The San Antonio Spurs are back on the road Tuesday night to take on a fledgling Atlanta Hawks team at State Farm Arena. San Antonio has struggled against young athletic teams in recent years, and their older legs looked slower than usual in Sunday’s loss to the Lakers.
Atlanta is far from title contention, but with Trae Young returning to their lineup, the Hawks are a threat to outpace any team in the NBA. As for the Spurs, the Western Conference Playoff race is poised to be tighter than bark on a tree, and they could use all the early season victories they can scrap together.
San Antonio Spurs at Atlanta Hawks
November 5, 2019 | 6:30 PM CT
Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: None.
The Trae Young Show
Trae Young garnered a tremendous amount of media attention this summer, and he’s proven to be deserving of every ounce of praise. The second-year floor general has looked nothing short of a generational point guard, and the Hawks young core goes as he goes.
His range is unlimited, his vision arguably second to none, and his handles are right up there with the Kyrie Irvings and Stephen Currys of the world. Though his defense admittedly leaves much to be desired, you’d be hard pressed to find a guard his age with skills this advanced.
Young torched his first three opponents to a turn of 102 points, 13 triples and 27 assists on his way to leading the Hawks to a 2-1 start. The NBA awarded his efforts with the Eastern Conference Player of the Week Award for Week 1 of the season, but an ankle injury against the Miami Heat sidelined him for Atlanta’s next outing.
San Antonio only had Derrick White to throw at Young last year, and with the addition of Dejounte Murray, life will only be more difficult for Atlanta’s rising star. White and Murray have played a grand total of five seconds together in 2019-2020, so Trae better prepare for 48 minutes of migraine-inducing man-to-man defense in his return to action.
The emergence of Dejounte Murray
Although I talked about Dejounte briefly in the previous paragraph, his impact goes way beyond the defensive end of the floor. His limbs stretch for miles, and those gangly appendages are for more than collecting deflections and forcing turnovers.
The Spurs fell short of a second half comeback, but Dejounte Murray gave them every opportunity to win.— Noah Magaro-George (@N_Magaro) November 4, 2019
Murray ignited San Antonio’s offense and was a one man show on the defensive end.
Dejounte pushed the pace, made deflections, drained big shots, and brought the intensity. pic.twitter.com/f84Z9S5acl
It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say Murray has been San Antonio’s best player on either side of the ball. His defense has been relentless, and his breakneck speed has added another element to the Spurs’ offense that they’ll desperately need to keep up with Atlanta.
The Silver and Black rank seventh in transition points per game, are second in rebounding, and lead the league in and-one frequency. This isn’t 100% on Dejounte, but I’d be willing to bet he’s responsible for a large portion of San Antonio’s improvement.
A minutes restriction is the only thing that’s slowed Murray’s meteoric rise. Once Coach Pop removes his training wheels, it’s difficult to imagine anyone else taking home the Most Improved Player of the Year Award.
Defending the Three-Point Line
The Hawks have been one of the worst three-point shooting teams this season, and the Spurs have defended beyond the arc just about as well as anyone in the league. Despite their cold shooting from long distance, Atlanta has the marksmen to get hot in a hurry.
Young is liable to drain a bomb from the logo, John Collins is dialed in, and Kevin Huerter is bound to find his rhythm sooner or later. The Spurs don’t want to be the first team to give Atlanta confidence, and they better close out with conviction if they want to avoid an upset on the road.
LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan: MIA or MVP?
The Spurs mid-range masters have been anything but that through six games. Shots aren’t falling from their favorite spots, and their inefficiencies have noticeably hindered the team when they can’t get themselves going on the offensive end.
LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan have built their success on the ability to knock down tough midrange jumpers.— Noah Magaro-George (@N_Magaro) November 4, 2019
Through six games, those types of inefficient looks have yet to find the bottom of the net with any sort of consistency.
Need proof? Just look at their shot charts. pic.twitter.com/JWMSApgK6c
LMA and DD combined for a measly 22 points on 7-of-24 shooting in San Antonio’s loss to Los Angeles, and their defense wasn’t anything to write home about either. Anthony Davis had a field day around the rim, Dwight Howard appeared to have been transported from the year 2009, and nobody put a body on the Lakers’ bigs.
While LeBron James, Avery Bradley, and AD locked up the Spurs’ All-Stars, Atlanta doesn’t exactly have the personnel to contain them. Aldridge and DeRozan should be in line for a productive night, but with all the inconsistencies up to this point, who knows?
Finishing Winnable Games
Last season the Spurs went 23-17 in games decided by three or fewer possessions (9 points), and so far, they’re 3-2 this year when faced with that same scenario. The problem isn’t that San Antonio is practically 50-50 in close games, the issue is they play in so many of them.
Nearly half of their games were decided by single digits in 2018-2019, and five of their first six games this season have come down to the wire. I wish I could tell you this is some strange coincidence, but the Spurs have put themselves in this position time and time again.
The Silver and Black have trailed by five or more points in every game thus far, and this largely comes down to scoring droughts, poor late-game execution, and sub-optimal defensive lineups.
San Antonio has the upper hand in virtually every area of this matchup, and I expect them to add another dub to the win column. With that being said, Atlanta gave the Spurs a run for their money in both meetings a season ago, so don’t be surprised if the Hawks claw their way back into this one if they fall behind early.
Vegas odds: Spurs by 3
Prediction: Spurs by 7
For the Hawks fans’ perspective, visit Peach Tree Hoops.
PtR’s Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.