2018 NBA Playoff Preview: San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs finished 47-36, their worst season by win percentage in 20 years, and there is no mystery about why. In case you have not heard, let this be the Earth shattering world shaker of a reveal; The San Antonio Spurs’ best player, Kawhi Leonard, only played nine games this year. He missed the beginning of the season with right quadriceps tendinopathy, came back in December, played nine times, and has since cut off communication with the organization in wildly unprecedented fashion. However, the Spurs still salvaged a playoff berth. In his expanded role without Leonard the former second-best player LaMarcus Aldridge has thrived. He averaged 23.1 points per game, up from 17.3 last year, and his field goal percentage is much improved from last year on more attempts, going from 47.7 percent to 51 percent.
The Spurs have been winning games on the premise of the whole is stronger than the sum of its parts. This has been working against some of the weaker teams in the league, but when playing against better talent they struggle. San Antonio finished 17-25 against all playoff teams and 10-16 against Western Conference playoff teams. They have lacked that extra gear they have had in previous seasons.
The Spurs’ biggest strength are the men and woman in suits on the sideline. They have one of the best coaching staffs in the game led by one of the best coaches of all-time, Gregg Popovich. He always cooks up something special for the playoffs. His team will be playing unconventional lineups and executing game plans that he has been stashing all season.
As far as the players, their strength is disciple on both ends of the floor. They take care of the basketball on offense finishing fourth in the league in turnovers at 13.1 a game, and they lock it down on defense despite certain limitations. The Spurs are fourth in the league in defensive rating, eighth in opponent field goal percentage, fourth in opponent three-point percentage and fourth in blocks per game.
The Silver and Black have really struggled shooting the ball. They are twenty-seventh in the league in threes attempted and twenty-sixth in three-point percentage at 35.2 percent. In many of their lineups multiple players refuse to shoot threes. Dejounte Murray, Tony Parker and Kyle Anderson are all perimeter players who average at least 19 minutes a game and attempt less than one three. This kills their spacing and makes it harder for everyone to finish at the rim.
Another issue for the Spurs has been playing on the road. They ended the regular season with a road record of 14-27, the worst of any playoff team. Since Golden State has home court, this only adds to their problems.
Kawhi Leonard comeback!!! Leonard has not been officially ruled out for the playoffs, leaving that golden sliver of hope in the hearts of Spurs fans, but that odds of it happening are slim to none.
This would usually be the section where “coaching adjustments” goes, but Pop does it so regularly it has lost its “X-” and is really just a factor.
The first real X-factor for the Spurs is Manu Ginobli. The old man is still doing it at 40 and he has closed the season strong. In the month of April, he averaged 10 points a game, shot 47.1 percent from the field, 43.8 percent from three, and 84.6 percent from the free throw line. Expect Manu to make big plays down the stretch in close games, as his clutch numbers on the season are solid: 54.2 Percent from the field, 36.4 percent from three, and 93.3 from the line.
Another less reliable X-factor is Bryn Forbes. He is a deeper bench guy and will most likely have a diminished role in the playoffs, but he has been Popovich’s panic button all season. When the Spurs are stuck Pop will put Forbes in the game for some energy and scoring. There is a good chance he posts fifteen or twenty points off the bench in a game or two.
Players to Watch
To preface this section the main player to watch is LaMarcus Aldridge. He’s San Antonio’s best player and there is a possibility of him going off for thirty-five or forty every game of this series. He won’t do it every game, but the threat will always be there.
Another reliable Spur is Danny Green. His main assignment in this series, along with knocking down a few timely threes, will be to guard Kevin Durant the bulk of his minutes, a role he has played in the past. Green’s performance will have a major impact on the outcome of the series.
Beyond Aldridge and Green some key players that can really swing the pendulum for the Spurs are Dejounte Murray and Rudy Gay. Murray has been getting more comfortable in his starting role, developing into a terror on defense, and on the glass. From December to April his minutes have increased every month from 15.6 a game to 26.7. If he can get his floater or mid-range shot to drop, something he has struggled with all season, he will draw some extra attention, accentuating San Antonio’s elite level interior passing.
Rudy Gay finished the season strong himself averaging 15 points a game in April. He is one of their few players who can create their own offense and pull up off the dribble. The Spurs will desperately need this skill late in the shot clock amidst an offense with limited spacing.
Estimated Playoff Run
After getting shallacked by the Pelicans in Wednesday night’s end of season extravaganza, San Antonio fell to the seventh seed, pitting them against the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors had a disappointing regular season by their standards and will be without Steph Curry for the first round. They have struggled without Curry, looking almost unrecognizably un-Warriors-like, limping into the playoffs going 4-6 in their last 10 games. This is a lucky break for San Antonio, but the magic for Golden State will still there once the focus. The Spurs will steal a win here or there but that will be the end of it.
Official Prediction: Warriors in 5