No one said the NBA’s Western Conference would be easy territory, but I expected the San Antonio Spurs to be further up the ladder than this.
The Spurs were set up to be a team that combined some old and new elements that should have produced a competitive crew. They should be in the thick of the playoff race. Tickets to Spurs games should br a hot item.
Instead, they’ve experienced the longest losing streak in two decades, have spent more time below .500 this year than in 10 seasons. And they generally have not performed with the consistency of a playoff contender.
So what’s the problem? Hard to say. The Spurs have gotten good contributions from the players we expected. LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan may be down a notch in productivity. But they are around 19 and 21 points a game respectively, and Aldridge’s 7.4 rebounds a game is up to par.
There are four others averaging in double figures in scoring, and the team averages a respectable 111 points a game, 13th in the NBA.
You could point to defense, where San Antonio allows 114 a game, sixth worst in the league. The Rockets plowed through a 25-point Spurs lead this week as a glaring example. And they give up too many three-pointers at times; Minnesota hit 18 against the Spurs back on Nov. 27.
I think Coach Gregg Popovich can work out the defensive problems with a few minor changes. I like the idea of giving guard Byrne Forbes a break in minutes. He’s started as many games as Aldridge and DeRozan, and he averages 26 minutes on the floor, third on the team behind those stars.
Forbes’s sharp shooting earns him that status, but he is a streak shooter, and he has trouble defending the perimeter. Bringing him in off the bench as a shooter to rally the team, might be better deployment.
In turn, giving Lonnie Walker IV more time, maybe as a starter, could help. Popovich has already taken to this notion by giving the guard twice as many minutes since he scored 11 in 13 minutes against Minnesota in late November.
Walker can run well in transition, hit the three, slash drive, and he plays respectable defense.
What about digging deeper to deploy the franchise resources? This is a hard one for Pops, since he likes to stick to a system.
But first-round draft choices Keldon Johnson and Luka Samanic are playing like gangbusters in Austin, and moving them up wouldn’t necessarily be considered last ditch.
What might be last ditch would be putting up some talent for trading. That requires a strategy decision of getting a boost for this season, or planning for the future.
The Spurs stand No. 12 on that Western Conference ladder we referred to earlier, third in the Southwest Division behind the Rockets and the somewhat-surprising Mavs.
But they are only a game and a half from the playoff rung. Some assertive play between now and that long stretch of road games in February could put them back in serious contention, and make Spurs game tickets a bargain once again.
It starts with the last of the pre-Christmas home games Thursday vs. Brooklyn, and Saturday vs. the LA Clippers, a team the Spurs have split with this year.