These Spurs are a Mystery

With the Manu Ginobli retirement, the San Antonio Spurs are facing an overhaul of their basketball world. It is not quite a rebuild and credit them for Paris not burning. They have DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge. But for the first time since David Robinson was drafted in 1987, the Spurs lack a generational talent, an iconic player.

DeMar DeRozan is an All-Star and LaMarcus Aldridge is too but neither one of them are top-10 talents who can carry a team to the NBA Finals. And so the Spurs are where a lot of teams are. Good enough to fight for a lower playoff seed but not good enough to get to a conference final, in spite of the effort of Gregg Popovich, who excels at adjusting on the fly.

Of course, the Spurs were trying to do what the Heat could not do and what the Lakers could not do, fit a square peg in a round hole, stay on top when their Hall of Fame extraordinary one was gone into the second phase of his life. That they had Kawhi Leonard as next man up suggested to many that the Spurs would be able to hold on.

Kawhi couldn’t do it alone, and his talent wasn’t as enormous as Tim Duncan, but his offensive and defensive skills could carry the Spurs to a conference final. Adding another highly efficient scorer and defender and the Spurs would not miss a beat, or so that was supposed to be the perfect ending.

Perfect endings are rare. Kawhi went rogue, justified or not, and the Spurs were like the rest of the league, angry and then mourning when their supposed franchise star wanted out.

The Spurs are in the scrum like a bunch of others in the scrum, their privileges gone. It is not sunny in San Antonio anymore. It has been a swift and complete about face.

The acquisition of DeMar DeRozan was a story but really it is just tape on a bleeding wound. DeRozan, as accomplished as he is with basketball, doesn’t solve many of the Spurs issues.

2017-18 Weaknesses

3-Point Percentage: 28th.  Pace: 27th. Points Scored: 26th. Offensive Rating: 17th Assists: 15th. Steals: 14th.

DeRozan is a scoring phenom, a player who dominates on the offensive side of the ball. But he doesn’t space the floor. He made 1.1 three point shots last year. He made 30% of threes.

Less than three minutes in the quarter is when DeRozan is ball dominant. He took 618 shots and made 45% of them.

The teams he struggled with the most last year, less than 30% shooting, are in the West. OKC, Minnesota, Memphis, Clippers, Dallas. He is going to have a huge learning curve in a conference that doesn’t take time off to initiate newbies to the West. It is sink or swim.

DeRozan’s defense is below average and got him in hot water with teammate Kyle Lowry. DeRozan can be a lazy defender. Over the last few regular seasons, he has averaged a defensive rating of 108-110. That is Tony Parker 2017-18 territory. Parker who is now with the Hornets.

It leaves the Spurs with a little bit of something, but absent Kawhi, still treading water and trying to figure out how to get from A to B. They will sell tickets because they are the Spurs and have a tremendous history and they will entertain with DeRozan. But he can’t get them where they used to be and that is really all that matters.

The Spurs had their window and it was huge, long, impressive. But the window is shut. DeRozan stops the bleeding now and then but he isn’t Tim Duncan or David Robinson. He is a good player on a team with good players who will find out there is no substitute for generational talent.

Once upon a time the league had Spurs envy.  Now, the Spurs are the ordinary ones, on the outside looking in.