Every year I like to take a stroll around the NBA to see how former Spurs are doing. This was my introduction to last season’s stroll, which continues to apply:
“As an ex-college basketball coach, I try to keep up with my ex-players. At a Division III school, we didn’t have any one-and-dones, which meant we spent four years with our players. During the basketball season, that meant two hours a day for six days a week, seeing them grow up from 18 year-old freshman away from home for the first time to 22 year-old seniors ready (we hoped) to take on the world. Thankfully, most of my ex-players are doing very well in the world, and I have been able to stay in contact with many of them — partially through my Pounding the Rock writing.
This desire to keep up with ex-players carries over to ex-Spurs. I continue to root for the former San Antonio Spurs in the league even when they are opposing teams — except on nights they play against the Silver and Black. Now that we are into the season a bit, it seems like a good time to check in with our old friends. As you will see below, a bunch of them are doing well in their new homes.”
I decided to re-visit with the ex-Spurs based on the box score for the Brooklyn Nets from Friday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. That box score showed that two recent former Spurs are now starting for a team many picked to win it all this year. LaMarcus Aldridge is starting at center for the Nets, while Spurs fan favorite Patty Mills is starting at shooting guard. Or perhaps more accurately, Patty is starting at “three-point shooting guard”. He is shooting almost seven three-pointers per game, and making an incredible 48% of them. As a result, he is 4th on the Nets in scoring — and also 3rd in minutes and assists behind two guys you may have heard of. Good on ya, Patty!
Aldridge is also doing well, which is very, well, heart-warming. As you may recall, LMA announced his retirement last season because of heart issues that he has apparently gotten back under control. He has beaten out former Kia spokesperson Blake Griffin for the starting center spot. LMA continues to do his thing, making 58% of his shots. I haven’t watched the Nets play, but I am sure he is catching the ball on the left block and either powering into the lane or spinning away to shoot the same unblockable fallaway that he first mastered as a UT Longhorn over 15 years ago.
I still can’t root for the Nets, but I do watch their box scores to see how LMA and (especially) Patty are doing. Essentially, I hope that they continue to do well but that the Nets lose.
The only former Spur doing better than the Nets duo is DeMar DeRozan, who is doing so well that he has been on some early season MVP ballots. While his signing was largely treated as a massive overpay last summer by the national media, that media is signing a different tune now. For instance, in August, John Hollinger of The Athletic described the DeRozan signing as the “biggest head-scratcher of 2021 free-agency”. Give credit to John though — a subsequent article acknowledged how well DDR has fit in with the Bulls:
“And then, of course, there is DeRozan. I had the temerity to call this one of the worst moves of the offseason; it sure isn’t working out that way. One can still fairly wonder if the Bulls needed to pay quite as much as they did and what the out years on the deal for a 32-year-old might look like. What is inarguable, however, is that DeRozan fits here like a glove and has been one of the most valuable players in the East through the first month of the season.”
DeRozan has in fact thrived with the surprisingly successful Bulls, who are 16-8 (as of Sunday) and only a half game behind the Spurs East Nets. He is averaging over 26 points per game, 5 more than he averaged with the Spurs last year, and his second highest average ever — he averaged 27.3 in 2016 with the Raptors. He is also leading the Bulls in minutes per game, somewhat surprising for a 32-year-old surrounded by younger players such as Zack Levine and Lonzo Ball.
Several other older ex-Spurs continue to play well on good teams. 35-year-old Rudy Gay is shooting 49% from three and averaging 10 points in 18 minutes per game for Utah. With all the attention on how well the Suns and Warriors are playing, people ignore the Jazz. Utah continues to be a regular season juggernaut (15-7) with the second-best point differential in the NBA — 9.7 per game, behind the Warriors’ 12.3 but well ahead of the Suns’ 6.5.
In the other conference, George Hill, also 35, is playing 27 minutes per game for the Bucks, though that number will likely go down as the many injured Buck players return to the line-up. Hill’s shooting line is down a bit at 49/33/93, but he remains a steadying force, leading the team in turnover/assist ratio.
My guy Danny Green, a comparative youngster at 34, continues to start for the 76ers — and continues to shoot threes, at a 40% clip. Remarkably, DG has taken five times as many threes (79) as twos (only 16). Sounds like my game. He also continues to be one of the league’s good guys. Super-son Pablo ran into DG at a Manhattan Beach coffee shop this summer and talked to him for about 20 minutes. Two weeks later, they ran into each other again, and DG remembered Pablo enough to ask how his daughter (4-year-old Kennedy) was doing. As I said, a good guy.
Another player who sure seems like a good guy is Corey Joseph. While only 30, CJ is now in his 11th year in the league. This after leaving UT after one season and being drafted 29th by the Spurs. When someone drafted that late survives in the NBA for 10+ years, you know that player is a good teammate. Unfortunately, CJ is now playing with the woeful Pistons after two years with the also woeful Sacramento Kings. At least he is closer to his hometown of Toronto, Canada. He is also captain of the Canadian national team.
Kyle Anderson — drafted 30th by the Spurs — is in his fourth season in Memphis, the same number of years he played in San Antonio. After averaging 27 minutes and a career-high 12.4 points per game last year, his minutes and points are somewhat down this year — 21 minutes and 7.9 points per game. But he remains a valuable rotation guy, and will surely have a long career: We know he won’t get any slower.
One ex-Spur who has fallen off this year is Davis Bertans, on the Washington Wizards. While he has a big contract to fall back on (5 years, $80M), his shot has not been money. He is shooting 31% overall and only 28% from three. He is a career 40% shooting, so these numbers should improve. His passing has remained steady, probably because he just doesn’t do it. 7 assists total in 13 games. And he averages less than 2 rebounds per game. Not a lot of return on the $80M investment by the Wiz. Typical for our nation’s capital.
At least the Wizards are getting something from Bertans. The most talented ex-Spur, Kawhi Leonard, has not played a minute this season, and probably won’t. But even knowing that, the Clippers gladly agreed to pay him $44,000,000 to not play this year, just so that they could pay him the same amount for the following three seasons. Kawhi’s 4-year $176M contract also gives him an opt-out after Year Three. Just in case he wants to return to San Antonio, I suppose. Now that would be interesting...