You would have to go a long way to find a top level sporting franchise with more sustained success than the San Antonio Spurs. Incredibly, since the team relocated from Dallas to San Antonio in 1973, they have missed the playoffs just four times. The last time they weren’t invited to the postseason was the 1997-98 campaign, the first season under hall of famer and spiritual leader Gregg Popovich.
In the last 25 years, the league’s most consistent team has reeled off five championships, ruling the viscous western conference as a constant force. Through the David Robinson era, the Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker generation and the Kawhi Leonard age, the Spurs just kept on keeping on.
Now it’s a new age of San Antonio Spurs basketball. The legends that help them reach those title-winning levels are truant. In their place are other All-NBA members in DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, but the two aren’t at the level their counterparts are, and the Spurs are struggling to grasp the colossal expectations this franchise has sewn into its roots.
They certainly haven’t been bad per say, but a western conference that is reminiscent of an active battleground, they have been far from stellar. With a fairly sizable 26-game sample size, the Spurs are sit even-keeled with a 14-14 win-lost record. Landing them in the 10th place in the western conference, which is extremely unfamiliar territory.
They aren’t easy-beats, but teams certainly head into games against San Antonio with less boot-shaking fear than they are used to over the last quarter century.
After a much-needed win over the Los Angeles Lakers, they are currently ranked 10th in offensive rating. It’s an encouraging mark, albeit expected with two offensive stars like DeRozan and Aldridge leading the pack. The biggest flaw in their game however is the Spurs’ inability to truly hurt teams from behind the 3-point arc. Pop’s squad currently rank third in 3-point percentage (38.9%), but they are doing so on the least attempts in the league.
Instead of taking and making a bunch of triples like the rest of the league has gravitated toward, the Spurs opt for an old school approach of getting up a bevy of mid-range jumpers. Their 26.1 mid-range attempts per game is the highest rate in the NBA, and convert only 39.8 percent of those shots.
That infatuation with the least efficient shot in basketball starts at the top. DeRozan has kept his reputation as a kobe-like mid-range shot-jacker in tact this season, hoisting 215 (7.7 per game), while Aldridge has put up 198 (7.1 per game). They currently rank as two of the four players in the league who have attempted over seven mid-rangers per night. With a combined 390 attempts, the pair has shot more mid-range jumpers than 20 teams, which is completely absurd.
Shots like this end of quarter clank are the type that kill teams’ shooting efficiency. Instead of simply pulling up for a triple, DeRozan takes one dribble inside the arc and sidesteps into a 20-foot jimmy that never really had a chance of going in:
Even while betraying the analytical style that the league is trending toward, the Spurs have still managed to scrape by with a manageable offense. That is thanks in part to coach Pop’s brilliance. He is a puppet master when it comes to running plays to get his guys to the bucket and get easy points.
The real problem has been defensively. Without elite perimeter defenders Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to anchor their defense, San Antonio has turned from one of the league’s grittiest defenses to a complete liability.
Even after three wins on the troy, the Spurs still hold the second worst defensive rating in the league. The 112.1 points they give up per 100 possessions is inferior to even the Atlanta Hawks, Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards — some of the worst defensive units in the NBA.
Ignoring Morey-ball (layups and 3’s) has managed to work for them offensively, it’s hampered them defensively. The Spurs allow their opposition to shoot 65 percent from the restricted area, and 39.1 percent from behind the arc. A recipe that is conducive to getting big numbers dropped on your head.
They have given up over 125 points six different times already this season. For reference, they didn’t give up over 125 once in the previous two seasons. The frequent laziness of DeRozan, the aging body of Aldridge, or the fact they are sorely missing All-Defensive point guard Dejounte Murray, the Spurs have a litany of problems to cover defensively. So far, they are patching precisely zero of them.
Alas, the Spurs stumbled out of the gates, and over a quarter way through the race, they still haven’t found their feet. After a run of success that is unparalleled around major league sports, San Antonio might finally be ready to fall off the stallion they have rode so gallantly for decades.
The Spurs era might officially be over.
All statistics are accurate as of the 11th of December