The eventful week that was in Spurs-land
It feels like a lot has happened in Spurs-land over the last five days. Between a crazy road schedule, three back-to-backs over the course of a little more than a week, a Tony Parker injury and another mini-Restgate, there’s plenty to look back on before the weekend and a Saturday night date with the Thunder in San Antonio.
Los Spurs are back in San Antonio now, riding an improbable two-game winning streak after games in Phoenix and Golden State. And the mood has changed pretty remarkably since the team’s most recent loss on the road in Los Angeles against the Clippers. A 23-point beatdown at the hands of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Co. caused a minor meltdown for some Spurs fans on the interwebs. The ‘signature win’ debate was roaring and the ‘Spurs haven’t beaten a good team yet’ narrative was being kept alive by the fact that, well, they hadn’t really beaten a great team yet. It was a good old-fashioned overreaction to a game in mid-December, but it’s why we watch these games on a nightly basis: to be entertained.
And things weren’t exactly looking bright going forward after the Monday night loss. San Antonio had just come off its fifth game in seven nights — each of which was in a different city and four of which were in different time zones — and they still had to travel to Arizona before heading back to northern California for the Suns – Warriors back-to-back without Parker running the show. Honestly, a split of the two games would’ve been acceptable, especially considering the events leading up to tip-off on Thursday.
As I’m sure you know by now, the Spurs were without each member of the Big Three against the Warriors, yet somehow they managed to win in the closing seconds on a somewhat controversial Tiago Splitter tip-in. It was an improbable cap to a back-to-back sweep against two teams whose offenses pose problems for tired legs.
So now the road trip is over, and Oklahoma City awaits on the heels of yet another win, this time over a really unfortunate Chicago Bulls team. Parker will be re-evaluated prior to the game on Saturday, and if I’m making an educated guess, the contusion will likely have to be pretty serious for him to miss this one. He LOVES matching up with Russell Westbrook, and he’s typically at his best when the two go head to head. I’m predicting he’ll play, but that’s almost complete conjecture. We’ll keep you updated on this story as we hear any news.
In the mean time, here’s some fun with numbers from the week that was:
The ‘Big Three’: There was no Timmy, Tony or Manu, so naturally Marco Belinelli, Kawhi Leonard and Patty Mills (more like Party Thrills) combined for 69 points on just 47 shots. At the same time on the other side of the court, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and David Lee put up a combined 75 points … on 68 shots. Although, Lee did grab 13 boards while Curry dropped 15 dimes. So that’s, ya know, good.
24, 7, 6: Ginobili’s line on Wednesday night against the Suns: 24 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds. It was his best performance of the season, it came in the absence of Parker and it capped off a month-long stretch in which the Spurs’ sixth man has been absolutely brilliant. Over his last 15 games, Manu is shooting 53.4 percent from the floor, 42.9 percent from the 3-point line and is putting up 12.5 points in just 22 minutes per game.
And he’s doing it inside as well. According to SportVU data, Ginobili’s got the league’s highest field-goal percentage on drives to the basket (73.7 percent) among players who average at least three field-goal attempts off of drives to the rim per game. Basically, he’s scoring three out of every four times he attacks the basket with a shot. He’s 36 years old.
Oh, and the passing. Also according to SportVU, Manu leads all non-point guards in points created via assist per 48 minutes at 22.8, and he’s assisting at a career-best rate of 28.4 dimes per 100 possessions. He’s filling up the box score like the Ginobili of old.
His per-36-minute numbers have been amazing since Nov. 20: 20 points, 8.7 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals a night. Manu is quietly having one of the most efficient seasons of his career (though it’s beginning to garner a bit more attention these days), especially in the last month, and it’s arguably becoming his best campaign of the last half-decade, if not further back than that. Of course, the main concern is whether this will keep up over the long haul. We’ll be watching.
22 turnovers: Against the Clippers. In Los Angeles. You don’t do this and live to tell about it against that team. It’s much easier to handle losses when the reason for your demise is so easily identifiable. We’ve seen that movie before. Move past it. Me thinks most Spurs fans have by now, so no need to belabor the point.
Kawhi Leonard: Slowly but surely, Kawhi’s been doing some things. He’s still shooting better than 50 percent from the floor, and his 3-point shooting has crept up over 30 percent. Remember, it was at 22 percent no more than two weeks ago, but it seems like that Indiana game woke him up from his early season nap session. Since then, Leonard is averaging 14.8 points, 6 rebounds and 31 minutes per game while shooting 53.4 percent from the floor and 47.6 percent (!) from the arc. If you adjust these numbers to reflect a per-36-minute basis, Leonard is notching nearly 17 points and 7 boards over his last eight games. And he’s been doing it all while slightly upping his assist production, which is beginning to become a regular thing.
