It was an eventful week for the Spurs. They not only participated in one of the most exciting games of the year but also got to host Tony Parker in his return to San Antonio. Milestones were reached and tributes were paid.
While recent days have not lacked for entertainment, the results haven’t been all that positive. The Spurs’ depth has been decimated by injuries that might be forcing some key players to overextend themselves.
In this edition of our weekly round table PtR contributors Mark Barrington, Marylin Dubinski, Bruno Passos and Jesus Gomez and Editor-in-Chief J.R. Wilco offer their views on all the craziness that just took place as well as their opinions on the fringes of the roster and DeMar DeRozan’s extended minutes.
DeMar DeRozan ranks third in the league in minutes played. Should the Spurs start looking to rest him more? Can they afford to?
Mark Barrington: Yeah, he can’t play playoff minutes throughout the 82 game regular season. It leads to too much wear and tear. Pop should just start using the DNP-OLD designation more often.
Bruno Passos: Yes, and yes, especially if these are the types of performances he’s going to keep turning in. I’m not sure his struggles are only to do with the minutes and not, say, having his rhythm thrown off a bit with Derrick White managing the game a bit more. Either way, giving him a timely night off couldn’t hurt.
Marilyn Dubinski: He looks like he needs a breather, and the Spurs have their guard line-up pretty much shored up, so they could probably survive a game without him (even though he’s been starting at small forward since Derrick White was inserted into the starting line-up). However, I don’t expect it to happen until Rudy Gay is back, if at all.
Jesus Gomez: He’s showing some signs of fatigue during the games. Little things like holding his knees while he’s off the ball or lowering his head when he has to run back on defense. I’d say he should get some rest, but I’m not sure the Spurs can afford to give him much while Gay is out. Once Rudy returns, giving DeMar a game off might be a good idea.
J.R. Wilco: To me, it’s less about what the team can afford, and more about making sure the minutes he plays are good minutes. What good does it do to play him when his body language is screaming “I’m gassed!” as his pet shots from his favorite spots clang off the front of the rim. I hope that the man who made it possible for the rest of the league’s coaches to give a player the night off without being fired decides to put “DNP-Tired” next to DmDr’s name for a couple of the next few contests. A great candidate would be next Wednesday at Philadelphia, which would give him five full days off between the Clippers and Pelicans.
The Spurs decided to keep Quincy Pondexter around past the deadline in which his contract became guaranteed. Do you agree with their decision or would have preferred if if they had tried out players on 10-day contracts?
Barrington: If you look at what he does on the sidelines, keeping the team loose and positive, and also how he plays his ass off whenever he gets onto the floor in garbage time, he’s just doing everything you would want a man who is the last player on the roster to do. And him teaming up with LaMarcus to score 56 points the other day is nothing to sneeze at. I really doubt they can do much better with that roster spot, and he knows his role and delivers.
Passos: I’m not sure where the upside is in 10-days for this team, so I’m fine with it. Pondexter seems like a really good locker-room presence and sometimes that makes the difference in these cases.
Dubinski: I don’t see any reason why they needed to waive him. Pop is sticking pretty tight to a nine or ten-man rotation, and while I can’t pretend to know who’s available on the market for ten-days or any other kind of signing, it surely isn’t someone who’s going to crack the rotation. The Spurs aren’t in a desperate need at any particular position (although if they are, it’s Quincy’s due to Rudy Gay’s health issues, but even then Pop is making it work as is.) He’s a good guy, a good story, and has plenty of team spirit. I’m personally happy to have him.
Gomez: The rotation is set and it’s hard to see anyone the Spurs could have gotten on a 10-day deal cracking it. Pondexter has clearly been doing things right in practice and the locker room. So no, I don’t have an issue with him still being in the team. The only reason why a small part of me wishes they would have replaced him with a G-Leaguer is that the garbage time unit needs someone exciting in it. Watching Q-Pon run point with four bigs around him is painful.
Wilco: With the rotation pretty well set, we have (when healthy) a solid 9-man rotation that maintained the league’s best net rating for 18 games. So I have no problem with not rocking the boat. Bottom line: the more continuity the better.
Pop recently passed Jerry Sloan for third all time in wins. Does he have a shot at getting the top spot? And does he need to in order to be considered the GOAT?
Barrington: He’d have to play two more seasons after this one with about 50 wins per year. If he wants to stick around that long, he’ll definitely make it. If I had to guess, I think he will do it, but then again, he could hang it up at the end of this season. He’s already made enough money, but I think the challenge of a new team led by young guys like Dejounte Murray and Derrick White with veteran performers like LaMarcus and DeMar will keep him interested and engaged. Or maybe he quits after winning the 2019 title. In any case, nobody outside the team will know when he’s leaving the team until the day it happens. As far as him being the best pro coach of all time, that’s already a done deal. John Wooden is the best coach, but Pop is the best in NBA history, and it isn’t even close.
