The Depths of Mediocrity

The Spurs are on a 4-game losing streak and it is partly because of defense (mostly) and partly because of not-as-good offense as the team produced last season. Coming into this season, the idea was that Marcus Morris and / or DeMarre Carroll would provide some defense along side the returning Dejounte Murray.

Instead he has played sparingly, and the defense has been just about the same level as last year’s iffy squad. The offense, missing Davis Bertāns, has not been as amazing. The strange thing is that it has been good, with a 109 offensive rating compared to last year’s 111 or so. The ranking is the same, but the wins and losses are different.

The Spurs have been unlucky — the non-call against DeMar DeRozan the other night vs the Grizzlies was bad — but putting yourself in a position to win or lose based on luck is a recipe for losses.

The Spurs had a big lead against the Magic, but do not have the savvy to hold it or pull out.

This is the kind of thing that mediocre teams encounter. They need things to be perfect to pull out wins, and they fall victim to bad luck more often than not. The Spurs are very mediocre because not much has changed from last season. Everyone was hoping for Murray to make a big difference – he has in spots — but the Carroll-for-Bertans swap — however unintentional — has not paid off.

Last year the Spurs found a groove, and worked their way to a seventh seed — and one game away from the second round. That is very possible this season given the number of young players that can make a leap. The team really needs DeMar to be better than good — he needs to be special. Aldridge is 34, and that extra gear can only be reached infrequently as he gets older.

That is the nature of the game. DeMar still can reach that level. He needs to carry this team, and right now, he is just playing a role.

Trae Young Is Nice

I saw Methuselah hit a step-back fade-away three pointer over Trey Lyles. People say that it was, in fact, Vince Carter.

It was that kind of night in this one. The Hawks have a guy that changes the calculus of the floor in Trae Young and the Spurs do not have a rim protector to at least force him to be one-dimensional.

The Spurs shot three more 3PT shots and made just three fewer than the Hawks. The thing is that a couple of the Spurs’ threes were some desperation things — including Rudy Gay’s silly toss from half court because he was unaware of the actual time on the clock.

Trae Young firing 27-footers is a great shot for the Hawks.

The worst thing about this game was having the feeling that the Hawks had the better player. Trae Young looked dangerous and controlled the game at the end, toying with the Spurs, drawing the matchups he wanted and making the game his.

Our guys that are supposed to do that did not, in fact, do that.

DeRozan put up some numbers — 22 on 16 shots — and LMA struggled a bit on 14 shots. The game was lost late in the third and early fourth and that was that.

We have seen Kawhi take over the fourth. Then we saw Dame Lillard do the same. We saw Bron and AD dominate late and open things up for their role guys. The Spurs need a little more of the DeMar we saw in the first couple of games, taking over, and bending the defense to his will.

Can he do that? you ask.

I do not know, anymore.

Regime Change In The Bay

Watching Draymond Green lose is always fun. Watching him lose with Willie Cauley-Stein and Deangelo Russel is less satisfying than it otherwise could be.

The Spurs won big, played DeMarre Carroll a bit, and got a little more rhythm. After five games (just five) the Spurs are not the same offensive team they were last season. They turn the ball over more,

As of Nov 2, 2019
2018-2019 season

The offensive rating is about the same but crucially, the defensive rating has improved. We wrote about progress last game, and that is the goal. It is a difficult one to achieve with so many moving parts. DeMarre Carroll played in just his first game last night. He was brought in because of his defense. Dejounte Murray is the best perimeter defender and is limited to 25m per game and did not play vs the Warriors.

That has a knock-on effect in that DeMar DeRozan is asked to play more point guard. He only took seven shots, scored only 13 but had 11 assists.

DeRozan has been able to be more aggressive attacking the defense when he has Murray and White running the offense. In this one, the aggression came from Patty Mills, taking a team-leading 16 shots and scoring 31.

In all, it is unremarkable that the Warriors have fallen so far so fast. The have so many injuries and new faces that it is not the same team that went to 5-straight Finals. It highlights how impressive LeBron’s run was, and even more impressive how the Spurs were able to maintain a level of consistency and competitiveness for 20+ years.

Green said this week “this is something (losing) that everyone except Tim Duncan has experienced”. It is true. Tim never missed the playoffs, as these Warriors will this season.

