos: On the one hand, it’s not translated into much encouraging play. On the other, I suppose it’s better to undergo this with fresh legs at the beginning of the season. If the Spurs can keep their heads above water through Christmas, they’ll have set themselves up for the next calendar year, which includes a pretty palatable schedule in the final weeks.
Wilco: It would only be a good thing if the team was on a winning streak, or had any positive rhythm to speak of.
Get in on the discussion by sharing your responses in the comments section. If you have a question for the round table, email jephduarte (at) yahoo.com