The league is entering a key stage of the season. The trade deadline and All-Star game are almost here, marking the entrance to the final quarter of the regular season. For the Spurs, it’s even a more important stretch, as their infamous Rodeo Road Trip is approaching.
Fortunately, they’ve put together three wins in a row after a painful loss in Philadelphia and while they are not looking as dominant as they did earlier in the season, they are still well positioned in the West to face the coming trade craziness with confidence in their core and go into the All-Star week break with some breathing room in the standings.
In this edition of our weekly roundtable, PtR contributors Marilyn Dubinski, Jesus Gomez, Bruno Passos and Mark Barrington and Editor-in-Chief J.R. Wilco talk about the key events coming up, including All-Star weekend and the RRT, and also offer their thoughts on Lonnie Walker’s first meaningful minutes as a Spur and Anthony Davis’ trade request.
Lonnie Walker has finally gotten a few meaningful minutes with the big club. What’s your first impression of the rookie?
Mark Barrington: I saw him in Summer League, so it’s not my first first impression. He’s showing a lot the same things that I saw in July. He’s an elite athlete, and he plays with a ton of exuberance. He’s still pretty raw, but he already looks more under control now than he did in SL. I can’t wait for him to hit the regular rotation, probably as soon as next season.
Marilyn Dubinski: My first instinct when he entered against the Pelicans was to watch him on defense since many were saying he was lost on that end against Toronto. (That was garbage time, so I wanted to see him in real action before passing judgement.) From what I saw, he kept track of his man (who was usually planted in the corner) pretty well, knew when to help, and got into passing lanes. No doubt he still has work to do — he is a rookie, after all — but I think if he were thrown into the fire and spent more practice time with the Spurs, he could reach Pop’s required level more quickly. He’s physically gifted, mature, and has good instincts. I’m excited about what the future holds with him on the team.
Bruno Passos: I came into the season with a pro-Lonnie bias, so naturally everything I’ve seen in a small sample size — from his bounce to the confidence he emits on each possession — has affirmed it thus far. If things shake out right, I think he’s got the highest upside of any of the young guys, and the few glimpses of him thus far haven’t taken away from that.
Jesus Gomez: I was pleasantly surprised by how at home he looked playing non-garbage time minutes. He’s been told and we’ve been told: he’s a project. But when his name was called he jumped right in and didn’t look out of place. Some guys look nervous or afraid of playing in the NBA but he didn't, which is encouraging.
J.R. Wilco: I agree with all of the above, In the past, I’d point to Cory Joseph’s example of spending time in Austin to get the development he needed before surfacing with the big club and showing out. But Derrick White’s ascension this season is yet the latest in a long line of evidence that when a player regularly goes nuts in the G-League, he’s ready to contribute in San Antonio. I like nearly everything I’ve seen from Walker, and think he’s on (or even ahead of) schedule to contribute next season.
Anthony Davis has asked for a trade. Was he right to do so, considering the low level of success he’s experienced in New Orleans? And where do you think he’ll land?
Barrington: I’m not sure if it’s the right decision, but I respect how he’s going about it, not playing games with his team like a certain former Spurs superstar. If his main goal as a player is to win a championship, then it’s probably a wise move to go somewhere else, as the New Orleans management has been unable to surround him with enough good players to contend, and they don’t seem to have the ability or plans to do that in the future.
I have no idea where he’ll end up, since he’s going to be traded, it’s going to be the team that can come up with the best package of cap relief and young talent. So it won’t be the Spurs.
Dubinski: It’s looking less and less like he will ever come remotely close to winning a championship in New Orleans, so I understand his desire to move on. (And even the two times he’s made the playoffs it was just barely). Even though they’ve surrounded him with good players like Jrue Holiday and Nikola Mirotic, none of them (including Davis) can ever stay healthy long enough to put together an extended run, and even then their talent level still falls into about the third tier of the West. I have no clue where he’ll end up, but hopefully it’s in the East.
Passos: The team would presumably benefit most in the long term from trading with the Celtics. Whether that’s what ownership wants to do, and whether or not Davis and his representation will do more to force his way to LA, we’ll have to see. I’ll go with Vegas, since they saw the Kawhi to Toronto thing happening ahead of time, and say Davis will be a Laker. And I’ll hate it.
Gomez: I get why he’s asking out. The Pelicans have wasted cap space in so many players that not only disappointed but are out of the league or can’t get on the floor for bad teams. That front office is bad on top of being unlucky, which is just a terrible combination. I’m not thrilled with his agent actually going to the media and telling them that he wants a trade, but the reality is it doesn’t change much. People were going to find out anyway.
I’d love to say that a dark horse team is going to scoop him up, but he’s probably ending up in Boston or Los Angeles. Hopefully he’ll land East, so that the Spurs don’t have to worry about him too much in the regular season.
Willco: So far, I’m seeing too many parallels between Davis’ handling his situation and what PATFO went through with the nephew. As far his wanting out of New Orleans — I’d probably feel the same way — though I hope I’d handle it differently. Concerning where he’ll end up, I don’t have a clue. Like our lost sheep, Davis apparently only has eyes for the Lakers. Maybe he’ll end up in Toronto too‽
Davis Bertans reportedly wanted to participate in the three-point shootout but was denied the opportunity. Injustice or justifiable snub?
