It’s been a strange week for the Spurs. They’ve won two of their last three but dropped their last one at home to a Clippers team that outhustled them. LaMarcus Aldrdidge continued to play great but DeMar DeRozan hasn’t been able to snap out of his funk. There’s definitely been more good than bad but the problems that are there are hard to miss.
In PtR’s weekly roundtable discussion contributors Mark Barrington, Jesus Gomez, Marilyn Dubinski and Bruno Passos and Editor-in-Chief J.R. Wilco try to figure out if the issues we are seeing even in wins are something to worry about. They also discuss LaMarcus Aldridge’s heavy minutes load and what they’ve gotten wrong about the 2019 Spurs and try to determine who’s the bench MVP and who should represent the Spurs in All-Star weekend.
The Spurs are dropping games and squeaking out wins like they did early in the season before their November slump. Bad omen or minor hiccup caused by injuries or complacency?
Bruno Passos: It’s at least somewhat indicative of this team’s vulnerabilities to the occasional swoon, but I wouldn’t consider it an omen. Furthermore it comes a day before a rare Spurs practice day, giving Pop additional things to pick apart as they make the most use of an extra day off. If you’ll recall, the Spurs finally had a chance to recalibrate during their homestand in early December, and it led to the impressive turnaround that they’re still mostly riding now. To sum up: I’m not overly concerned.
Marilyn Dubinski: I don’t think it’s a bad omen. If anything the Spurs have flip-flopped to mostly winning games you’d have marked as a loss on the schedule while dropping ones they should win. To me that falls in the complacency category, where they are bringing focus and respect against some teams while failing to in games they feel like they have in the bag before it starts. They have often responded well to practice, so hopefully with two days off sandwiching both sides of their Wednesday game against the 76ers, they will get some focus back.
Mark Barrington: That only makes sense if you believe that the Spurs who were tearing up the league in December were the real Spurs and the guys who blew a big lead to the Chicago Bulls weren’t. They’re the same guys! This team is going to continue to be inconsistent, and especially when DeMar DeRozan isn’t playing well, they’re going to struggle. Progress isn’t a one way trip, it’s not like a ratchet that only turns in one direction, even when the overall trend is positive, there are still going to be some bad streaks. Pop has them on the right track, but they’re just not going to be able to play at an elite level on a consistent basis.
Jesus Gomez: It’s a little concerning that the defense has struggled but I don’t think we are about to see a return to the November version of this team. Back then the team was still finding its identity. Now it has one. The players just need to remember that they can’t get away with starting games playing passively. If they play with the same energy they have when they were at their best and DeMar snaps out of his slump, they will be fine.
J.R. Wilco: It’s just DmDr’s slump combined with pure old-fashioned, everyday, ordinary getting on the same page. Mature contending teams know what to do to win games when one of their main guns isn’t quite right, but this team only just discovered who it is and it’s going to take months/seasons for them to be able to shift gears on the fly when the engine isn’t well tuned. I consider this nothing but a bump in the road, but anyone who watched San Antonio’s hot streak and was hoping that they’d play like that for the duration of the season might want to adjust their expectations down a bit.
Pop recently rested DeMar DeRozan for a game. Should he rest LaMarcus Aldridge too (13th in the league in minutes played) or should they ride him now that he’s on a hot streak?
Passos: Unless there are health or fatigue concerns we don’t know about, I don’t see any specific need to do so, although I’m sure he’ll get a rest day at some point.
Dubinski: He’s on a roll right now and doesn’t appear tired, so for now I’d keep letting him play and not risk breaking up his rhythm. He’ll get some rest when Pop feels the time is right.
Barrington: LaMarcus has said he likes to play a lot to find his rhythm. He’s been great lately, so there’s no reason to doubt him. He’s probably playing the right amount of minutes right now, and he should continue, unless he starts to have issues with fatigue, but I haven’t seen that yet.
Gomez: I wouldn’t rest him right now, when he’s tearing things up after struggling early. He doesn’t look tired either, beating other bigs down the floor routinely. I do think Pop might need to monitor his minutes going forward and hopefully find a way to rest him at some point. LA is 33 years old, after all. But for now I’m fine with the Spurs riding Aldridge until DeRozan starts looking like himself again.
Wilco: LMA is at the age when Pop had started managing Tim’s minutes. So while I fully support being careful not to overwork anyone, I’m not to the point of advocating a rest for a guy who’s in the zone — not like I did in last week’s In The Bonus when I wanted DmDr to rest for the Philly game so he could get 5 straight days off for missing just one game.
Recently our own Lee Dresie revealed the things he got wrong about this team. What’s the biggest thing you got wrong about the 2019 Spurs?
Passos: Even after the injury to Murray, I thought this team would still cobble together a good-to-very-good offense and learn to play together defensively. Still, like many, I eventually let the early-season struggles color my expectations and overall impression of the team. Hey, IT HAPPENS.
