Welcome back to the second of our three part series where the writers at PtR give out some mid-season awards. If you missed out on Part I, click here.
Two awards to give out in this part, so let’s get into it!
Most Valuable Defensive Player
Zachary Colwell: If you just turn just one Spurs game on you will recognize the difference between the defense when Jakob Poeltl is on the floor compared to off. You can see the other defenders be more aggressive on the perimeter because they know they have the Austrian shot blocker behind them to bail them out if they get beat. The importance of Jakob on that end of the floor has never been more prevalent than this season.
Noah Magaro-George: Dejounte Murray and Derrick White unquestionably deserve consideration here, but Jakob Poeltl is the anchor that holds everything together for the Spurs. The towering Austrian ranks a smidge outside the top ten in blocks per game, second in shots contested behind Rudy Gobert, and has forced opponents into shooting 7.7% below league average around the rim. While the 26-year-old center is liable to get cooked on the perimeter from time to time, Poeltl is by no means a revolving door to the hoop when matched up against smaller players, which is a lot more than most big men can say. You can’t overstate his importance as a rim protector to a team that often directs traffic his way.
Devon Birdsong: I mean, I think the team’s struggles in Jakob Poeltl’s absence really sealed this one for me. Individually, I think you could argue for both Derrick White and Dejounte Murray, but Jakob’s stellar rim defense is critical to everything this team does on that end. This team has squeaked out wins without one of Derrick or Dejounte, but they’re lost without Poeltl.
August Bembel: Derrick White. Yes, a guard cannot have the same impact on D as a center. But I’m still going with Derrick. Remember when Chief Pounding Officer J.R. Wilco referred to a certain “Emar Erozan” on a podcast due that guy’s lack of D? I would like to refer to the Spurs’ number 4 as “DDDDDerrick” – diligently doubling down on defense Derrick. Not sure I ever saw him giving up on an possession. And the last thing I saw of him made me an extremely happy Spurs fan: the second charge he took in the final quarter in the win over the clips. But it wasn’t the charge that made me so happy. It was Dejounte’s reaction to it. I don’t know why, but I always feel the two aren’t the happiest backcourt pairing in the league. Well, as long as they’re not Errick and Ejounte I guess I’m fine.
Casey Coggins: Defense is a team thing, where you cannot have a quality defense without all five players playing on a string together. Dejounte and Derrick’s job is easier knowing they have Jakob Poeltl backing them up, and Poeltl’s job is easier knowing Dejounte and Derrick are able to apply pressure on the ball handler. There’s a reason why defensive stats are so hard to base an answer on, because those numbers can drastically change due to the other players on the court. However, 22 guys have played 25 games or more and contest at least 7 shots within 10 feet per game. Poeltl ranks second in shots defended at 10.4 and opponents only shoot 51.7% on those attempts, which is fifth best behind Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen, Rudy Gobert, and Ivica Zubac. The Spurs try to funnel everything they do defensively into Poeltl, and we’ve seen what it looks like when he’s off the court. That’s why Jakob Poeltl is my pick here.
Jeje Gomez: I think it’s Jakob Poeltl. The Spurs ask a lot of him, especially in the pick and roll, and he holds his own and then some. The perimeter defense has been leaky for a while but Jakob is always there to try to at least contests shots, even when that means getting out of position to get more rebounds. Poeltl could be more selfish and average a double-double, but he seems happy doing the dirty work and covering for his teammates, and he deserves praise for it.
Jakob Poeltl - IIIII
Derrick White - I
Winner: Jakob Poeltl
Most Valuable Offensive Player
Zach: I’m going to give a bit of a cop out answer by selecting the combo of Dejounte Murray & Derrick White. The Spurs don’t seem to be able to win when just one of them are playing, but during the stretch in December when both were healthy and firing on all cylinders the Spurs had the 3rd best offense in the league. They complement each other perfectly and if they can just stay on the floor together at the same time, San Antonio’s win tally will benefit greatly.
Noah: This one has to go to Dejounte Murray, and no one is particularly close to providing the sort of offensive impact he does. Murray leads San Antonio in points, rebounds, assists, shot attempts, touches, usage, and minutes, an incredible feat for someone who carries almost as much responsibility on the other end of the court. Players aren’t supposed to improve or even maintain their efficiency across the board when receiving a drastic uptick in workload, but Dejounte continues defying the odds. Head coach Gregg Popovich has mentioned how lost the Spurs would be without their floor general in several press conferences. And watching San Antonio flounder as Murray went through health and safety protocols made it evident he is the difference between fighting for a play-in spot and bottoming out.
Devon: I think the reality is that you can spin this for a couple of different players depending on the context, but you don’t really have to adapt your argument in any scenario for Dejounte Murray. Dejounte’s done most of the heavy lifting this season, and while that’s not ideal, it’s certainly been critical on the offensive end in the same way that Poeltl’s defense is on the other end.
August: There are things I criticize about Dejounte Murray on offense, such as true shooting, but at the end of the day scoring matters most. Dejounte has scored 725 points this season, almost 250 more than second-placed Keldon Johnson, And he has also dished out more assists than anyone else with a total of 338.
Casey: There is something to be noted about how valuable Jakob Poeltl has been to the Spurs’ offense, as he’s second in the NBA in screen assists, and the Spurs are 6.8 points better per 100 possessions on offense when he’s on the court. But this award is Dejounte Murray’s. Besides leading the team in scoring and assists, the Spurs are a lot worse offensively when he’s off the court — 4.9 points/100 worse to be exact. His 2.9 Offensive Box Plus/Minus is the same as DeMar DeRozan and Jrue Holiday, and is 1.5 points better than the next Spurs, Derrick White. Plus, the team plays in more control, as they average less turnovers with him out there. Overall, he’s just been the catalyst of the offense and undeniable leader.
Jeje: A couple of years ago it would have been unthinkable to say this, but Dejounte Murray has turned into a really good primary scorer and creator. At the start of his career he was a defensive player who struggle to shoot and finish inside and seemed to lack the vision to be a playmaker, but he’s improved by leaps and bounds. Now, without his mid-range scoring, acrobatic finishes and deliberate passing, the Spurs would be lost.
Dejounte Murray & Derrick White - I
Dejounte Murray - IIIII
Winner: Dejounte Murray
Thank you all for reading Part II of our mid-season awards, the third part will be out soon. In the mean time, let us know below who you would have given the two aforementioned awards too!