This blog will freely admit to adding to the pile of criticism that came when he seemingly wilted against Golden State right when the Spurs needed him most. Eventually — and I surmise this is what happened when Pop had a talk with him and accommodated his wishes — you have to realize he is who he is.
Pop is known for grinding his players and fashioning them to the player he wants them to be. He still does that with Murray and some of the younger guys. A player that is well-established like Aldridge? Nope.
There are few big men that can defend and be the primary scorer on any team, let alone a good team. Aldridge and DeRozan have a similar reputation for wilting when the lights get bright but given that Kawhi did not want to be here, there is not much choice is there?
There are maybe three or four guys in this league that can shine bright and bring a championship: Kawhi, Bron, Giannis …?
Okay maybe two. James Harden has playoff struggles (Manu block!) and even Anthony Davis could not bring his Pelicans sustained glory. Aldridge was incredible last night and that was mostly because his shot was falling.
The difference between LeBron and Kawhi and the rest of the stars is that they can overpower the defense with sheer physicality. This game is about athleticism and skill, sure, and when one is failing a great player can rely on the other half of it.
When Aldridge’s shot is not falling everyone from Shaq to your uncle wants him to go inside and bully his way to buckets. The thing is that Aldridge has never had the frame to do that against just anyone.
When it is falling? Well, he is exactly what you need to beat up on a mid-table side like OKC.
Remember when I wrote that progress was the goal? Yes, well this was also one of those times where everyone wanted to measure this Spurs team against the latest incarnation of a LeBron SuperTeam.
The Spurs came in with a great offensive rating and the Lakers, thanks to their length — and really Danny Green and Anthony Davis — came into tonight allowing sometime around 92.3 on defense. The Spurs hit that number tonight, sort of confirming the importance of a quality defense.
There were a fair number of missed shots that usually go in — that is to say, no one was unusually bottled up beyond LMA getting bullied and bumped and probably fouled a number of times. Bryn Forbes was ungodly bad from deep and that was basically the difference.
There is an argument to be made that this was just an off night shooting the ball and that is all the difference between the 5-1 Lakers and the 4-2 Spurs.
On the other hand, it is troubling that Aldridge and DeRozan combined for only 22 on 24 shots between them. DeRozan was off from everywhere and the aggression came from your star Dejounte Murray.
This, like that Cleveland game three years ago, will be another milestone in his progression. He got easy buckets because of steals and also crossed over Caldwell-Pope before getting a sweet lefty scoop shot+1 over Bron.
His minutes are still restricted and so then are the Spurs in that regard. Nate Jones tweeted this:
That is quality analyzing . LMA, and all big men, have some trouble with length. Javale and Anthony Davis do not make it easy to get the normal buckets he does. Poeltl was even more flustered, and slow to get the roll moves on the screens.
The length bothered San Antonio all game and it would improve in a playoff series as the team got used to it. On a Sunday night in early November? Well it led to easy buckets.
Murray led a furious little comeback himself before Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hit two ridiculous buckets to put the Lakers permanently ahead. The Spurs are still searching for someone not named Forbes to get hot from deep — which makes that Bertans deal hurt more — and even Bryn was cold tonight. He shot 1/8 from deep on looks he has been happy to get all season.
In the progress meter, we can call this one a success. The Lakers are more talented but the Spurs were right there, and should play better in better circumstances.
The Lakers however, are ridiculously talented and Bryn is happy to play Robin to AD’s Batman. The real threat? Well it was Spurs-nemisis Dwight Howard getting huge buckets all game long. He finished with 14 and 13, including 4 big offensive rebounds.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 big news from ESPN was that there is ‘discord’ in the Spurs-Kawhi relationship after Leonard went back to his indefinite “recovery” mode. The Spurs are notoriously tight-lipped about these things and from all indications there is nothing more to this than frustration.
For his part, Wright said it had more to do with ‘frustration’ surrounding the healing of the injury. He hinted that the issue is Leonard’s lack of communication is part of the problem, and the lack of progress after the Spurs’ reliance on their tendon experts.
The local morning radio guy Mike Taylor has taken this and run with the thinking that Kawhi is actually upset about LaMarcus Aldridge getting this renewed love. Personally, I can see how that would be an issue Kahwi weren’t so withdrawn from the spotlight.
After all, Kawhi can adapt his game to LMA much easier than LMA can to Kawhi — this has been demonstrated over the last two seasons.
