NBA Preview: Death, Taxes And The San Antonio Spurs
They are Jason, Freddie and Michael Myers all wrapped into one. You cannot kill them. Push them out a window, run them over with a car, even say unkind things to their face without the preface of “no offense, but…”
None of it matters. They just…keep…coming.
Maybe the Riverwalk has magical powers. Maybe a diet subsisting wholly of meat and cheese truly is the way to go.
Or maybe, as many NBA observers have long been fond of saying, ownership really is the greatest competitive advantage a sports franchise can have.
For 27 years, the Spurs have been under Holt family ownership, with Peter Holt serving as CEO for most of that time. Over that span, San Antonio has missed the playoffs just once, when they tanked for Timmy over two decades ago. For 20 straight seasons, they won 50 games (or the percentage equivalent in the lockout shortened 98-99 season). This is almost unfathomable to comprehend in a league that undergoes so much change so often.
Of course, some of the bloom may (finally) be off the rose. That two-decade streak ended two years ago, and last season the Spurs won under 50 games for the second straight year. Their over/under for 2019-20 sits at 45.5. If Vegas is to be trusted, they’ll be a bottom-two playoff team for the third consecutive season.
But history doesn’t lie: doubt San Antonio at your peril. Over the last 14 seasons, they’ve hit their over 11 times, which is tied with Denver for the highest success rate over that span. And really, even that’s underselling how good they’ve been. One of the three times they fell short was two years ago, when Kawhi Leonard unexpectedly missed all but nine games. Even so, they still won 47 games.
That was followed by 48 wins last year. Yet for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, they’re pegged to drop off in the season ahead.
Let’s start with the roster. San Antonio returns their seven leading scorers from a season ago. It’s true that most of those guys – including the team’s two nominal stars, more on them in a bit – are on the wrong side of 30, but remember, this is the NBA’s Hydra. When one player starts to decline, two more are waiting, ready to pick up the slack.
This year, those reinforcements come in a few different shapes and sizes, but it all starts with Derrick White.
The “next big thing” buzz about White has gotten so loud as to require earplugs. He’ll be entering his third season in the league fresh off a prominent role on Team USA playing for his coach, Greg Popovich. White was a revelation in his sophomore season, emerging as the best young player the team has had since Leonard. When he was on the floor, the Spurs outscored opponents by 4.8 points per 100 possessions, but were outscored by 0.8 points per 100 when he was off.
Despite more than passing the eye and advanced stats tests, White’s production amounted to just under 10 points and four assists a game. One figures there is another leap coming.
You could say the same for Lonnie Walker IV, who barely saw the court last season thanks to an injury that kept him out for most of the year. Walker was captain of the “I’m clearly too good for this s---“ All-Stars at the Las Vegas Summer League, routinely getting to his spots and overmatching the competition to the tune of 60 points in two games. He will be a force off the bench.
Jakob Poeltl is another name on the rise. He was a bit of a forgotten man last year despite being the young player to come back to San Antonio in the Kawhi trade, but he was trending upwards as the season wound down. Following the All-Star break, Poeltl was one of just four players - joining Mitchell Robinson, Rudy Gobert and JaVale McGee - to average at least a block and a half per game while shooting above 65 percent from the field. Perhaps not coincidentally, the nine-game winning streak that started in late February and helped solidify the Spurs’ postseason chanced coincided with Poeltl being permanently inserted back into the starting lineup.
And then there’s Dejounte Murray. The buzz surrounding Murray this time last year exceeded that which is currently engulfing his backcourt partner White. Everything you heard was about how the Spurs saw star potential in their third-year guard. He sure looks to be healthy, and will be more than a year removed from his torn ACL once the season begins.
When you take these four names into consideration, not to mention newly acquired Trey Lyles (still just 23!), the always steady DeMarre Carrol, and rookies Luka Samanic and Keldon Johnson, it’s fair to ask whether the Spurs will be tempted to look for a trade involving DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, or both.
DeRozan has a $28 million player option for 2020-21 that is almost certainly more than he’s worth, but he also might be the most talented player to hit the open market next year (we’ll leave Anthony Davis out of this conversation for obvious reasons). Whether this makes the Spurs more or less likely to seek out a trade is anyone’s guess.
The good news if you’re inclined to bet the over here is that, by the numbers at least, San Antonio was a far better team with DeRozan off the court last year than when he was on. As for Aldridge, they had a slightly better point differential when he sat, but the numbers are too close to draw any significant conclusions there. Either way, it’s tough to see a scenario where Pop’s crew has a massive drop off even if they do decide to cash in some of their older chips.
With a rotation that goes 10-deep with solid NBA contributors and an impeccable track record of exceeding expectations, it’s fair to argue that the Spurs are the best “over” bet on the board. Yeah, they’ll fall off eventually. Just don’t expect it to be this year.
San Antonio Spurs - Over 46.5 Wins @ +110
Dean of Knicks Film School, host: KFS Pod, co-host: Pick N Pod. There isn't much about Knicks basketball that Jonathan doesn't know and he's here to break down the big games each and every week.