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Spurs Power Rankings - Week 7: Climbing the Standings

A strong week and some clutch play propels the Spurs up the Western Conference.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

After ending last week with a bad loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Week 7 didn’t look like it was going to go well. But the San Antonio Spurs came back with two strong wins against conference teams that helped them move from 10th in the West to 5th. While not the best wins, these games showed that the Silver and Black still have fight in them and an incredible clutch player.

Week 7: The week started the way the last one ended with a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. Lacking energy and aggressiveness, the sub-par play of the vets and young guys (LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan combined for 26 points and Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker IV, and Devin Vassell combined for 13). The bright spot of a blowout loss was the highlight reel play of Keldon Johnson. Johnson’s double double of 25 points 10 rebounds (with one steal and one block) kept the team from being unwatchable.

The hobbled Minnesota Timberwolves came into town and for the first couple of quarters, it looked like the bad start of the week would continue. With LMA, Walker and Rudy Gay out, someone had to play out of their mind in the 4th quarter to pull out the win - then DeMar DeRozan did. DeRozan put together a 30 point 8 rebound game (16 points in the 4th).

DeRozan continued his stellar play in the next game versus the Rockets. The I-10 rivalry always seems to have conference standings implications, and having previously split two games with the revamped Rockets, the Spurs needed to win this one. The entire game was close, but it was again DeRozan who would help pull off the clutch win. This game was not a mirror of the Timberwolves game in that the young guns provided more balanced contributions, but DeRozan notched another 30 points and 8 rebounds to pull off the win.

Last week: 2-1 (13-10) — 133-102 vs Grizzlies (loss); 111-108 vs Timberwolves; 111-106 vs Rockets

This week: 2/8 vs Golden State Warriors; 2/9 vs Golden State Warriors; 2/12 @ Atlanta Hawks; @ Charlotte Hornets

Andrew Lopez, ESPN - 10 (Last Week: 13)

DeMar DeRozan is averaging a career high in assists (6.6), true shooting percentage (60.7%) and free throw percentage (88.4%) and has nearly as many 3-pointers this season (14) as he had in his first two years combined in San Antonio (16). His team has a minus-3.8 net rating with him on the court, but when DeRozan is on the floor with guard Derrick White, things are changing. The duo has played 76 minutes together this season and are sporting a plus-12.0 net rating.

Colin Ward-Henninger, CBS Sports - 8 (Last Week: 7)

The Spurs shook off their second straight loss to the Grizzlies to pick up back-to-back wins over the Wolves and Rockets to close out the week. LaMarcus Aldridge missed the two wins and could be out for extended time with a hip injury, which makes the Spurs look a lot like the team that impressed in the bubble last summer. Derrick White continued to ramp up his minutes this week, drawing the start and scoring 14 points in 29 minutes in Saturday’s win. DeMar DeRozan led the way with averages of 24.7 points, seven rebounds and 6.3 assists for the week.

John Schuhmann, - 9 (Last Week: 11)

The Spurs are one of two teams — the Sixers (14-0) are the other — that haven’t lost a game they led by double-digits, in part because their bench lineups have been so good at taking care of business. They blew a 13-point, late-third-quarter lead in Houston on Saturday, but got to the line on six of their final seven possessions (the last two were take fouls) and made all 11 free throws to improve to 10-0 after holding a lead of 10 or more.

DeMar DeRozan’s shooting from the field hasn’t been quite as good as it was last season, but his true shooting percentage (60.7%) is a career-high mark, mostly because he has a free throw rate of 50.2 attempts per 100 shots from the field (also a career high). He was 6-for-7 from the line in the fourth quarter as the Spurs came back from 16 down with a little more than 10 minutes to go against the Wolves on Wednesday. They closed that win with both Derrick White and Dejounte Murray on the floor, and that was the starting backcourt (with Lonnie Walker IV out) in Houston. Floor spacing has been a concern with the Murray-White combo, but White has thus far taken more than half of his 55 shots from 3-point range.

Their game in Atlanta on Friday is the Spurs’ first visit to an Eastern Conference arena this season (they’ve played a league-low three games vs. the East) and the start of a seven-game trip.

Mo Dahkil, Bleacher Report - 9 (Last Week: 11)

The San Antonio Spurs just never go away.

They haven’t averaged more fast-break points since the 2010-11 season. Getting out in transition has turned into a critical part of their offense, allowing them to take advantage of the youth they have in Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, Lonnie Walker IV and Devin Vassell.

The most surprising thing is that their top two rebounders are Murray and Johnson, both of whom are averaging more than seven boards per night. Getting rebounds from the guard and wing positions helps the Spurs get out in transition much quicker.

San Antonio never goes away; it just evolves, and this is a prime example as the team transitions from the veterans to the youth movement it has cooking.

Michael Shapiro, - 11 (Last Week: 16)

Dejounte Murray’s production is beginning to match his physical gifts. The fourth-year guard tallied 27 points and 10 rebounds in a win over the Warriors on Monday, adding eight (!) steals in the process. Murray is matching his All-Defense talent with an improving offensive arsenal, leaning on his mid-range game to augment his dynamism in transition. With DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge’s departures on the horizon, Murray is set to be the face of the franchise for years to come.

Kevin O’Conner, - 12 (Last Week: 19)

Last Monday, I wrote about the development of San Antonio’s young players and DeMar DeRozan’s surprisingly analytics-happy game. One player I didn’t get into all that much was Aldridge, who head coach Gregg Popovich said will be “out for a while” with a hip injury. No one ever wants to see a player get hurt, and definitely not one who is 35 years old. But the Spurs are better off without the veteran.

The Spurs hemorrhage points when Aldridge shares the floor with DeRozan, allowing 120.4 points per 100 possessions this season, per NBA Advanced Stats. Without Aldridge, that number improves to 104.8 because center Jakob Poeltl, his replacement, is a far superior defender. Poeltl makes a limited offensive impact but his lower usage also means more possessions get funneled to DeRozan, who has become one of the league’s most efficient scorers.

DeRozan scored 30 points in each of the two games the Spurs played this past week without Aldridge. On the season, he’s averaging 20.5 points with a career-high true shooting percentage. Here’s the difference with and without Aldridge, per 36 minutes:

DeRozan, With and Without Aldridge

DeRozan stats With Aldridge Without Aldridge

Points 18.6 25.6

Shot Attempts 11.8 18.2

Assists 6.5 7.7

For as long as Aldridge is out, DeRozan could be an under-the-radar target for daily fantasy lineups. And in the process, the Spurs will probably win more games.

It isn’t just the Spurs seeding in the Western Conference that is going up. The sports analysts are also looking better. Do you agree with this trend or is it too soon to be this positive? Let us know in the comments.