The San Antonio Spurs’ season was bizarre on multiple levels, but they still made the playoffs because they are a team of efficient robots. The first bizarre saga involved Kawhi Leonard, who still hasn’t suited up for a game in months, and the communication about the incident appears to have been very poor from both sides. There is no timetable on his return, and there is very little information in the public sphere. R.C. Buford played down the issue, but Kawhi Leonard himself refused to deny that there was tension between him and the Spurs, while Gregg Popovich essentially called out Leonard publicly.
On the court, the Spurs were a solid team, but they failed to win 50 games for the first time since Popovich took charge in the 96-97 season (not counting the 98-99 season which was reduced to 50 games). They were carried by LaMarcus Aldridge, who silenced his off-season critics and put up an incredible 23 points and 8.5 rebounds per game on 51% shooting from the field. The Spurs played their typical tough brand of defense, and their timeless duo of Manu Ginobili and Pau Gasol provided some highlight moments and good outside shooting.
The team struggled for offensive consistency throughout the year, but they ranked fourth in defensive rating, which carried them to yet another a successful season. They were not a particularly exciting watch this year, but they got the job done and will enter the playoffs as the team that many will want to avoid, as Popovich is the best coach of all time and can do incredible things with average players.
The biggest strength of this team is on the defensive side of the ball, as they have a great system in place and a variety of guards who are elite at denying penetration into the paint. This protects Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge, and forces teams into tough action on the perimeter, which slows the pace of the game down and this is ultimately what the Spurs want.
The Spurs also have an elite coaching staff in place, as outside of Popovich they have the great basketball minds of James Borrego, Ettore Messina and Becky Hammon, amongst others. If Gregg Popovich somehow manages to miss something when he is studying the opponents’ game tape, it is likely that one of his assistants will pick it up. Coaching can only get you so far when you don’t have a very talented roster, but the likes of Steve Kerr and Mike D’Antoni would like to avoid a Gregg Popovich matchup if possible.
The weakness for the Spurs is simply that the offense, outside of LaMarcus Aldridge, is nowhere near the level it needs to be at. They have a lot of very ordinary offensive players who like to slow things down, but this often means they end up settling for bad shots. Aldridge has proven he can handle a heavy load, but a forward-centric game plan without top level guard play won’t get you very far in the playoffs.
The Spurs have a lot of three-point shooting, but I question whether they have the guard play that can get these guys in their sweet spots on a repeated basis. I’m not doubting the scheme, as they have a lot of actions and look to create corner threes, but I think this team might struggle in the crunch time, if their games reach that point.
In terms of significance, I’m not sure the results of this postseason will have any bearing on Kawhi Leonard remaining or leaving the Spurs. If the damage has been done already, things don’t matter anyway, but a first round exit would only emphasise that this organisation needs Kawhi Leonard to function, and move forward. Popovich already has five rings, so given what has gone on off-the-court, I doubt he will too upset if his team exit in the first round, it is a miracle that they are even here really.
THE MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER?
The key player is no doubt LaMarcus Aldridge, as he is really the only star player that this team has. The offense runs through his ability at the elbow and in mid-range areas, and when he is on the court, the offense looks really good, and is fun to watch. When he isn’t on the court, the offense is one of the worst in the League.
THE ONE TO WATCH?
The Spurs always appear to have a player who breaks out in the postseason, so I will tell fans to watch out for Bryn Forbes. He isn’t a household name, but he will be soon as he defends really well, and can shoot the three ball at an effective level. It would not surprise me in the slightest if Forbes had one or two games where he knocks three or four shots in from the perimeter.
Written by Joe Hulbert – Copyright © 2018 Double Clutch. Double Clutch is not affiliated with the NBA and does not claim ownership over any NBA audio or images used. All rights are those of the NBA/NBA UK and respected parties e.g. Getty images.