The San Antonio Spurs finished 48-34 last season despite being without their starting point guard and not having any of the Big Three on the roster anymore. Going into this season retooled with Dejounte Murray’s return and the signing of DeMarre Carroll, many Spurs faithful expected big things from the squad.
Unfortunately, that has been far from the case, as the Spurs are reeling after their seventh straight loss despite having one of the easiest schedules in the league. Since this team is almost the same one that finished seventh in the Western Conference last season, why has San Antonio gotten off to such a disastrous start?
Look, LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan are both very talented players and easily capable of being number one options. That said, it’s easy to be frustrated with both of them right now, given the current state of the Spurs.
The bottom line is this: San Antonio is simply not very effective when its two stars are on the floor together. Last season, the duo had a net rating of just 0.5 when sharing the court. That’s a bad stat for any two random players, a terrible stat when it’s your two best ones. This season, that number has fallen to -7.3.
Although Aldridge has started to shoot more from three-point range and occasionally connect, he and DeRozan are essentially the same player. Both occupy space in the midrange and thrive on jump shots from that area, with the occasional drive from DeRozan and fadeaway from Aldridge mixed in.
It won’t happen in the form of a starting lineup change, but Gregg Popovich needs to find a way to stagger the minutes of these two or he will continue to see the Spurs’ record plummet.
Offense is far from the issue for the Spurs so far, but their predictability on that end of the floor will still be an issue as the season goes on. Once again, DeRozan and Aldridge are heavily involved in this issue.
Last season, DeRozan and Aldridge were first and second in the entire league in field goal attempts from midrange, at 7.2 and 7.1, respectively. This season, they’re atop that category once again, with DeRozan at 6.4 and Aldridge at 6.9 attempts per game. The good news is that both are shooting better from midrange so far this season, however, given how poor the Spurs’ defense has been, that hasn’t been enough.
The league is evolving to a point where the longball is becoming more and more vital, and San Antonio is still refusing to give in. There are currently 10 teams in the league that shoot 40% or more of their total field goal attempts from beyond the arc. In Houston’s case, they have shot more than half of their attempts from downtown over the last two seasons.
Maybe jacking up three-pointers isn’t exactly the way to go, but in any case, the Spurs need much more variety in their offense than watching DeRozan and Aldridge hold the ball for 15 seconds and eventually pull up from midrange.
It’s hard to figure out which of Coach Popovich’s decisions regarding the roster is more baffling. Yes, he will retire as one of the league’s all-time best coaches, but some decisions he has been making this season just don’t make sense.
Usually, you want to have your best players on the court in order to win a basketball game, right? Meaning above-average defenders, guys with offensive ability or preferably a combination of both. So, why is Marco Belinelli still playing 16.7 minutes per game?
Don’t get me wrong, I like the guy, and he was a factor in the 2014 championship. At his best, Belinelli can still light it up with the best of them from downtown. Quite simply, though, he just doesn’t have it this season for whatever reason. His shooting numbers are as follows after 15 games. Viewer discretion is advised:
Belinelli is also posting a box plus/minus of -9.1 in his time on the court. It’s been shouted from the rooftops by Spurs fans everywhere, but it’s about time for Lonnie Walker IV to start getting more time in place of Belinelli. Or even better, DeMarre Carroll.
The mystery of Carroll’s complete lack of playing time is also very puzzling. Does Pop just not like his fashion sense? Has he done something that wrong in practice or in his 9.5 minutes per game? Carroll is being treated like a G League hopeful so far this season, and although he’s been a total professional about it, I would start getting impatient right about now if I were him.
Lastly, a lineup of Patty Mills, Bryn Forbes and DeMar DeRozan needs to never see the court together again. The Spurs offense does just fine with the trio, but when it comes to stopping anybody, you might as well put a trampoline at the free-throw line and treat it like a halftime show. Which leads us to the Spurs’ number one problem:
Defense (or lack thereof)
This one is a no-brainer. The Spurs have given up 121, 117 and 138 in their last three games and show no signs of improvement. The 116.2 points they give up per game are 22nd the NBA. Their defensive rating of 114 is 28th in the league.
Even worse than their inability to get crucial stops is how opponents are getting their points. Opponents are shooting 38.1% from three-point range against the Spurs, which is the fourth-worst in the league. Given that just about every team in the NBA loves the longball more than ever now, this is a real problem.
San Antonio is also giving up 48.5 points in the paint per game, which can largely be attributed to combining too many poor wing defenders on the court together (Forbes/Mills/DeRozan).
So is the defense fixable? Well, yes. Last season, San Antonio finished 12th in the league in points given per game at 112 with largely the same team. If major lineup adjustments are made that won’t leave huge holes on the perimeter, there should be a regression to the mean defensively for the Spurs.
When it’s hard to condense your team’s issues to just four categories, you know there’s a major problem. One thing is apparent: the old Spurs way doesn’t work anymore, and things need to change dramatically for this season’s squad to have a fighting chance at the playoffs.