2019 Playoff Preview: San Antonio Spurs
Going into this season, many wondered if Gregg Popovich’s 21-year streak of making the playoffs and finishing above .500 would cease this season. There were logical concerns over guard play and defensive presence, especially after losing Dejounte Murray for the season. Despite all of this, in Patriots-like fashion, the Spurs proved the dynasty would continue by making the playoffs and finishing with a record of 48-34. LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan both have played at All-Star levels this season, combining for roughly 38% of the Spurs’ scoring.
Heading into the season there were few places to look outside of DeRozan and Aldridge for individual scoring; Popovich, to his credit, has used players to their strengths to create an offense that ranked sixth in the NBA in offensive efficiency, including an astounding 39.3% from three. Davis Bertans, Bryn Forbes, Rudy Gay, Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli, all shoot 37% or better, leading the way for this season’s most accurate three-point shooting team.
Overall team defense had been an issue for the Spurs for most of the season, but once Jakob Poeltl was made the starting center at the end of February, the Spurs have improved drastically on the interior. Since Poeltl’s role changed, the Spurs rank fourth in the league in defensive efficiency, opponents’ points in the paint, and defensive rebound percentage. The main issues now lie behind the three point line, from which opposing teams are getting 32% of their points (8th-worst in the NBA) and are shooting 35.9%.
Team’s X- Factor
In order to be dynamic enough to win a road playoff series or two, the production from Derrick White and Rudy Gay will be the X-factor in the Spurs’ success. We know what the Spurs should be getting from DeRozan and Aldridge, both of whom have relatively low ceilings but high floors. At times, White has shown he can be an excellent two-way player: the importance his perimeter defending against the quick guards of Denver, OKC and Portland cannot be overstated. On the other end, Gay provides a smooth third scoring option and must continue his efficient play to elevate the offense.
Player to Watch
If the Spurs are going to have any chance of making a deep playoff run, they are going to need plenty of contributions from the bench. Patty Mills has years of playoff experience, having played in serious minutes with the Spurs every year since 2013-14. After starting every playoff game the past two seasons, though, Mills has seen his role decrease due to the emergence of Bryn Forbes. Expect to see Mills still playing a key role in Popovich’s system to provide experience and trustworthiness in relief of the starting backcourt.
Estimated Playoff Run
By winning their head-to-head tiebreaker with the Clippers, the Spurs caught a break by avoiding the Warriors in their first-round matchup. Instead, they will face the less-intimidating Nuggets and have a very real possibility of making a deep run in the playoffs.
The Nuggets bring a ton of depth on the perimeter to the table, and the Spurs will need to match their bench play with strong efforts by Belinelli and Mills. If the Spurs can find a way to steal a game in Denver this weekend, expect them to excel at home (as they have all season) and give the unexperienced Nuggets all they can handle.
A run to the Western Conference Finals is not unattainable by any means; if they can get past the Nuggets, the Thunder or the injury-riddled Blazers would not be too tough a task for Gregg Popovich. That said? Expect the Spurs to fall short to the Nuggets in a long series.