The San Antonio Spurs have long been a model of sustained winning – not just in the NBA, but in all of professional sports. The Spurs have transitioned from various eras and still maintained an unprecedented level of success due to their ability to develop undervalued talent. This season has been no different. To this point, the Spurs are 16-11 and sit in the 6th seed for the Western Conference.
The one constant in all of their success has been head coach Gregg Popovich. Now in his 24th season with San Antonio, his expectations for his team have never changed. Few coaches, if any, in NBA history have been able to consistently get more out of their rosters than Popovich has. This season is another example of that.
Naturally, this Spurs team owns qualities that have been associated with Spurs’ most historical version of basketball. They take care of the ball better than anyone else in the NBA, ranking first in turnovers per game. They still move the ball beautifully, ranking 12th in assists per game. Above all, this is still a team that generates good looks through team basketball.
However, the biggest reason for their surprise start to the season has been the development of their younger guys and how well they’ve fit with veterans. The Spurs have quietly assembled a really underrated young core of contributors that play hard and defend. Their vets have transitioned to roles more susceptible to winning.
DeMar DeRozan’s play has his name in All-Star consideration and deservedly so. Along with the usual scoring that has come to be expected of him, DeRozan has developed as a playmaker in his 12th season. He’s averaging a career-high 6.9 assists. This has really opened up the Spurs’ offense and his growth as a playmaker has made everyone else around him better.
Deojounte Murray may have taken the biggest leap of the younger pieces, now averaging 15.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5 assists per game, all of which are career-highs. Murray has really grown as a scorer by getting into the paint and he’s worked on a mid-range game that has been effective. Murray is also one of the best in the NBA at defending the point of attack. His 6-foot-4 frame and seemingly never-ending wingspan give him elite tools which are always evident when he’s containing penetration.
One of the more exciting players in the NBA that has flown under the radar is Keldon Johnson. In just his second season, he’s started every game for the Spurs, relentlessly attacks the basket and tries to dunk just about everything. He’s averaging 14.5 points and 7 rebounds per game at just 21 years of age, often showing himself to be a more than capable defender. The Spurs have something in Johnson.
The rest of the Spurs’ young core includes this year’s 11th overall pick, Devin Vassell, who has tons of potential as a 3-and-D wing player and shooting 39.7 percent from the three-point line. Lonnie Walker IV has shown himself to be a terror in transition with his athleticism, even consistently joining the starting lineup
Elsewhere, Rudy Gay has been excellent off the bench and really grown comfortable with his role, Jakob Poeltl is one best screen-setters in the NBA and his connection with Patty Mills has led to a bunch of open looks for the Australian guard.
The biggest concern for the Spurs has to be the play of LaMarcus Aldridge. He’s still a pretty effective scorer, but his defense has left a lot to be desired. His lateral movement is almost non-existent. The Spurs give up 116.6 points per 100 possessions with Aldridge on the floor, per NBA.com. Worse, they also have a -6.9 net rating with Aldridge on the floor.
Despite this, the Spurs have also continued to be a good defensive team. This season they’ve maintained a surprisingly stingy defense, which currently ranks 9th in defensive rating, per NBA.com. It has been their calling card and they’ve fallen back on it whenever their offense struggles.
The meshing of the Spurs’ youth and veterans has been very smooth. It has allowed their younger guys to grow organically into their roles, rather than being tossed straight into the fire and forced on the fly. There’s plenty of upside on this roster – but, heading into the season, many thought the Spurs would be sellers heading into the trade deadline, as they have Aldridge, DeRozan and Gay all on expiring deals. If they continue to win games, it’s highly unlikely they ship off anyone and continue to work with what’s on the roster.
After missing the playoffs last season for the first time in 23 seasons, San Antonio has a solid chance to start a new streak – all thanks to a youthful revival.
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