For all the weeping and gnashing of teeth about the Spurs first half, it’s really amazing to see where we are. Yes, it’s a 7 seed right now, but the standings are so tight, they are only 4 games out of 2nd and the same 4 games from being in 1st in the Southwest division. The ESPN Hollinger Stats show the Spurs in 6th overall and less than a point behind the Rockets in 5th. Those stats don’t know how many games the team lost due to injury (a lot) or how much better the Spurs tend to play in the second half of a season anyway (also, a lot). In short, there’s no need to get panicky. The team is not yet firing on all cylinders, but the signs are there that they can be.
Things I Like (in no order of importance)
1. Aggressive Aron – The Big Banger has clearly carved out a spot as the 3rd / 4th big in the rotation (depending on how you feel about Boris). I like the move overall – he’s clearly outplayed Ayres for that job, despite Jeff’s superior athleticism. But what I really like is that Aron is starting to assert himself on the offensive end. He’s always set massive, solid screens and run the floor well. But now he’s added his post-up jump hook and face-up jumper to his game. And he’s been pretty confident taking it. I’m not going to tell you that he’s a difference maker in a playoff game. But I do feel loads more confident now for that random 2nd round game where Tim or Tiago gets in early foul trouble.
2. Confident Kawhi – We’ve seen a different guy since the return from the hand injury. Early in the season, I thought Kawhi was trying to be more aggressive offensively but he was forcing some things to happen that didn’t always end well. Since his return, I’ve seen very little of the forcing and a lot more of an offensive force. He’s posting up everyone who guards him who is smaller, he shoots over bigger players, and he’s starting to make some really good passes when he drives (like a pocket pass to Tim on a pick-&-roll against Denver). He just looks more comfortable in the “primary offensive option” role than he did early in the year. I think he won’t end the season as the leading scorer (that’s probably Tony again) but his comfort level will only help come playoff time.
3. The Experiment Continues – Now that almost everyone is healthy, Pop is back to tinkering with lineups. The last 2 games, Pop has started Bonner against teams with smaller lineups. I suspect we’ll see Tiago again against the bigger lineups and teams where he feels we needs extra paint protection. You are seeing Patty be the first guard in some nights, and Cory on other nights. We saw an extended run of Tiago and Baynes on the floor together a few games ago, which is both frightening and strange, all at once. All of this is simply Pop trying to learn some things, like which lineups will be effective against which teams and how certain players will play beside other players. I personally like it. It’s fun and it mixes up the grind of an 82 game season. But I understand why some of you hate it. Just remember, Pop’s goal is not necessarily to win regular season games; it’s to get the team ready to win playoff games. Winning in the regular season is just a by-product of learning how to play well.
4. Anderson in Austin – I love SloMo getting playing time in Austin now that we have a (mostly) healthy team. With everyone back, he wouldn’t see a lot of time in the big league lineup and we have all seen first hand, with CoJo and Baynes, what time in the D-League can do. It’s not just about playing better; it’s also about getting confidence and learning more about the system. A lot of time in Austin this season could mean he’s ready to contribute in San Antonio next season.
Things I Don’t Like
1. Shots at the Rim – One consequence of all of the small lineups we are playing is that other teams seem to be finishing at the rim better than last year. Some of this might be expectation – maybe I thought that when Kawhi came back, it would be the magic elixir for that end of the floor. That’s not been the case. It’s been better, but there still too many lapses, especially in the paint. Keep an eye on this as the 2nd half progresses. It’ll be interesting to see where we are in overall defensive efficiency rating come playoff time.
2. Overpassing – I love unselfish basketball. That’s one of the reasons watching last year’s team was such a beautiful thing (and why I rewatch Games 4 & 5 of the Finals about every two weeks). But we’ve been forcing some passes and passing up some great shots. I think it’s just a rhythm thing and it will get better as everyone is playing together again. But right now, it’s annoying to see Manu or Boris pass on a great shot to try and make one more pass.
3. Paranoia – As close as the West is, health is going to make a huge difference down the stretch. It’s already had a major impact on the standings as they are. The Spurs would be higher than 7th if Kawhi had been healthy and of course, OKC would be much higher with their two guys in the lineup each game. The rest of the season is this weird mix of enjoyment and total fear. You want to see your guys and see them play well, but it’s frightening every time Kawhi or Tim or Tony takes a fall on the floor. My Twitter timeline almost imploded when Kawhi left the Bucks game early in the 1st last night and went to the locker room with Will Sevening. He was fine, but the “watching the injury” game is going to be a maddening part of the rest of this season.
That’s it for this week. I’ll post again next Monday. In the meantime, I’m twittering like a lunatic during most games. Tweet me at @BartTBF.