The Spurs are missing the top-five talent that the Clippers, Lakers, and probably Milwaukee have, but if things break right, they can be something like a dark horse. They have a great coach, a good system, and good-enough players. LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan are good enough players to produce Playoff calibre teams. Murray and the rest of the young guns may be just enough depth to carry the team deep.

This Warrior game was missing Murray, and he would have helped limit whatever offense the Warriors produced to make it more interesting late. He would have helped limit (maybe) Dame Lillard the other night.

Against a Jamal Murray last season, maybe a Murray lock-down defensive performance could have given SA just enough advantage to move on. The devil is always in the details and those details get refined in early November on the second night of a back-to-back.

Progress Over Perfection

Some time in the 2000s when the Blazers were good and the Spurs were battling for the best record, the regular season matchups against them — and any team that was good — felt momentous.

They were fuel for the arguments I would have at school about the team and it’s place in the league and in history.

In the years since, it has been nice to get some confirmation that the players take some games more personally.

Last year against the Raptors when Kawhi returned to San Antonio, it felt like that again. DeMar DeRozan notched a triple double. Kawhi yelled after dunking early.

In this matchup against the Clippers, it is harder to get the same feelings. If I have to choose an LA team to hate it would obviously be the Lakers, even if the Clips — a version of them — were the last LA team to beat San Antonio in the playoffs.

Kawhi day out the first game to be prepared for the Spurs. He was criticized for sitting against Utah because those fans are missing out while the LAC crowd has 41 chances to see their guy.

That is another discussion. What is curious is that he sat the front in, and not the second night. He wanted to play SA?

DeMar was more crisp in this one partly because he is back home in Los Angeles, partly because he is in the fourth game of the season and is catching his rhythm.

In the end, the Spurs has no obvious answer for Kawhi doing Kawhi things. They stayed fighting but did not get enough clutch buckets late.

The real complaint will be about the first half, where LAC was struggling after the playing the night before and the Spurs looked like they had some jet lag.

This is where two things can be true, something I had trouble understanding when I was a kid looking for hot takes for school arguments.

The Spurs wanted to win this game but did not do everything they could to win it off the court. Playoff preparation is much more detailed. Regular season preparation is about building the team cohesion.

We saw the Spurs get better by just a little bit in this one. Young Dejounte was not nearly as dazed by Patrick Beverly as he was in that Rockets series in 2017.

In fact, Murray back-tipped Bev on a drive. The student had become at least an apprentice.


  • Marco Bellinelli is still slumping. He has a shooting slump last season but he has been just poor all over the court.
  • Still no Carroll eh? What is going on there?
  • Lonnie was scolded in the postgame by Pop.
  • Kawhi did actually say he looks forward to playing his old teammates.
  • LMA was held to 5. He didn’t catch the rhythm of the game and the Spurs didn’t really help him out. Having DeRozan go off for 29 was nice and kind is the point is having two stars.

Clutch Is About Shooting Even Though You May Fail

Damian Lillard missed two would-be tying threes to close the game out, after bringing his Portland Trail Blazers to the brink of a comeback against the Spurs.

DeMar DeRozan scored 27 but missed two free throws that would have made it four or five, and before that missed a fadeaway free throw line jumper that would have extended the lead.

Lillard has a reputation as a closer, a finisher, and a guy that hits big shots in big moments. That is true, and what is also very true is that he has missed some big ones as well. If those are not as prominent in your brain as the big ones he made, that is because big shots have a tendency to stick in the mind a bit more.

We remember Kawhi hitting the fadeaway jumper against Philly in the playoffs last year and almost have completely forgotten he missed some huge free throws in the 2013 Finals vs the Heat.

DeRozan has yet to have a big shot moment like that — it is certainly possible he never will have half as many as Lillard has had in his career.

What is great is that DDR is still shooting the shots. He is the closer and like Dame, he will miss some and he will make some like he did against the Wizards.


DeMar had 27, all of that through the early 4th quarter before the Spurs’ reserves started blowing the lead. He came in a little cold after that. No excuses, but that was a thing.

Missing Dejounte in the 4th quarter will be tough, as the Spurs allowed 39 in this final period, and it cannot imagine that would have been quite so easy with Murray harassing Dame a bit more.

The Spurs held a 15 point lead after Murray assisted Marco for a three and the Blazers were on the verge of pulling everyone and packing it up with about seven minutes to go. It is easy to get upset with the failure to close it out there, but this was a weird game. The Spurs were down big early, and got all the way back.

