A MODEST PROPOSAL ...
No team in the NBA is quite like the Spurs, with their standing militia of mid-range specialists led by LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay and Pau Gasol. San Antonio took fewer three-pointers than all but two teams last season, and now it's added DeMar DeRozan, a shooting guard with limited long-range skills.
The Spurs shrink the floor, churn through cluttered sets and take the shots no other team wants. They're so confident in what they do that they might as well take that anachronistic approach to its natural extreme. Aim for modern mid-range records. Make hay with snug pick-and-rolls from the elbows in. Roll out supersized lineups to dominate the paint and the glass. Find ways to use the habits of opposing defenses—now oriented to guarding the arc—against them.
With Dejounte Murray likely out for the season with a torn ACL and his initial replacement, Derrick White, sidelined for a few months, why not let the 6'7" DeRozan bully teams from the point? The Spurs are already positioned to be one of the stranger case studies in recent NBA history. They might as well leverage their staff of creative thinkers and lean into what makes them different.
COACH GREGG POPOVICH
2017--18 RECORD: 47--35
PREDICTION: Lose 1st round
PG PATTY MILLS
SF RUDY GAY
PF LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE (21 [SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING])
C PAU GASOL (98 [SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING])
SG DEMAR DEROZAN [NEW ACQUISITION] (30 [SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING])
DeRozan upped his three-point attempts last year from 1.7 per game to 3.6, but his percentage was third-worst in the NBA for players with that many attempts.
SG MARCO BELINELLI [NEW ACQUISITION]
C JAKOB POELTL [NEW ACQUISITION]
SG LONNIE WALKER IV [ROOKIE]
(*) NEW ACQUISITION
(#)SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP SAN ANTONIO
KAWHI LEONARD only played nine games last year, so getting DEMAR DEROZAN actually adds to a team that was the seventh seed. With his production that they were missing on the wing factored in, it's probably good enough to keep them in the playoffs. Pop will put him in positions where he can score from his spots. He's still dynamic, it's just getting him to buy in to the ball-moving element—and on defense. He offsets some of the mid-range shots he takes by getting to the free throw line, and hopefully his three-point shooting can continue to get better. He's got a lot to prove.... LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE is still so skilled, and their offense puts guys in positions to be efficient. As long as he gets his touches, he's happy and productive, and that was what happened last year.... I think we'll see PAU GASOL play fewer minutes to keep him fresh, maybe 18, 20.... LONNIE WALKER—going into their culture, guys always improve, so I think he's going to be a fit and they got him at a good value in the draft. He's gotta play more under control and improve his jumper. He'll spend time in the G League, but two years from now he should have a significant role.... PATTY MILLS is now the elder statesman. His energy, his shooting and his passion will always resonate. BRYN FORBES is kind of his understudy for that role.... Without Manu Ginóbili and Tony Parker, this is the most change they've had in a long time. It'll be interesting to see how their blueprint works without the quote-unquote "Spurs" guys. They're just like the rest of us now.