I think we can all agree with Pop about lots of things. He’s a super smart, interesting guy with lots of opinions. But one thing about which I think he is hell-bent to change is the NBA schedule. The man is clearly on a mission to force the NBA to deal with the schedule issue. What’s the issue? Too many games in “spurts”, like the one the Spurs are about to get into, where there are 9 games in the next 14 days. And then there are these weird 3 day off stretches for no good reason. And we all agree because Pop is right, of course: the schedule prevents us from seeing the best possible basketball. So as we reach the point where this crazy scheduled season is about 1/4 over, it’s a good opportunity to do some assessment about why they are winning a lot of games (other than, “they are really good”).
1. The schedule is breaking right.
Let’s be honest – there’s nothing like a few West patsies (including a Boogie-less Kings team) and an East Coast road trip to feed a winning streak. The teams we are playing right now are teams that we should be beating. And despite some rough starts and uneven patches, we generally are. Even adding Austin Daye to the rotation hasn’t impacted our ability to win games. (Props to Messina, though, for anchoring him to the bench the two games Pop was gone). And the “harder” games on the schedule – road games at the Clips, Warriors, and Grizzlies, were solid wins. Overall, the Spurs have had a SOS rating of .508 on the Hollinger Ratings on ESPN, which is tough, but not as difficult as it sounds. By comparison, the Kings have a .615, the Pelicans have a .529, and the Cavs have a .519. In summary, the Spurs have played a lot of winnable games and beaten a few solid teams on the road. Given the injury concerns, 15-5 is a great start.
2. Two end-of-the-bench guys have exceeded expectations.
I wrote at length about Cory Joseph and Aron Baynes a few weeks ago, so I won’t rehash that here. I will say I may have been wrong about Aron – getting more time in the last few games, I’ve seen a few things I haven’t noticed before. First, he’s got nice touch away from the basket. Second, his runs to the basket on the high pick are much improved. He’s scored several baskets on that specific play and it looks like he’s more prepared to get the ball and more prepared to finish when he does get it. And finally, he’s bouncier than I thought. For a guy who is just so big, he’s got hops. His jump step is remarkably quick for a guy that size. Cory is Cory – he’s a very solid point guard who runs the offense, distributes the ball, plays solid defense, and scores when he needs to. Needless to say, both guys are playing well and are helping bridge the gap until everyone is healthy.
3. The offense is moving the ball again.
We are getting back to the days of 25+ assists per game. After languishing in the middle of the pack, the Spurs have also risen to 5th in the Hollinger stats Assist Ratio, which compares assists and free throws earned with turnovers. Stats aside, the eye test proves it too. We are starting to see the ball movement that makes everyone drool. Sure, they did that against Minny and Philly, but they also did it in the Memphis game, a very solid defensive team. They are manufacturing good looks all over the floor. Wayne did a fantastic job of highlighting this in his post from a week or so ago. I won’t rehash that, but I will say two things:
- Wayne is dead-on in his analysis about getting good shots from Boris in the post. It’s one of my favorite things about seeing Boris come in the game. He’s just a fantastic basketball player. Who else in the league can you run the offense through who can play point, wing, and post? Can you name one? I can’t.
- The Tony and Kawhi isos are killing me. I realize we are trying to find ways to get Kawhi the ball, but I’d much rather that come in the flow of the offense or in the post. Get him the ball in the post. That’s where he can be really effective.
4. I’m shocked at how good the defense has been without Tiago.
I also don’t understand it, except that I’m worried about Tim playing too many minutes at the start of this season. With he and Baynes being the only true centers and a slew of teams we have played having capable big men, preventing us from going to the super-small Boris at center lineups for any significant stretches, Tim has been in the game a lot. Too much for my taste. Tiago will take some time to get back into the groove, but it can’t happen fast enough for me.
Music of the Week
I’m stuck on the new The Rural Alberta Advantage album, Mended with Gold this week. If you like The RAA (and they are one of my favorite bands), you’ll love this album. It’s more of the same anthemic, drum-pounding, indie folk that we saw on the earlier albums, Hometowns and Departing. If I’m asked to rank them, I prefer this one over Departing, but not over Hometowns. Check them all out if you don’t know who they are.