As an ex-college coach, I like to try to keep track of my former players. Especially with four-year players, but even with the ones who only played a year or two, we spent a lot of time together. Two-hour practices four or five times a week, pre-game meals, games, post-game talks, and road trips, even if only on a bus. I used to tell my players I spent more time with them during the season than I did with my wife. (I did not tell my wife that.)
Fans also spend a great deal of time with the players on their favorite teams. Those of you who watch every Spurs game, whether live or on television, spend over two hours with the players several times a week. And that doesn’t include the valuable time you invest reading Pounding the Rock!
All in all, we all make a real investment of time and emotion in our team’s players. For me, this means that I continue to care about former Spurs players even when they are no longer with the team.
The All-Star break seems like a good time to take a journey around the Association and see how some of our old friends are doing — starting with the only past or present Spur to play in this year’s All-Star game: Kawhi Leonard. For those of you who watched the game, you know he is doing well. Whenever the best players in the NBA get together, we can learn which players are the best of the best. Kawhi, the first recipient of the Kobe Bryant All-Star Game MVP Award, is certainly one on those: an undeniable but certainly bittersweet (at best) fact for Spurs fans.
Danny Green is another L.A. player who is doing well in his post-Spurs career. He won another NBA ring last year in the Great North and has a key role this season with the Western Conference leading Lakers. In a fascinating recent podcast, DG revealed that if he hadn’t signed with the Lakers (who could afford him only after Kawhi went to the Clippers), he had an open offer to go to the Mavericks instead. I think he would have enjoyed getting passes from Luka Doncic.
Interestingly, at this year’s trading deadline, he almost became collateral damage once again. The LA Times reported that the Lakers had offered Kyle Kuzma and Green for …. Marcus Morris Sr. (boo!!) While getting traded to Toronto as part of the Kawhi debacle worked out well for him, there is no universe in which being traded from this Lakers team to the New York Knicks would be a good thing.
Speaking of Spurs involved in Kawhi Leonard trades, George Hill is prospering in Milwaukee. He’s is coming off the bench and playing 21 minutes per game and playing well. With all the great shooters in the league, Hill’s 51% leads everyone in 3 point percentage, well ahead of second place JJ Redick at 46%. Hill also has an outstanding 4/1 assist to turnover ratio. With the Bucks favored to come out of the East, if not win it all, Hill will likely be matched up with either Kawhi or DG in the finals. (Side note: Another ex-Spur and ex-Pomona Pitzer Sagehen, Mike Budenholzer, is coaching the hell out of the Bucks.)
Kyle Anderson is another ex-Spurs player on an improved team — the Memphis Grizzlies. However, Slo-Mo may be a bit too slow for this super-charged young team. Even though Anderson is only 26, he is an old man on the Run and Stun team that has replaced the Grit and Grind Grizzlies team we all knew and respected. As a result, Anderson’s minutes are down to 18 minutes per game, significantly down from 29 minutes per game last year. And while he started 40 of the 43 games he played in last season, he has started only 9 of 48 games this one. He must look at the speedy young players taking his minutes and remember back to the days when he was that fast and was blazing down the court ... Oh, wait, that never happened.
Another ex-Spur having problems with the speed of the modern NBA is the remarkable Boban Marjanovic. Boban is only getting 9 minutes per game, when he gets in the game at all — he played only 28 times in the first 48 games. All that being said, his per 36 minute averages are 23 points (on 54% shooting) and 16 rebounds.
One player whose game has held up remarkably well is Cory Joseph, who has carved out an excellent career as a true Back-Up Point Guard. Beginning with his last season in San Antonio (2014-2015), he has been remarkably durable. That year he played in 79 games with the Spurs, which was actually fewer than the number of games he played in each of the next four seasons (80,80,82,82). This year, he has played in every one of the Sacramento Kings 54 games. Remarkable for a smaller guy who is not afraid to play among the trees – including taking a charge from one of those trees when necessary. Good for him.
An ex-Spur who has added a new skill is the Big Banger, Aron Baynes. Starting last year with the Celtics, Baynes decided to start taking three-pointers. After taking a total of seven (7) threes in his first five years in the league, he now takes almost four threes per game. Baynes also started 25 games this year, helping the Suns get off to a much better start than anyone predicted. And he still sets awesome screens, and likes doing it.
I don’t need to add much to what has been written on PtR about the Latvian Lazer, Davis Bertans. Unfortunately, it took Davis leaving San Antonio for him to fully incorporate Pop’s Let it Fly mantra — he is averaging 8.4 threes per game, after averaging only 4.4 threes per game for the Spurs last season.
Finally, I want to mention one more retired ex-Spur: David West, who was always one of the most thoughtful players in the league. He has taken that thoughtfulness to a new level as the COO and Director of Basketball Operations for the Professional Collegiate League, a venture designed to take on the monopoly that is the NCAA. West is a key figure in an organization serving as an alternative to the NCAA model for players coming out of high school. In David’s business model, the players receive full scholarships to a school of their choice, but don’t play for that school. Instead, they are paid a salary to play in the new league, and also retain the rights to market their name and likeness without violating any NCAA or other amateur regulations. Imagine what Zion Williamson could have done with that opportunity instead of spending a year in college with no rights to market his name. You can find out more about The PCL by clicking here.
As a former NCAA coach, I have mixed emotions about the concept. But it certainly is a fascinating idea, which David set forth very persuasively at a presentation at my office. Another ex-Spur doing well.