The Blazers were on the second night of a back-to-back (SEGABABA) and that means we can probably do some self-loathing — how could they allow this team to come back etc. The truth is that ugly wins are better than pretty losses and the Spurs are 3-0, with a good offense and a brilliant defender playing 20min a night and getting a little healthier with each game.

Spurs, Dejounte Are Back In Action

Dejounte Murray is fast and quick and long and young and it is weird to have someone like that on the Spurs. San Antonio still feels like it has a bunch of fogies, that even the knowledge we have — SAS has a ton of young guys — still doesn’t always translate to Feel.

DJ sliced through for buckets and got steals and for a second I allowed myself to think of what he and Kawhi would have done in the same backcourt tonight.

Instead, we saw him get a nice 18 on 7/10 shooting. He was in a competition with Bryn Forbes for leading scorer until LaMarcus’ late three pushed him to the top.

The Knicks should not have been much of a problem but you have got to like that the Spurs played defense in spurts, when their likely starting rotation was in, and that they scored 37 in two different quarters.

This all without a fully functional Demar. He missed free throw tosses in warm up. For a long stretch of the game he has only a single point, and went through a stretch where the Knicks were sitting on his drive-and-kick thing, stealing a handful of passes.

He had four turnovers.

The essence of a team, however, is that it is more than one guy. The role of primary scorer is one that multiple guys filled. Five guys were in double figures and Derrick White had 9.

Demar closed the game out with some drives and created some free throw line trips. He will get his rhythm and not look so out of sorts and the Spurs should be a little more dangerous.

Growing Pains

I suppose the biggest difference in this version of Pop than the one from 20 years ago is that he does not have pressure on him. He is more mellow, obviously, and some of that is age and maturity, but some is life experience. He lost his wife last year and that can certainly put a perspective on things that makes the daily investment in basketball seem even more silly.

Gregg Popovich had never been one to lose sight of the situation: this is a game that is ridiculously well-paid, but if you are going to play it you might as well play it the right way.

There is a delicate balance to it all, and that is much like life.

This week DeMar DeRozan mused that he thought this recent swoon would have brought more fire from Pop, but he was “more patient than I expected”. Pop has always been good at picking up a struggling team and being a taskmaster when it is going well.

The good and bad feelings from wins and losses do enough, and the competitors that are NBA players will put in the appropriate level of work. The coaching staff is there as a check, and an external motivator, mostly.

In this tough conference, the Spurs sit just outside of the playoff picture having benefitted from beating a hurt, and struggling Warriors team. As Pop said, “no one cares”. He is right. Much like no one really cared that Kawhi and Tony were injured in the 2016 WCF, no one cares that the Spurs got a win over a Steph-and-Draymond-less GS team.

DeRozan repeats that the Spurs are getting a “little better” every game and every week. This has been true. There are a lot of moving parts and it has only been just over a month of real basketball to play. Derrick White came back and struggled but then also shone brightly in the win over Houston.

LaMarcus is struggling offensively, but is still a force defensively — an underrated part of his game — and as recently as Nov 3rd he bulled Anthony Davis all night. When things are going for the Spurs, they have a nice little combination that can beat near any team on the schedule.

They do not have an otherwordly athletic force like Kawhi, Giannis, Bron, or KD but right now that is not the focus.

Smooth DD, and Assists

DeMar DeRozan is averaging a career-high in assists — 8.0 per game. His previous career high came last year at 5.2. 

On NBA Game Time, Isiah Thomas said, “We didn’t know he had this type of playmaking in his game” — or something to that effect. 

The thing about assists is, that you need the pass recipient to score after you give it to them. In Toronto, Kyle Lowry was the assist man, and also a good individual scorer in his own right. 

You can see glimpses of DeRozan’s passing ability in highlight reels. His teammates don’t exactly help him out all the time.  His potential assists are markedly higher than his actual total, suggesting that his teammates are helping him out in San Antonio. Compare that to Chris Paul and James Harden, who are creating far more potential scoring opportunities than are being converted. 

nba.com 10/30

For what it is worth, DeRozan’s potential assist rate was not high in Toronto, but as we can see, his teammates would often receive the pass to give it back. Another interesting thing is that the Spurs have never had a guy average this many assists since Tony Parker, and even then he was not exactly Chris Paul.

