A 20-point victory would usually call for a celebration. After all, who doesn’t love being on the right end of a thorough dusting? With that in mind, I find it somewhat difficult to give San Antonio a roaring round of applause for eventually dominating an Eastern Conference bottom feeder battling a bevy of injuries and COVID protocols. That’s not to say I’m not pleased to see the Spurs notch another win, but I would be remiss if I didn’t say they merely met (not exceeded) expectations.
And I hate sounding like a pessimist, so I’ll gladly admit there were plenty of promising individual performances to go around. However, the Silver and Black did little to nothing to convince me they were better yesterday than they were at any point prior. The defense had significant holes, and the offense crawled to a standstill for stretches. What irked me most was that the Spurs looked comparatively rustier than their lowly competition in the early goings despite Washington coming into the night on a two-week hiatus.
I don’t want to come off as ungrateful. San Antonio came away with the dub, clawed above .500, and moved back into the playoff picture —all in one night— and that alone deserves a pat on the back. Still, by my measure of what makes any team great, this one is just alright, and there’s nothing wrong with being average. I guess my inherent hesitation to join the faction of fans who occupy the “These Spurs are special” train of thought lies in my overbearing desire to stay tethered to reality after a disappointing season pulverized my hopes a year ago.
Perhaps I’ve been too harsh on a franchise that has been better (for the most part) than advertised. DeMar has certainly played above any evaluation that could come from his being named the 82nd best player in the NBA. Lonnie and Keldon have outshined several highly-touted prospects from their respective draft classes. Dejounte has looked every part of the starting point guard league experts said he was incapable of becoming. But maybe we can give credit where credit is due without perpetuating illusions about what this year’s Spurs are capable of accomplishing.
- I’ve complained about the Spurs’ tendency to play down to their competition on more than one occasion this season, so it has been quite refreshing to witness them handily put away a pair of shorthanded opponents in the Blazers and Wizards. It took San Antonio longer than I would’ve preferred, but they got the job done nonetheless. And although it would provide a better barometer for everyone involved if both parties were operating at 100%, injuries and illness were always bound to sidetrack a few players and organizations during this Covid-shortened season.
- Dejounte Murray has overachieved in about every way conceivable through 17 games this season. His turnovers are down despite drastically increased usage, and his per-game numbers are up across the board. The fourth-year point guard has executed at career levels of efficiency, and his multifaceted skill set has been on display just about every night. While Sunday might have felt like a somewhat quiet outing for Murray, the 24-year-old floor general joined some elite company around the NBA. With 11 points, 11 rebounds, and ten assists, Dejounte became just the seventh player in the NBA to record multiple triple-doubles this season.
- It sort of feels like San Antonio’s bench always comes to the rescue when they fall behind early. So, I decided to do some digging and what I found was a welcome surprise. The Spurs’ second unit owns a league-best point differential this season (+189), and the distance between them and the runner-up is wider than the gap between any other two teams. The quartet of Patty Mills, Rudy Gay, Jakob Poeltl, and Devin Vassell have dominated their fellow reserves, and it will be interesting to see if Pop continues to roll with this group once Derrick White makes his long-awaited return. Patty paced the Silver and Black in scoring against Washington, and Vassell put forth another stellar defensive effort. And it’s a shame they’re probably the two most likely candidates for a decreased role to create minutes and touches for Derrick.
- LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan didn’t have their best outing on either side of the ball, but they continued to prove how necessary they are to San Antonio’s winning ways. The pair still provide the Spurs with open opportunities due to their gravity. And their combination of go-to scoring, facilitation, and floor spacing is more than any alternative options on the roster can offer. I still think ushering in the next era of Spurs will require moving on from at least one member of this tandem, though I doubt either guy gets moved by the trade deadline if PATFO want to make a push for the playoffs.
- Between Lonnie Walker IV, Keldon Johnson, and Devin Vassell, the Spurs have a bright future at the wing. Lonnie and Keldon are two of the more exciting prospects to land in San Antonio in the last decade. They can be admittedly erratic and out of control at times, though their effortless athleticism and endless exuberance have been a joy to watch night in and night out. As for Vassell, his poise on both ends has offset a bit of the chaotic energy exuded from Lonnie and Keldon. This trio combined for 42 points on Sunday night, and the Spurs simply put forth a more entertaining product when their young core performs well.