Without LaMarcus Aldridge, Manu Ginobili or Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs struggled to the put the ball in the hoop. Against the team with the best record in the NBA, that wasn’t going to fly.
While it wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t fun to watch, it also wasn’t exactly a shocker to see the Rockets run all over the Spurs. Such is life these days, but as always, not all was terrible for the Spurs, including two rookies putting in some valuable time on the floor.
Tony Parker has quietly put together a very solid string of games of late, and the Spurs have needed it. As he has become healthier and settled into his bench role, he has done a great job of finding his jumper and a way into the paint in short stints. Against bench units, he seems to have recognized that he can get his own shot often and without a superior athlete chasing him around. He also has been a little frisky on defense at times, nabbing steals and playing the passing lane aggressively.
With Pau Gasol, Aldridge, and Rudy Gay in and out of the rotation due to injury, Davis Bertans has emerged as a legitimate rotation player. Though Pop’s hand was forced by injury to give Bertans real minutes, he has made the most of his opportunity on both ends of the floor. He has to be in the game when everyone comes back, even if it cuts time down for Gasol or Gay.
On defense, Bertans challenges everything at the hoop and has the wheels to scamper around on the perimeter for some stretches. He is a shaky defender against ballhandlers and he isn’t big enough to be a consistent rim protector, but he never gives up on the play and has the speed to make up for some of his deficiencies. He just stays with it.
Offensively, his versatility has kept the Spurs afloat at times. He can come off picks like a shooting guard and knock down contested 3s, he can make a play off the dribble, and his limitless range forces teams to have a defender stick with him all around the court. He may top out as a heat-check bench scorer, but that is an incredibly valuable skill, especially at 6-10.
Monday night against the Rockets, the rookies showed out. Brandon Paul has fallen in and out of the rotation throughout the year, but he made the most of his opportunity on Monday night by playing excellent, physical defense against James Harden. Paul played him chest-to-chest while his arms were extended straight out and used his foot quickness to keep in front. He is prone to fouling a lot, but he has no fear.
Slowly but surely, Derrick White has found his confidence as a pro. He can score the ball and he isn’t a complete disaster on defense, which is impressive for a rookie with very few games under his belt. While many people believe White could eventually become a nice NBA player, he has already shown flashes of being a nice scorer off the bench.
While it was clear at the start of the season that neither Paul nor White should expect to play many meaningful minutes down the stretch run of the season, here they are. It’s tough to not be impressed with the way they have handled just being thrown into the fire.
Monday night against Houston was not a great night for Rudy Gay, who still seems to be working his way back from injury. He looked tentative at times, he blew easy looks near the hoop, and he wasn’t effective on defense. However, Gay had some nice looks while on the floor. Late in the third quarter, it looked like Gay made an effort to put his legs into an open 3 and he knocked it down. He may just need more time to get his legs under him.
It was not a great showing for the Spurs, but at this point, it seems absurd to expect this iteration to be very competitive against the team with the best record in the NBA. Spurs fans have not worried about the team missing the playoffs for two decades, but with this many injuries who knows what will be the eventual outcome of this season.