Barrington: Injustice. I realize it’s all just a show, and storyline matters to the people putting it together, but they need to be transparent about it. Bertans is objectively the best three-point shooter in the league, and he deserves to be in the competition, instead of promoting the Curry brothers and giving a legacy spot to Dirk. I have no problem with Nowitzki and Seth being in, but not at the expense of the most eligible shooter in the league. If they want to make it more of a show, at least do something cool like having the players jump over a moat filled with crocodiles between racks of balls.
Dubinski: COMPLETE INJUSTICE. As someone who really doesn’t care about All-Star weekend, perhaps I’m more angry about this than I should be, but in reality I’m not mad he was left out; I’m mad at the two-faced NBA for telling him he was left out because he hasn’t attempted enough threes while simultaneously giving spots to two players who haven’t even attempted as many as him combined (Seth Curry and Dirk Nowtizki). Just be honest and tell the 9 1/2-fingered Latvian that he’s just not a good enough story line, then back it up with words of encouragement like “keep it up and we’ll have a spot for you next year”. We know the NBA is all about the story line, so trying to mask it with a two-faced lie like this is completely pointless and too easy to see right through.
Passos: Injustice, but fairly commonplace injustice. Like stubbing your toe or picking the wrong checkout line at the grocery store. There’s an explanation for why players like Seth Curry and Dirk Nowitzki got the invite over Bertans, but we don’t have to accept it! Hopefully he’ll have a chance next year.
Gomez: It’s unjust and it might also be bad business. Bertans was made for the three-point contest, with his quick release, streakiness and cockiness. He wouldn’t have been afraid. It’s also always more fun to see bigs shoot than it is guards. He’s even missing a finger, so there was a hook for broadcasters to talk about. Instead we are going to get a lot of jokes about they should have invited Dell Curry too while we watch Dirk struggle to get past the third rack in time. Bad decision by the league.
Willco: Injustice, but not unexpected. I’d love to have a rule that whoever is the league’s best 3-point shooter at the time the All Star starters are selected gets an invite to the 3-point contest. If the league is set on making it about popular players and not the best shooters, then let at least one guy in on merit alone.
The Rodeo Road Trip is almost here. What’s your win/loss prediction?
Barrington: I’d like to predict that they’d really put it together, but looking at the strength of the opposition and the fact that the Spurs have really struggled on the road, I think it’s probably going to be 3-5 or 4-4. If DeMar suddenly starts playing like he did at the start of the season, then they might do a little better. Maybe.
Dubinski: The schedule is pretty daunting. I would consider 4-4 a good outcome, with the Spurs taking care of business against the Kings, Grizzlies, Knicks and Nets while understandably struggling with the Warriors, Trail Blazers, Jazz and Raptors on the road. Anything better would be great, anything less would be unsurprising. I’ll be optimistic and stick with 4-4 because the Spurs have shown recent improvement and increased focus on the road, and I would like to believe they’re turning a bit of a corner in that aspect.
Passos: This team can beat anyone (minus, probably, the Warriors) on any given night, but there are a lot of tough games clustered together, including two back-to-backs and an afternoon tip in Utah that should feel weird at that altitude. 4-4 would be great, but I’ll temper expectations and say 3-5, making it all the more important for this team to take care of business over this homestand.
Gomez: I’m preparing for the worst, since the Spurs are not playing well right now on defense and they have struggled on the road all season. At the same time, they are a bit unpredictable and on a single night they can probably beat most teams with their offense. Looking at the schedule, I think 3-5 seems likely. I’ll go with that.
Willco: It all comes down to health. If the Spurs can use the rotation that allowed them to go 14-4, then I think 5-3 is doable. If not, then like Gomez fears, the defense will be their undoing and a second straight sub-500 RRT seems likely.
The All-Star game starters have been announced. Did the fans, media and players select the right guys?
Barrington: NBA fan All-Star voting is a joke. It’s set up to reward social media campaigns an large market teams. It has near zero correlation with how good the player is or whether they’re having a great year or not, it’s just how well known and popular they are. Having said that, the final choices aren’t all that bad, since the basketball writers and coaches balanced it out a bit. There’s still no way that LaMarcus Aldridge should have been left off of the first team, and it will be a travesty if he’s not invited as a reserve.
Dubinski: I don’t have an argument against anyone who was selected, although to be honest I don’t care. I’ve never cared for how much input the league gives the fans (to the point that they’ve had to reign it back in recent years due to players like Zaza Pachulia being voted starters), but even when Tim Duncan was a consistent starter I had little interest in actually watching a glorified scrimmage. I’m already mad about Bertans, so I think the league should just give the Spurs the full snub-sweep and leave Aldridge and DeRozan out for rest and extra motivation down the stretch.
Passos: Sure. No snubs stood out to me, although my wider feelings on the All-Star Game are that 1) fans should get 100% of the vote, and 2) appearances should no longer be used when weighing player legacies. Let the event be a weird mix of deserving and randomly popular players, and let’s let go of the supposed meritocracy of a game that has no meaning once it actually starts.
Gomez: I probably would have gone with Davis instead of LeBron, but overall I think the right guys got picked. I think we’ll see some real snubs with the reserves. There are too many deserving players, especially in the West, and not enough spots. As long as one Spur gets in I’ll be happy.
Willco: It’s hard to seriously assess a situation that’s practically a laughingstock from the word go. To gripe with any kind of vehemence would be to give the ASG more respect than it is due. The entire thing is a spectacle that’s built to generate as much discussion as possible — voting included. That said, it’s hard to screw up the starters too much. I’m just wondering how long the Team Curry vs Team James thing is going to last, and whether they’ll go back to East vs West before one of them retires.
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