What does ‘discord’ mean? That is the real question here. It was disappointing to hear Mike Wright flail in his answer which lends me to think that the real author of the piece was Adrian Wojnarowski with help from Zach Lowe. Last season Lowe first reported the rumblings that the Spurs and Aldridge had issues and he was exactly right.
RC Buford was quoted in the report saying there was nothing to the ‘discord’:
“There is no issue between the Spurs organization and Kawhi,” Buford said. “From Day 1 all parties have worked together to find the best solutions to his injury.”
Buford described a frustrating process of rehabilitation for what has been an elusive solution to an injury.
“This has been difficult for everyone,” Buford told ESPN. “It’s been difficult for Kawhi. He’s an elite-level player. It’s been difficult for the team, because they want to play with a great teammate. And it’s been difficult for our staff. Historically we’ve been able to successfully manage injuries. This rehab hasn’t been simple, and it hasn’t gone in a linear fashion.”
Wow said in a video report that the source used words like “disconnect, and distance” when talking about the process. That’s more vague hints.
There is no doubt that there is frustration on both sides. If it is all the frustration with the injury? That will be resolved once Leonard is back on the court and playing like his MVP-candidate self.
If the issue is indeed the coddling of LaMarcus Aldridge? Well that is a deeper issue that will be interesting. Kawhi Leonard is the franchise guy here, no matter what the Spurs say and do for Aldridge. He is younger, better, and has a higher ceiling.
None of that is to say that Aldridge is bad or not good and that this all would not be an issue if Aldridge were not so difficult to manage. Kawhi cannot win a title by himself. He needs Aldridge happy and if there is an issue Kahwi needs to squash it since his legacy can take the biggest hit.
The secret ingredient to the Warriors is that they have three or four franchise players and mix them together smoothly. Look at the Cavs and their clown show for an example of bad form.
The Spurs have been pretty good at pruning weeds in the organization. From Dennis Rodman to Captain Jack (making room for Kawhi). This week we saw Tony Parker benched for Dejounte Murray in a passing of the torch.
This has been the perfect season to command the spotlight with Kawhi out of commission and slowly working his way back to form. Leonard dominated proceedings last year and all but regulated the rest of the Spurs roster to Who Are They status.
LMA was famously upset by this and it turns out that was not unreasonable. He still had something left in his game and has shown himself to be the guy that SA paid for: the number 1 guy.
Unfortunately, he is not an MVP-level guy, but then again who thought he would be that?
This is about winning titles, even if the Spurs are no longer front-runners for that spot these last few Warriors-heavy years. To that end, winning regular season games while everyone sits down is imperative. Tonight, LMA did the things necessary to win. This was the typical Spurs effort involving lots of contributions that will be forgotten when the postseasons begins but upon whose foundation the postseason runs begin.
LMA blocked one of the final tying attempts and that sealed the win. It will not win him the MVP but it is what we want him to do.
The Spurs are now 22-10 and four games behind the league-leading Rockets.
When LaMarcus Aldridge dominates proceedings as he did against Memphis I have to refrain from saying “Where was this against Memphis in the playoffs?”
The answer is that this is not the same LMA for a lot for reasons and this is definitely not the same Grizzlies squad that competed hard for six games.
Pop called him an All-Star in all phases of the game and he is right. Even when LMA had been playing in the shadow of Kawhi’s Klaw, he was playing good, underrated defense.
My — and likely your — frustrations with his postseason play remain but it is important to put those into context. Both OKC and GSW featured at least two current, very recent past, or very recent future MVP players.
Still, LMA did not impress in every game against the Grizzlies and only in one or two games against Houston. Watching him do that against the same team makes me feel better even if it isn’t proof of much of anything.
Did San Antonio learn so this from Golden State and decide to turn it on in the third quarter?
Aldridge is steady with his 20+ ppg, and is vaguely looking like Timmy on the score sheet. Pay tossed in some threes but Rudy Gay and Dejounte Murray are battling for the Most Fun Spur to watch.
Rudy Gay can score and that is great fun to watch. He showed some extra range was fun but the he followed that with a heat check. For we playoff-minded folks, the Rudy Gay they gets into pass lanes and uses length to bother teams is the one that will change a series.
LMA and Pau were not the most highly rated defensive players coming into San Antonio yet have held their own (in spots, in Pau’s case).
As Captain Jack once said, “The Spurs staff helps you be a great defender” and all that is needed is mental and physical effort.
So far, everyone looks about where they need to be. Now that the IG rumormongering is that the Klaw will be returning next week, things are looking up.