The Spurs are 2-1 in their first three games. Can the winning last?
Marilyn Dubinski: When the schedule first came out, a 2-1 start didn’t seem outside the realm of possibilities (most fans just probably had the second win coming in the season opener against the Hornets rather than in Philly). However, just a glance at the next 15 games on the schedule does not indicate the winning will last. They have a gauntlet ahead of them, and not all games against playoff-bound teams will be as easy as the surprisingly inept 76ers made it look. The threes also likely won’t keep falling at this rate for the Spurs, so expect them to come back to earth in the weeks ahead.
Mark Barrington: I think beating a Pacers team without Myles Turner behind lights-out shooting from the three-point line and then outlasting an out-of-sorts Philly team that’s suffering from chemistry issues is more of an anomaly than a trend. The performance of NBA teams are highly variable at the start of the season, and a lot of teams just haven’t jelled yet. The Spurs won those two games with youthful energy and atypical shooting splits, and it just feels unsustainable to me. My guess is that the real Spurs are somewhere between the woeful travesty we saw getting blown out by the Hornets, and the scrappy bunch we saw outworking the Pacers and Sixers for well-deserved wins.
The Timberwolves are another team that hasn’t quite come together yet behind their twin towers concept, but I think they’re too talented and deep to repeat their collapse against the Jazz when they face the Spurs, even though I do have some doubts about their coaching. It’s likely that Minnesota will put an end to the irrational exuberance of the last two games.
Bruno Passos: Surprisingly I haven’t found too much of what the Spurs have done wildly unsustainable. They’re hitting contested shots at a high clip, but also worse on open looks than they should be, and they’re generating a good rate of them. The half-court system really suits the group’s strengths and they should, in theory, continue to jell collectively and develop individually as the months go on. Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson are going to be a problem for the rest of the league. That said, they caught one opponent missing a top player and the other amid what seems to be an early-season crisis. The competition should tighten and the losses should outpace the wins, but the quality of play should continue to surprise.
Jesus Gomez: Not at the current rate. The Spurs have looked good but have beaten a bad Pacers team missing Myles Turner and a reeling 76ers squad. The schedule gets tougher and teams will be ready for San Antonio now that they know how the young guys play. It’s been great to see some wins early on, and there will obviously be more in the future, but I don’t think the winning record is going to last much longer, which is completely fine.
J.R. Wilco: It’s not unusual for young teams (and even young players) to experience early success in the league before there’s a solid scouting report on them. Remember how much Keldon Johnson feasted on straight-line drives at the beginning of his rookie season? Then teams learned that he didn’t have any counter if he was redirected before he got into the paint. After that, that’s all he saw until the next season when he’d learned his little pull-up. Then defenses reacted again. The same thing happens with teams. We’ll see how sustainable this early success is as the next few games test the team in ways their first three opponents couldn’t manage.
Aside from the winning record, what have been the most pleasant surprises to you?
Dubinski: Outside of a stinker in the season opener, Devin Vassell has looked like he’s ready to take the next step, and Keldon Johnson has been as advertised, but those aren’t really surprises. The surprise has probably come from a surprisingly capable bench unit. Josh Primo’s numbers don’t reflect it yet, but he looks much more ready for an NBA role than last season. Zach Collins is miles ahead of last season now that he is fully healthy for the first time in years, veterans Josh Richardson and Doug McDermott have brought a steady hand, and Isaiah Roby looks ready for a role with the second unit. This may be a starless team, but they’re deeper than many probably imagined.
Barrington: I think Jakob has been a revelation so far this season. I mean, I expected Keldon and Devin to carry the team, but Poeltl held up well mentally against the Hack-a-Jakob assault from Rick Carlisle’s Pacers, and wasn’t intimidated by Embiid in the Sixers game. He’s showing that he’s not just a rim protector, but that he also has enough scoring potential that he can’t be ignored on the offensive end. He’s in his contract year, and it will be pretty expensive to keep on the Spurs if they want to bring him back next year.
Everyone else has been about as good as I expected, although I’m impressed with Primo’s development. Josh Richardson has had good scoring games in two of the three games so far, but his greatest value to the team is his leadership.
Passos: Because there have been so many fun individual flashes, I’ll go with the collective execution in the half court. I didn’t expect such a young and unfamiliar group to string together so many good reads. Ball handlers reset when they see nothing; bigs all fulfilling their roles as crucial facilitators on a team with few playmakers; they’re making the right kinds of mistakes (mostly). It’s been a delight to watch.
Gomez: It’s the play of Tre Jones for me, probably. Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell have been fantastic, but those two had shown in the past that they were starting-caliber players and are guys the Spurs were expected to rely on heavily this year. Jones was more of a question mark, at least in a bigger role. So far he’s done a great job of playing solid defense, getting the team into sets, pushing the pace when needed, and providing supplementary scoring. The fact that he’s taking more threes this year has also been encouraging. Jones probably isn’t the point guard of the future for San Antonio, but he clearly could be a piece of the puzzle moving forward if he can continue to play like he has so far.
Wilco: I’ve been excited about the number of 50/50 balls the Spurs have won, and how much they’ve scored when plays have broken down or coming out of a scrum. I’d like to believe that they’ll continue to have success in those kinds of plays, because the team hasn’t been great at that aspect of the game since The Nephew left town.