Passos: The first question comes down to a combination of math and the plans that Pop probably hasn’t even made yet. If the Spurs continue down the path they’re on this season, he’ll be 92-93 wins out of the number-one spot come this summer, which means he’d probably get it done with two more seasons of coaching. My hunch (based on pure speculation) would have him leaning towards hanging around. I’ve always considered the GOAT conversation, whether it’s player or coach, more of just that — a conversation — rather than a question with a definitive answer. He’s in that mix, and that’s usually as far as you’re going to go when comparing figures across eras.
Dubinski: He can definitely reach the top if he’s willing to stick it out for two or three more seasons, which is gradually seeming more likely, but I don’t think he has to reach the top of that particular list to be considered the GOAT. It’s really all a matter of how you look at it and who you ask. Don Nelson leads the pack in wins and was certainly an innovative mind, but you often won’t even find him in the top 5 of “best coaches all time” lists because he never led a team to championship and is only 52nd all-time in winning percentage. Like always, some stats can be deceiving.
Gomez: He has a shot because he has a solid core under contract for at least one more season and he has earned the right to decide how much longer he coaches. If I had to guess I’d probably say he doesn’t get there simply because it’s easy to see him moving on to an executive position after coaching Team USA in 2020. He also probably doesn’t care about the record enough to chase it. Whether he gets it or not, he’ll likely still be considered the best ever by a big part of the basketball community when he retires.
Wilco: If he gets the top spot, it’ll be because he couldn’t stop coaching, and not because he stuck around to get some number. When it comes down to being considered the best ever, he’ll have as good a case as any — and obviously better than all but a few. But those things are always about a definition of terms; all time wins vs. all time rings, etc. My favorite stat is that he got all his wins and rings for a single team. That’s enough for me.
Tony Parker made his return to San Antonio after leaving in free agency. How did it feel to watch him play against the Spurs?
Barrington: I was happy to see him do well, but mostly I was frustrated at the Spurs’ performance. Kemba Walker did most of the damage, but Tony made some key plays in the third when the Spurs started to make a comeback. Parker stabilized their offense and the Hornets surged back in front after the Spurs took the lead for approximately 1.5 seconds. It would have been nice to have #9 in Silver and Black tonight.
Passos: Weirdly normal! Maybe it has to do with him playing for a familiar coach and alongside a Les Bleus teammate, but he looked very much in his element as a Hornet, and that was good to see even in a Spurs loss.
Dubinski: It was definitely nice at the beginning with the tribute and love from the fans, but once the game started I was completely focused on that. (Although I did notice that little game of one-upsmanship Tony and Patty had going in the third quarter. It was probably the only amusing moment of the game outside of the opening minutes.)
Gomez: It was bittersweet. Initially it was a little sad to see him wearing a different jersey at the AT&T Center. At times it was plainly weird to see him hit the Spurs with the moves he used to hurt other teams with. But in the end it was cool to see him still be relevant, even if it’s on a small role and not in San Antonio.
Wilco: It felt like every play he made was a win, in an odd kind of way. I’ll explain what I mean. When Davis Bertans blocked Parker’s layup attempt, I cheered for the Spurs defense that played well enough to stop him. When he drove through the lane against Derrick White’s defense and launched a hook while traveling full-speed away from the basket and got it to go, I felt impressed that he could still make the play and was happy for him. I’m in no hurry to see him struggle around the court because he’s over the hill. Nice game, Tony.
The Spurs played a crazy game with the Thunder in which a bunch of milestones were set. Which was the most impressive?
Barrington: Obviously, it’s LaMarcus dropping 56 with no three point attempts, but also that all of these milestones were accomplished on the second game of a back-to-back (SEGABABA). By all rights, the team should have just been phoning this one in, but they were energetic and poised for 58 minutes. The only player who really looked fatigued was DeMar DeRozan, and that’s understandable with the minutes he’s been playing.
Passos: Aldridge’s 56 without a three-pointer stands out the most to me. If the league continues as it is, I’ll be very interested to see how long it takes for a player to equal or eclipse that feat.
Dubinski: I’ll go with Aldridge’s 56, and even then I’m looking more at the “without attempting a three” part. That’s the most impressive just because of how today’s game is played, plus he has always felt like a player who is capable of putting up 50. In fact, if you watch where he’s talking to his teammates before his postgame interview, Pau Gasol can be seen asking him if it’s his first 50-point game and seems genuinely surprised when he says yes.
Gomez: Aldridge’s 56-point game is probably the most impressive but I was the most surprised by the fact that the team with the best defense in the league coming in and the team that takes the fewest threes in the league combined for the highest score in over a decade. What a weird game.
Wilco: I’m going to cheat and say that the most impressive stat was the sheer number of records that were made in a single game. Not to mention how much fun it was to watch. Both teams pulled out all of the stops, and if it had to be that OKC and SA split the two games, I’m glad the Spurs got the one they did.
Join the conversation in the comments below.