Spurs

Spurs Carving New Niche Through Early Adversity

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No NBA franchise boasts a higher winning percentage than the San Antonio Spurs. This is a team that is accustomed to winning. With the peculiar 2020 putting a stain in that regard as the Silver and Black missed the playoffs for the first time since 1997, most people — fans and pundits alike — have relegated them beneath the pecking order in the league.

Brutal schedule, injuries mar Spurs early on

A 6-5 start in the 2020-21 season expedites a wave of mediocrity. This team should take this start as a win, however, instead of merely looking at the deadlock that their standing signals. The Spurs faced a brutal schedule to start, and with the continued absence of Derrick White — arguably their second-best player — and DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge’s early absences, the calendar seemed even more bleaker.

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A beginning barrage which includes a meeting with Toronto, the Pelicans on a SEGABABA, the upstart Jazz, a flabbergasting THREE games against the defending-champion Lakers and a road game against the other LA team may have been a curse by the scheduling gods– except this team looks better than advertised.

Why the “Bubble Spurs” are no fluke

Gregg Popovich and the “Bubble Spurs” are off to a great start. The modal franchise shift from their usual veteran reliance to youth development has paid dividends so far. They won’t make the headlines, but the young core of San Antonio is criminally underrated. Dejounte Murray and Keldon Johnson should be candidates for Most Improved Player. Lonnie Walker is proving to be more than a dunker. Devin Vassell looks like a fantastic 3-and-D player in the making.

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Make no mistake, however. Even with this unconventional Spurs team that veers away from typical Popovich-ian squads, a common denominator still remains. The veteran presence of its tenured and decorated players provide the youngsters corporate knowledge, steady hands and a bigger margin of error in learning the new style of the team which started in last season’s bubble.

DeRozan has tremendously adjusted his game to cater to the rapid and scintillating ball-movement style of the team. He leads the team in points and assists while taking more threes than ever. Aldridge, a mid-range whiz, is doing the same in his new role as a stretch big. “Boomers” Patty Mills has won the team a couple of games with his blitzkrieg scoring off the bench. Rudy Gay has been better than last year, providing the team with efficient scoring and versatility.

The Not-so-Spursian Spurs

What’s more impressive is that the on-court play of this team, at least in the eye test, resembles significant growth and maturity. San Antonio is on pace to record the best assist-to-turnover ratio in league history with a 2.51 mark. It commits a league-low 10.2 turnovers but records an impressive 25.5 assists per game.

Though the team only ranks 19th and 22nd in offensive and defensive rating through the first 11 games, respectively, this notable pattern of play signifies that this team is doing most of the right things and not beating themselves even if the numbers have not necessarily yielded wins all the time.

Also encouraging is Popovich’s renewed adaptability. Since its inception, San Antonio has always been a team with a stern identity. From the bruising Twin Towers era, the smarts and teamwork of the Big Three era, and the defensive Kawhi Leonard era, the niche was always strong and present. The coaching staff has once again evolved and embraced this young Spurs rendition by catering to their strengths.

The Silver and Black is playing counter to typical Spurs by pushing the ball, playing incredibly small and not utilizing lots of half-court sets. Gone are the days of Pop sticking to his patented motion-weak, triple-loop and hammer actions. Instead, San Antonio maximizes its bevy of playmakers and shot creators by giving them equal opportunity to pass and create. The team is one of only three which has seven (!) players averaging double digits, and White hasn’t even truly played yet.

For San Antonio, the future starts now

The playoffs are within reach for this team, even in the loaded West. However, bigger than this benchmark is a more gratifying direction. The team’s young core starting to find its identity early on in the season is encouraging. Certainly, this is a squad that will compete night in and out. The Spurs are too talented to settle only for moral victories, even if development is in the front burner.

In the present, this is not a team that plays for a championship in every single game. As a small-market organization, even if its five championships connote otherwise, San Antonio cannot rely on outside help and booming contracts to flaunt them back to basketball royalty. Internal development is of utmost priority. To keep up with the league’s deluge of talents, the only way is forward. A 6-5 record amidst a brutal schedule and injuries early on should be taken as a huge success.

About Kyle Pring

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