I think we are seeing the benefit of a playmaking guard that can get into dangerous positions finding other smart, capable, basketball players who can score. 

DeMar is most dangerous because he can score — he had 34 last night on Wes Matthews, a capable defender. He can get those 34 because of his 9 assists, keeping the rest of the Mavericks honest. Look at these next screenshots to see what I mean. The first two show the Mavericks having to stick close to the rest of the roster while DeMar operates on Wes Matthews for two of his biggest buckets of the game.

This final one is of last year’s duel between the Spurs and Raptors. This was a decidedly different kind of situation, but you get my meaning. 

Pau sinking

The Spurs sank into the paint based on the lineups here. No need to guard non-threats from outside. 

The current Spurs, however, do not have obvious non-threats aside from perhaps, Dante Cunningham. He does a great job of playing the other forward spot, flashing in the post for easy 10-15 foot jumpers or as a high-low option to dump the ball down to Aldridge. He also has been great flashing from the weak side for easy dunks — something OKC’s Andre Roberson does on occasion. 

This led to a Rudy Gay 3pt make

The above is mostly a mistake on Luka Doncic’s part, as he doubles needlessly. DeMar finds Rudy Gay for a wide open three. Notice, however, the rest of the Mavericks spread out in stark contrast to the previous Toronto-era DD screenshot. 

This led to a Rudy Gay pull-up jumper. This is also 4-down

Finally, we see the classic Spurs look: 4-down look. This led to a Rudy Gay pull up jumper. One concern everyone had about the Trade was that LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan like to occupy the same space and take similar shots. The solution, it turns out, is that DD has been taking the Pau Gasol post-ups. 

LMA is on the same post-ups-per game pace (just about 13). DeMar has 3.5, which is little more than Pau had last year. 

Both LMA and DD are getting about 60+ touches per game. That is a bit more than Kawhi/LMA’s 2016 55/57 per game.

Here, Aldridge does not quite pull DeAndre Jordan away from the paint, but he is neutralized enough that he does not interfere with the play. Also, look at Cunningham wearing Boris Diaw’s 33 in the same spot.

Everyone said the squad is still working on things and that hopefully means there will be fewer down-to-the-wire games. 

The season is young but the Rockets, Lakers, and Thunder look much worse than we thought. Houston is already changing their entire defensive scheme to compensate for Melo problems and no one can hit a shot. 

The Spurs are getting defensive contributions from Rudy Gay (six steals!) and even DeRozan (three steals!), and Marco Belinelli is an upgrade offensively over Kyle Anderson. Bryn Forbes has been so much better — he’s looking like the guy they drafted and not the gun-shy, brick layer he was early on. 

I can understand the championship-or-bust thinking, but there is very real value to fielding a competitive team every season even if the odds of winning the league are against you. These unbeatable Warriors are composed of players who competed and lost against much better teams early in their careers. 

Getting to the playoffs and losing is not without its value. Sure, for DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, there is less value than for Forbes, White, et al. The thing about going with an all-young group is that they might not even make the playoffs to learn those lesson. You need a mix, and you might as well put out the best possible combination you can — balancing future and present. 

The Spurs are much more fun to watch this season. 

New Season: New Problems

Dejounte Murray is out for the season, probably. This comes after an offseason of stories about his transition into the engine of the team. Pop said everyone was going to have to run with DJ if they wanted the ball. Now? Well, without Tony Parker, Hornet, the Spurs are going to have to rethink things.

This has been the worst offseason in a long while, and it got a little worse. Despite all that, there were some good feelings. Everyone is happy to be done with the robot problem that is Kawhi Leonard. Eventually, we all may reconcile with the KL and learn why, exactly, he hated being a Spur. For now, we all are very disappointed with the way it happened. 

Tony and Manu’s final season together was a valiant effort but it should have been as a contender — even if only in their own minds — instead of just as filler in the West. 

DeMar DeRozan is hungry, not as good as Kawhi, and yet perfect for the Spurs this season. Yes, he disappeared in the playoffs much like LaMarcus Aldridge did in years past and we all would rather someone who does not backdown from the moment. Every team wants that. As it is, the Spurs have two go-to guys and that is still very rare. 

Dejounte Murray was going to be a big part of this team, and probably the real determinant of the ceiling of this team. Now, the Spurs likely are going to be very good, but just not quite good enough. Compared to last year, that still will be so much more fun to watch.