Wow, what a week. I’m glad the good guys have a few down days between their heart-wrenching loss to the Utah Jazz and the start of the infamous Rodeo Road Trip. I find myself with a lot more free time. Even watched some game from another sport on Sunday night.
As difficult as it is to say, I think we can all agree the injury bug has been worse than it was all season. LaMarcus Aldridge can only have so many 30-point nights. Someone needs to make a difference. Generally speaking, there is one stand-out player per game. The last 5 games showed this might not be enough to retain the 3rd seed. Even Manu Ginobili used the word “terrible” to describe the team’s status.
This week, PtR contributors Mark Barrington, Marilyn Dubinski, Jesus Gomez, Bruno Passos, and editor-in-chief J. R. Wilco discuss the Spurs woes at home and how that might have a ripple affect on the road, the Spurs treating the NBA Trade Deadline as just another day, exactly what Dejounte Murray’s numbers mean, and what went wrong with Ricky Rubio last Saturday.
As always, our questions are sent out the weekend before posting. For questions and discussion involving the first leg of the Rodeo Road Trip against the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors, check back next Tuesday.
Spurs went 2-3 on their last home stand. Besides getting healthy, what is the Spurs’ biggest need to remain competitive going forward?
Mark Barrington: They’re playing about as well as they can be expected to with their current roster. As much as a genius as Popovich is considered to be, he can’t beat more athletic and deep teams every single night. I expect this group to be slightly above .500 until the reinforcements arrive. If they ever come, that is.
Marilyn Dubinski: They just need to start games better. All three of those losses were because of horrific first quarters that had the Spurs down by double-digits early and playing from behind all game. Without Kawhi Leonard or Rudy Gay they don’t have the offensive firepower to come back from that far behind against respectable teams. Some of that may have to do with Dejounte Murray and Kyle Anderson starting together. Regardless, good starts are the Spurs’ biggest need right now no matter who’s playing.
Jesus Gomez: They need more from Danny Green. He’s the only shooter on the roster who can credibly defend the small forward position. He should be getting 30 minutes a game, but his awful shooting is preventing him from being an option, and that in turn is causing Pop to over-rely on lineups featuring three guards. The Spurs need Green to be better, period. But they especially need him to be better now that they are missing Kawhi Leonard and Rudy Gay.
Bruno Passos: If the goal is simply to tread water until Kawhi Leonard and Rudy Gay come back, the team could do with some continuity in its current rotations, which should help, particularly on the defensive end.
J.R. Wilco: They need better luck, or at least they need guys to regress/progress to their mean. On paper, the Spurs should be a good 3-point shooting team. But they haven’t been, and that’s killing them.
Dejounte Murray led the team in assists and rebounding in 3 of the last 5 games. What is his next step?
Barrington: He has to develop a midrange game and finish stronger at the rim. That’s probably not going to happen this year, but it’s what he has to spend time working on in the off-season. This year, he just has to stay aggressive and take the Spurs as far as he can with his current skill set.
Dubinski: He needs a consistent jumpshot to help spread out the offense, but that will be somewhat masked once Leonard returns. Even more important for now is he simply needs to get better at finishing at the rim. Getting there will always be a strength for him, now he needs to take advantage of it.
Gomez: The rebounding numbers ring a little hollow, if I’m being honest. He does good work on the offensive glass, which is commendable. But he seems to hunt for some defensive boards. His gaudy numbers certainly don’t translate to transition opportunities. I’ve been a bit more impressed with the assists numbers. He seems to be coming along as a solid (if a bit robotic still) pick and roll creator. What’s next? Hitting some jumpers would help.
Passos: I think, more than a jumpshot, he needs to learn how to finish at the rim. Pair that with his already-steady improvement in making decisions in the pick and roll, and you’ll have one core function that the Spurs can rely on him to carry out.
Wilco: We seem to have a consensus, shooting and finishing, and I agree with it. But I don’t expect either to improve much this season. These are skills that can take years to grow in, so it’s about patience at this point — and he’s so young, that patience is easy to offer. That said, my hope is that he gets better at making his layups. He gets to the rim so frequently that watching him miss so often is pretty disheartening.
Ricky Rubio, really?
Barrington: Ricky Rubio has always been one of my favorite players. I kind of wish he could be a Spur someday. He’s not a good shooter, but sometimes even bad shooters have their days.
