As always, Gregg Popovich, the 72-year-old Spurs coach with wavy hair, used his pregame media availability Tuesday to play ping pong between issues, since Keldon Johnson’s return (“He didn’t back yet, ”Popovich said) to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to lift the state mask mandate this week. “Getting rid of the masks seems like ignorance to me,” Popovich said. “We’ve been through this once. Do we have to do it again? “
As always, San Antonio, the franchise with the highest winning percentage in NBA history (61.8%) joining it against New York, tattooed the Knicks red-hot 119-93, a victory that came only hours after going through a tough overtime loss to Brooklyn. They won like the Spurs victory, with accurate shots (48.3%), low turnovers (eight) and a tight defense that kept New York at 40.7% shots.
“It was an impressive win after a back-to-back,” Popovich said. “They just keep hauling trucks.”
The victory solidified San Antonio’s hold on a top-five seed and, really, who saw is next? This was the rebuilding year, the transition year, the year the Spurs joined the ranks of all the contenders after their expiration date and sold their assets (DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge) for draft picks. However, San Antonio is 18-13 after the win over New York and is heading into the playoffs.
What a season for DeRozan, who tops any list of All-Star slights. DeRozan is scoring (20 points per game), which is no surprise. But he’s also creating plays (7.3 assists per game, his career high) while committing the fewest turnovers (1.6) since his rookie year. Against the Knicks, DeRozan delivered 11 assists, not once turning the ball over.
What a season for Johnson, Dejounte Murray and the entire Spurs player development machine. Murray had six assists against the Knicks, against just one turnover. Murray’s shooting has been erratic, but he is scoring a career-best 15.8 points per game clip and emerged as one of the best rebounding guards in the NBA (7.2 per game).
Johnson embodies the Spurs. The 29th Drafted in 2019, Johnson played 17 games for San Antonio last season. He has 28 (and still counting) in this one, averaging 14.3 points and 6.8 rebounds. The 29th The selection has produced players for San Antonio in recent years, with Murray (2016), Derrick White (2017) and Johnson falling there, three solid starters, or future starters, who along with Lonnie Walker, Devin Vassell and Jakob Poeltl form the core of the Spurs’ future all of a sudden baby-faced.
What a season for Popovich, although nobody that Surprised? Popovich looked perfect for an outing last summer, when San Antonio’s two-decade playoff streak ended in the NBA bubble. With the Spurs in flux and COVID-19 threatening to cripple another season, and with rumors that Popovich was planning a post-USA Basketball outing anyway, the time seemed right to walk away. Instead, Popovich is a Coach of the Year candidate, preaching the same principles to DeRozan, Murray and Johnson (“Play together, defend, get your teammates back,” Murray said) that he did to Tim Duncan, Tony Parker. and Manu Ginobili.
The Spurs could still dismantle the roster, of course. DeRozan, 31, and LaMarcus Aldridge, 35, have expiring contracts, and it’s fair to wonder if either of them have a future in San Antonio beyond this season. Aldridge has struggled since he was moved to the second unit and has acknowledged that the learning curve could be steep. Moving one or both of the two could bolster the main office with a capital project for the future.
But the Spurs don’t see themselves as a brave standout. Come room for improvement. They see that a defensive team in the top ten still has another level. “I think we can be an even better defensive team,” Murray said. They see a recent battle with COVID-19 as a reason to be patient as players return. They see a starting backcourt of Murray and White improving as the season progresses. Come to Walker, after showing flashes of brilliance in DeRozan’s absence earlier this month, playing more consistently in the second half of the season.
“We have a long way to go,” Murray said. “We have not done anything. Obviously, I think we are going in the right direction. We are growing up. We are learning “.
And winning. Spurs style.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.