One of Kawhi’s biggest weaknesses has been his relative inexperience as a playmaker. Not as a scorer, but as a facilitator. This is a guy who two years ago was struggling mightily to find open shooters at summer league of all places. Even when he made the right pass it was hitting teammates in their shoelaces. Today, while it’s still a work in progress, he’s making fantastic passes out of pick-and-rolls and penetrations at least three or four times per game. And because he does draw attention when he actually beats his defender (which isn’t all that often without the aid of a screen or off a cut given his lack of elite foot speed), kick-out and drop-off passes from Kawhi generally lead to good looks for teammates.
Without the Big Three in tow, we had a bigger opportunity to watch this team with Leonard as one of its top options on Thursday. He was “used” in the equivalent of 20 plays per 40 pace-adjusted minutes against the Warriors, which was an uptick of about three plays from his typical usage rate. And in that setting, his assist rate jumped several percentage points while his shooting didn’t suffer one bit. Kawhi went for 21 points and 10 rebounds in 35 minutes of the Golden State game on Thursday, and almost nothing seemed forced. The Spurs were doing a great job of putting him in position to score within his comfort zone, and when a shot wasn’t there he was kicking the ball out or moving it around. We saw a lot of instances earlier this season in which Leonard would get ICE’d on a pick and roll and immediately pick the ball up and look to get rid of it. The hesitation and uncertainty was awful for the flow of the offense.
But, as I’ve written several times already: This is a very young player who’s learning concepts that have previously been fairly foreign to him. There are signs of progression, and it’s been fun to watch. They’re pretty subtle, but they’re there. Stay tuned early next week for more on Leonard and how the Spurs used him against the Warriors.
Marco Belinelli: This dude is unreal right now. I’ve mentioned that I’m waiting for a regression to something closer to his career mean, because shooting 53.2 percent from the arc is just bonkers. The NBA record for percentage in a season is 53.6 percent, held by Kyle Korver. But Belinelli is getting some fantastic looks in this system, and that side of it likely won’t change a whole lot, unless the defense decides to really clamp down on Marco, which is probably a bit dangerous considering who else can be on the floor at any given time. Anyway, we’re seeing why the Spurs were so excited to bring him in. So far it’s been unbelievable.
All-Star Weekend: We’re already getting to the point of the year where All-Star chatter has begun, and one of the more interesting questions is whether or not the Spurs will be represented. Based on numbers alone, there’s just no way. The Western Conference is absolutely stacked with stars who are putting up huge numbers every night, while San Antonio’s got just one player averaging more than 30 minutes a game (Parker). But this event isn’t all based on numbers, and the coaches have a say on who gets in. If the Spurs (who are currently 21-5 on the season) continue to play at this level, I would be borderline shocked if at least one player from this team didn’t get in. Winning teams are generally awarded for their success, and Hall-of-Fame players are quite often given a spot based solely on merit. I’d bet on it.
10,785: My rough mileage calculation on the Spurs’ travel schedule over the last 16 or 17 days. Since Dec. 3, the team has flown from San Antonio to Mexico City to San Antonio to Dallas (reroute due to fog) to San Antonio to Toronto to Milwaukee to San Antonio to Salt Lake City to Los Angeles to Phoenix to the Bay Area to San Antonio. They’ve essentially traveled more than 600 miles per day (and that’s putting it pretty conservatively) over the last two and a half weeks.
And I hate when I have to drive outside the Loop 410.
TNT: Reggie Miller kept yelling into his microphone about Tiago Splitter’s tip-in/goaltending no-call, repeatedly asking why they weren’t going to replay to confirm or overturn the call. Because no goaltending was actually called, they can’t review the play, per NBA rules, so it was a bunch of yelling for nothing. Reggie has actually been much better this season, and you can tell that he’s put more effort and preparation into his broadcasts … but he can still be annoying sometimes. Oh well. Small potatoes.
On the flip side of things, TNT showed a map of all the places the Spurs call home, and they used a Belgian flag for Parker. I thought this was great, as it is his home country. Most people just think he’s from France, so this is a great example of the crew doing some research. I do love TNT broadcasts, and I’m ecstatic they’ve got coverage of the Western Conference playoffs this season. Sorry, this has been a strange aside, I’m sure.
Screenshot courtesy of Ari Temkin.
Saturday night: Oklahoma City is in town, and I can’t wait.