Dubinski: Rubio has always been a Spurs killer. No matter where he is, you’d never know he was a poor shooter when he plays the Spurs. Still, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have been defended better.
Gomez: Ricky Rubio, really. Rubio is talented and he’s been looking for his shot more this season. With Donovan Mitchell out, he was bound to have a bigger role. I’d be lying if I said I thought he’d drop 34, but he’s been good in their six-game winning streak. Also, opponent point guards feast on the Spurs. It’s an issue.
Passos: It felt weird to watch those long jumpers fall, but a look at his numbers over the past 8 games — 16 points per game, 50 % from the field, 50% from three — make his performance seem like less of an aberration. Still, you have to expect that the Spurs were willing to give him those looks given his reputation.
The bigger concern was how easily he got into the paint and broke down San Antonio’s defense, which has really wilted over the last few weeks. It could be fatigue to blame, or maybe the team isn’t actually the second-best defense in the league, as the numbers through the first half of the season suggested.
Wilco: It’s gotten to the point that I expect it. But that doesn’t mean I have to accept it. The man seems to save his best games for the Spurs, and I’m starting to take it personally.
Blake Griffin to Detroit, Nikola Mirotic to New Orleans, Greg Monroe to Boston. Any thoughts as the last days of the trading wind down?
Barrington: Hopefully there’s a Boris Diaw sort of waiver wire pickup for the Spurs this year. I don’t think the Spurs have any significant trade assets, so they’re not in the game this year. Mirotic [incompletely] fills a Boogie sized hole in New Orleans, they’ll still miss him, but with Nicola the Pelicans will be competitive and a tough out in a playoff series. Boston got better with the addition of Monroe and is my pick to win the East this year.
Dubinski: The Blake Griffin trade surprised me a little, especially after the Clippers went all in on their franchise player last summer, but I can also see why they thought it was time to start over. He can’t stay healthy and isn’t the type of player who is going to take them any further than he already has, particuarly without an All-Star point guard. As for the Spurs, I think they will listen to any call that isn’t inquiring about Leonard, but I don’t see them making a move on their own. It will likely require an offer they can’t refuse.
Gomez: I was a little surprised that the Clippers went out not with a bang, but with a whimper. That team was a contender for half a decade and killed the Spurs’ hopes of a repeat in 2015. And all they got for their two superstars was a collection of solid role players and a couple of mediocre picks. I’m not blaming the front office; they took the best offers they could find. But it’s always weird to see a team that had championship aspirations break up and head for a rebuilding process.
Passos: As a fan of the game in general, I love player movement. I don’t see the Spurs doing much, given how murky their immediate future is, although I wouldn’t mind them going after someone like Willy Hernangomez, who allegedly wants out of New York. Would the Knicks take something like Joffrey Lauvergne and a second-round pick? The salaries match, at least, even if ESPN’s trade analysis seems to think both teams get worse as a result.
Wilco: I refuse to get into trade talk until the Spurs are regularly being paired with a particular player. For me, it’s too painful to have a short time to imagine a great player in San Antonio and then having to live without him forever. So, like the Spurs appear to, I regularly sleep through the trade deadline.
What is your prediction for the Spurs record for this Rodeo Road trip?
Barrington: 4-2 I’m usually a pessimist, but I think the team will be less distracted on the road. I think they lose to the Warriors and split the games with the Nuggets.
Dubinski: A lot of it depends on when Kawhi and/or Rudy return. It’s sounding like it will be around the All-Star break. Not knowing when that will happen, I’m going conservative with 3-3. I see Phoenix as a win, Golden State as a loss, splitting the two Denver games, and splitting Utah and Cleveland. However, with better starts and hopefully getting healthier, four or five wins are more than attainable.
Gomez: The Spurs have been so bad on the road that 0-6 should be on the table. I’m going to choose to be irrationally optimistic, however, and say they’ll go 5-1. At some point they’ll start playing better away from the AT&T Center. Why not now?
Passos: I don’t see them losing any less than two games, and it feels like a third lapse (at Cleveland or Utah) is inevitable considering the team’s ongoing struggles defensively and on the road. I’ll go with 3-3, which still feels optimistic to me in some ways.
Wilco: The way they’ve been playing, I’d be ecstatic with anything over .500 ball on the road. Tim, help us.
Join the discussion in the comments section. As always, if you have a question you would like to pose to our panel, post it in the comments, email jephduaret(at)yahoo.com com, or tweet me @jeph_duarte