Other than the Josh Primo situation, what has surprised you the most about this Spurs team so far?
Mark Barrington: I think it’s how coordinated the offense looks with all of the new players. I mean, I believed in Tre Jones, but he’s really been even better than I expected, and even when he’s out and there’s not an experienced backup, the offense has really done a good job of moving the ball and sharing it, returning to a style of play I hadn’t really seen this team play since 2014. I wish Blake Wesley hadn’t been injured, because he looked like the backup point guard that this team needed for the short time he was available.
Marilyn Dubinski: I really thought the lack of a true point guard / ball-handler beyond Tre Jones would be a more serious issue for the Spurs, but it hasn’t been too bad. Jones himself has made a leap, and the offense-by-committee approach has worked well enough thanks to improved handles from players like Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, and even Jakob Poeltl. That being said, the Spurs still lead the league in turnovers by a good margin, and that has played a big role in their current losing streak. If the goal is to win, they still need to be better. If the goal is simply to develop, then let everyone else keep working on their ball-handling skills while living with the results.
Bruno Passos: The fit of the pieces, especially in a heavily rebuilding/tanking season, has made it a surprisingly fun viewing experience so far. The ball pings around, turnovers be damned. Vassell and Johnson have capably slotted up into options 1A and 1B, all the bigs have emerged as crucial facilitators, Tre Jones is emerging as more than just a game-managing place-holder, and even rookie Jeremy Sochan has not looked out of place in the starting lineup as a wild card defender and freelancer on offense. The gears are greased better than I expected, and earlier than I expected. I assume I’m not alone.
Jesus Gomez: As vague as this may sound, the vibes. Anyone who has watched rebuilding teams knows that it’s often hard to get everyone on the same page, and playing with energy. It has not been a problem for the Spurs so far. The veterans on expiring contracts that see their names in trade rumors seem as locked in as the guys that are stepping up as franchise cornerstones. No one is stat hunting or complaining about playing time. Pop seems energized and focused. Guys that don’t suit up for a few games are ready to play when needed. It’s early and the wins to start the season surely helped keep everyone’s spirits high so we might see the mood change if the losses start piling on, but it’s been a pleasant surprise to see the Spurs enjoying themselves out there.
Asides from the Spurs’ hot start, what’s the biggest surprise of the NBA season so far?
Barrington: I’m impressed by the Pelicans. I thought they could be special if Zion Williamson was healthy, but I honestly didn’t have a lot of belief that it would happen. The slow start of the Lakers was sort of expected, but they have looked even more shambolic than I imagined they would be. The mediocrity of the Timberwolves is more than just bad chemistry, it’s a very poorly constructed roster, and they gave up their future to become a worse team than they were last year, and that’s also a bit surprising.
Dubinski: I’m surprised how badly the Warriors have started with essentially the same team that won the championship last season, going 4-7 so far. (Hat tip to Rusty Buckets for this stat: no team has ever won a championship after being under .500 in their first ten games, so they might be in trouble.) Klay Thompson has gotten off to a slow start, former 2nd overall pick James Wiseman’s effort has been called into question, and of course there’s the preseason altercation between Draymond Green and Jordan Poole that may or may not be hurting team chemistry (not that they’d ever admit it). The Warriors have the talent to turn things around, but if they don’t, this could be one of the most epic collapses by a defending champion of all time.
Passos: Besides everything off-the-court being bad and depressing? I’ve really enjoyed Luka Doncic finding another (potentially unsustainable in terms of usage, we’ll see) level and being surprised by how much Orlando Magic basketball I’ve flicked on and kept on. Their matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder involved so many fun and funky players, and that was with Chet Holmgren in street clothes. The amount of young talent in the league is pretty staggering and makes it hard to not have a good time regardless of what game you happen to put on.
Gomez: The Jazz being 9-3 has to be up there. After trading their three best players Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic, the expectation was that they were going to focus on the young guys on their roster while looking to move the veterans. Instead, Mike Conley, Kelly Olynyk and Jordan Clarkson are all playing close to or over 30 minutes a game and performing well while Lauri Markkanen all of a sudden looks like a star. It’s getting harder to imagine the front office actually making enough moves to truly embrace bottoming out, so it will be fun to see if Will Hardy can keep his team playing at this level.