Dubinski: I came in the season more optimistic than some, so it’s tough to say considering the Spurs are roughly meeting my expectations even if they’re taking some weird paths to get there. I think my biggest concern coming into the season was the Spurs bench wouldn’t be nearly as productive with the loss of Manu Ginobili. However, the familiarity of Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli, combined with Davis Bertans and Jakob Poeltl exceeding expectations, has once again made the Spurs bench one of the most feared second units in the league.
Barrington: I was wrong about Derrick White. I didn’t think he’d be this good this soon. I also underestimated his athleticism and speed, which allows him to compete with the best athletes in the league and hold his own. I also thought the Spurs were a 50-50 shot to make the playoffs at all, with a likely 7th or 8th seeding in the Western Conference. They’ve really put things together, and now I would estimate that they’re a possible 4th or 5th seed.
Gomez: I thought that the guard play was going to be a huge weakness, even before Dejounte Murray went down. I thought the lack of two-way players at the 1 and 2 was going to doom the Spurs. Fortunately it hasn’t happened. Sure, the guard play is not a huge strength but it’s hasn’t come remotely close to being the huge problem I thought it was. White has been a revelation, DeRozan has been better than I expected as a fit and the shooters are playing with enough energy to mostly make up for their defensive weaknesses. I’m not ashamed to say that I did not see any of that happening.
Wilco: Without a doubt, I was wrong about Bryn Forbes and I couldn’t be happier about it. Turns out, all he needed was enough playing time to get out of his head and let the game come to him. His outside shot started hitting and made his drives even easier for him. Now he stretches the floor every time he’s on the court and my doubts about him as an NBA player are a distant memory.
The bench has been terrific for a while now, but it lacks a traditional Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Who’d you nominate as Spurs bench MVP so far?
Passos: The bench unit works because all the pieces play well together, but Patty Mills is definitely its engine. Beyond having an improved statistical season, he does so much through his energy, leadership and frenetic pace on the floor to create defensive breakdowns and keep everyone locked in.
Dubinski: That’s extremely tough since they’re so much more a cohesive unit than one person. Mills is the leader, Beli is putting up some insane numbers lately, and Bertans is becoming a more well-rounded player. I guess for the moment I’ll run with Patty since he’s the fuel that makes that unit go, but it could be either one of them with little to no argument.
Barrington: I’ll go with Marco, just because he does things that no other player in the league even tries to do with his shot. Patty is probably more important to the team’s success as a leader and sparkplug off the bench, and Bertans is having a terrific year, but they just don’t have the spectacular plays that burn themselves into your memory banks.
Gomez: I have to go with Mills, simply because he’s the bench’s leader. He’s really grown into that role and has been as responsible as anyone for the team finding its identity. Marco is the most fun to watch, Poeltl is a work horse, Davis is special, but the one that makes it all work is Patty.
Wilco: It’s hard not to vote for Patty, but I’m with Barrington. Marco is just too much fun to watch this year to not give him some kind of meaningless award. Belinelli for SAS’s 6MOTY!
Participants for All-Star weekend events are starting to leak. Should the Spurs have someone taking part in the festivities?
Passos: I have very little emotional investment in who starts or plays in the main event, but Davis Bertans absolutely needs to be in the three-point shootout. He’s neck and neck with Seth Curry for the best percentage in the league and would immediately be one of the most interesting stories around the competition given his missing appendage.
Dubinski: If I could pick a Spur for each event, I’d say Derrick White for Rising Stars and Skills, Bertans for three-point shootout, and I guess Rudy Gay for the dunk contest just because he’s the Spurs best dunker, although it wouldn’t be worth the risk to his heel, and he’s not the “flamboyant” dunker people like nowadays. Of all those, Bertans to the three-point contest seems the most likely and would be the biggest snub if it doesn’t happen.
Barrington: The three point challenge should be Bertans vs. Belinelli. Forget everyone else. Derrick White should definitely be in the Rising Stars game, but nobody else on the Spurs seems to belong in any of those other events. As far as the main event goes, LaMarcus definitely should be an all star, but he probably has the weekend off, as does DeMar.
Gomez: I’m starting to think the Spurs will have no representation at All-Star weekend, which would be a shame. I’m really hoping at least one of DeRozan and Aldridge gets in for the main even, but the competition in the West is crazy. White is facing similar odds at the Rising Stars challenge, since the past two drafts have been nuts. But the league has to invite at least one Spur tor the three-point shootout, right? They are the best shooting team in the league. Bertans is the obvious candidate (especially after Marco declined to be considered) but if they go with Rudy Gay or Bryn Forbes, I won’t complain.
Wilco: I think this will be a year that enough guys will beg off or get injured that they’re pulling people from all over the league to fill out the ASG rosters, so I’ll go out on a limb and say that both DmDr and LMA make it to Charlotte for this year’s marquee exhibition.
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