* * *
The Spurs have played the entire season without Kawhi Leonard, and most of the season without Tony Parker. Yet there they are, 16-8 and only three games out of first. Surprised?
* * *
Good Lord, no. These are the Spurs about whom you're talking. This is what they'd do
: If an NBA team ever had the NFL's "Next Man Up" mentality, it's San Antonio. Cousin LaMarcus is playing his best basketball since he got there, and they have 10 guys (!) averaging at least six points per game. Rudy Gay's been solid off the bench. They're second in the league in defensive rating
and first in points allowed
. And they have institutional memory and organizational pride out the wazoo. Those guys care,
about how they play, and about each other. And you can tell by the way they come out and compete. They don't always play well, but they almost always play hard, and that's from 1-15, so there's almost never any drop-off in intensity no matter who Gregg Popovich plugs in.
Unless you’re new to the NBA and its ways, you cannot claim to be surprised by any level of San Antonio Spurs overachievement. That team, under that coach, has demonstrated a resiliency and resourcefulness for so long, it’s become the norm.
No Leonard, yet San Antonio ranks second in defensive rating. Parker missing at point guard, yet the Spurs rank fourth in assists percentage
and fifth in assists ratio
. What would be surprising at this point would be to see the Spurs with that record flipped, 8-16, on the floor and moaning over what it doesn’t have rather than maxing out with what it does.
Well, we all should be surprised, until you realize Gregg Popovich did not retire, and the players on hand still believe in his system and move the ball and D-up. The only thing I'm somewhat surprised about is LaMarcus Aldridge and how he's playing top-10 basketball.
Remember, he didn't have Kawhi and Parker last spring in the West finals and completely melted down. Now? He's a beast some nights. Dare we say, after two-plus years in San Antonio he finally looks ... like a Spur.
LaMarcus Aldridge scores a season-high 41 points last week against Memphis.
No. The Spurs were 14-4 over the previous two regular seasons without Leonard. They've had, statistically, the league's best bench in each of the two previous seasons
. It also helps that they've had one of the easiest schedules in the West thus far. Kawhi Leonard is great, but so is the Spurs' depth, defense and coaching. The one surprising thing is the improvement of LaMarcus Aldridge
, who, at the age of 32, is registering career highs in effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage
with a higher usage rate than he had in his first two seasons with the Spurs. He's cut down on his mid-range shots a bit and has been one of the league's best finishers at the basket
. The Spurs are 8-1 in games he's scored 25 or more points
, something he did only eight times all of last season
Sekou Smith: Surprised? By the Spurs? Never.
I've learned my lesson where Gregg Popovich and his team are concerned. They are the surest thing in the league and they've been doing what they're doing now longer than LeBron James has been guaranteed to make The Finals. When you have a true culture, framework that players can thrive in no matter what last name is spread across the back of their jersey, you can survive without a talent like Kawhi Leonard for the first couple months of a season. It was brilliant work, as usual, from Pop. He rebuilt his relationship with LaMarcus Aldridge in the offseason
and then put the burden of carrying the team on Aldridge's shoulders until Kawhi and Tony Parker come back. There's a reason the rest of the league has raided the Spurs organization over the past two decades hoping to find someone with a little of that magic on them. It's the best blueprint for championship-level success in sports. No surprises at all.
* * *