The San Antonio Spurs are practically playing non-stop to reach the finish line of the regular season, and with all 30 teams suiting up on May 16 for a grand finale of sorts, the NBA seems to have every intention of squeezing exactly 72 games into everyone’s schedule.
However, according to the latest SB Nation Reacts survey, more than two-thirds of fans around the NBA think the league condensed the schedule too much. The Silver and Black faithful would likely wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment.
Setbacks have undoubtedly impacted every organization more than usual, but the Spurs are the only club that hasn’t seen a vacant injury report for at least one day this season. And a condensed schedule only complicated Derrick White’s recovery from multiple toe fractures and a prolonged bout with Coronavirus.
White wasn’t the only Spur impacted by health and safety protocols, as four positive COVID-19 results forced San Antonio into a ten-day hoops hiatus just as they were hitting their stride. Even as the affected players gradually returned to the hardwood, the Silver and Black had no choice but to play shorthanded or deal with a further backloaded schedule.
Healthy veterans and younger legs have also felt the exhausting effects of the condensed schedule. Second unit sparkplug Patty Mills was in the running for Sixth Man of the Year for a good portion of the season before fatigue led to an ongoing shooting slump. Even Dejounte Murray, Jakob Poeltl, Lonnie Walker IV, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, and Keldon Johnson have needed a night off here and there.
Despite head coach Gregg Popovich trotting out an understaffed squad for the betterment of the franchise, their reward was the misfortune of playing 40 games in 68 days after the All-Star Break without consecutive days of rest anywhere in between. To add insult to injury, the good guys lost Derrick White for the remainder of the season to an ankle sprain.
It’s believed one of the reasons the league was so adamant about an early end to the season was their desire not to conflict with the 2021 Summer Olympics. That said, only 44 percent of fans think that’s an understandable explanation for playing games at such a rapid pace.
Although the schedule has been trying for everyone, some teams have weathered the storm better than others. That’s in large part due to the impact of superstar players around the league. And this year’s MVP race has seen a changing group of worthy candidates from start to finish.
While DeMar DeRozan has performed like an All-Star in his third season in San Antonio, there’s no doubt the 12th-year swingman lies just a few tiers beneath the bonafide foundational cornerstones of the NBA. And with the Spurs clinging to the tenth seed in the Western Conference by 1.5 games, it’s no surprise DeMar hasn’t received any MVP buzz.
However, as the season nears its end, one player has emerged as the front runner for this incredibly prestigious award. Nearly 61 percent of fans nationally think Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokić is deserving of the 2021 MVP. Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul was the next closest with 17 percent of the vote.
Jokić might have a clear path to winning his first MVP, but that doesn’t mean fans consider the towering facilitator the best player in the game right now. That title, according to the poll, still goes to the Los Angeles Lakers generation-defining LeBron James. And the wide margin in the results despite his injury-marred season speaks to his dominance.
Meanwhile, Paul’s re-emergence with the Phoenix Suns has been a game-changer. Fans chose the feisty floor general as the player who has made the most pronounced difference on their new team, far surpassing James Harden, who the Brooklyn Nets acquired via a midseason trade.
As for the San Antonio Spurs, Devin Vassell, Tre Jones, Keita Bates-Diop, and Gorgui Dieng are the only new additions from a year ago. Each player has contributed to the Silver and Black this season, though not enough to fuel any meaningful turnaround.
Vassell has carved out a role off the bench for coach Pop, and fellow rookie Jones has impressed in limited opportunities. Keita has hardly played enough to leave a lasting impression, and buyout market signee Dieng is still battling for the title of second-string center with Drew Eubanks a month after arriving in the 2-1-0.
To vote in the Reacts surveys and have your voice heard each week, sign up here.