Here at the Beef we never really discuss the San Antonio Spurs except when we want to make light of them. However, not even we can can joke about their play of late as they have been simply dominant. Last night the Spurs steamrolled the Cleveland Cavaliers 116-92 to notch their tenth consecutive victory giving them the NBA’s best record at 11-1, which is also the best start in franchise history.
San Antonio’s start is a complete 180 from last year’s when they were 6-6 at this point. Last season we joked about the Spurs’ age slowing them down. This season they addressed that issue bringing the average player age on their roster down from 28.11 years old to 27.25 years old. Essentially, they eliminated the fat but kept their veteran core intact.
Keeping that core who knows how to play in Greg Popovich’s system has paid dividends so far. The Spurs rank second in the league in both points per game, averaging 107.8, and offensive rating which stands at 112.2. Their defense is not too shabby either as the Spurs hold their opponents to 98.2 points per game which ranks eleventh in the league while their team defensive rating is sixth best at 102.2.
San Antonio keeps winning despite Tim Duncan‘s offensive struggles. It is not insulting to say that Duncan is on the downhill slope of his career which peaked from 2001-2003. Since that time his numbers have remained as mechanical and consistent until the past several years. This season Duncan is averaging 13.7 points, which places him fourth on the team in scoring, and 9.6 rebounds, his lowest averages in his career. He is also connecting on field goals at a clip of .482 which is a career low.Where Duncan’s age appears to be effecting his game, others have stepped in to fill the void.
Last season, Richard Jefferson found himself to be the butt of jokes and the shame of the River Walk. Many questioned the Spurs’ sanity when they resigned him after releasing him this summer. They released him so that they could restructure his contract. That restructuring seems to also have effected his game and efficiency substantially. Jefferson recorded his worst season last year since he was a rookie, averaging only 12.3 points. This season he has seen a marked improvement. He is averaging 16.3 points on 54 percent shooting, the highest mark in his career. Yes, the season is only twelve games old for the Spurs but if Jefferson continues this pace it can mean only good things for the Spurs.
Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, despite his marital collapse, continue to pace San Antonio, as they have done for several years now. Ginobili leads the team in scoring at 20 points per game with Parker not far behind at 19.1. Parker is also averaging 7.7 dimes per contest.
Role players have also contributed greatly to the Spurs’ early success. Matt Bonner, the team’s most reliable three-point shooter, leads the entire league in three-point field goal percentage with a clip of .667, though he has only appeared in six games thus far, connecting on 14 of his 22 attempts this season. Gary Neal and Antonio McDyess have also contributed nicely off the bench while George Hill is averaging 8.4 points to lead all reserves this season.
Tiago Splitter, the most recent acquisition by San Antonio, has appeared in eight games this season with the game against Cleveland being his biggest. He scored 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting while also collecting five rebounds and recording two blocks.
Not everything is flowers and butterflies for the Spurs, however. DeJuan Blair‘s offensive production need improvement. The second year player out of Pitt is averaging just 6.4 points while shooting a dreadful 39 percent from the floor. Where is game does not need improvement is on the defensive end. Blair is grabbing 4.8 defensive boards per game out his season average of 7.8 total rebounds and has a defensive rating of 98 which is tied with Duncan for the best on the team.
The Spurs did not have the most difficult schedule for the first twelve games of the season with their one loss coming against the New Orleans Hornets, who have the second best record in the league at 10-1. They did, however, have to face the Thunder, Bulls, and Jazz in a three game stretch in which they handily defeated each. The coming week should be a good barometer of how the Spurs shape up in the league as a whole as they host the Orlando Magic on Monday and Dallas Mavericks on Friday with a trip to Minnesota in the middle.
Early this season, San Antonio has given the Western Conference more to think about other than the general Lakers praise that is rampant. They have the best record and sit atop the tough Southwest Division. The Spurs seem to be a dark horse championship pick every season. This season, however, calling them a dark horse candidate would only mean that any appreciation of their accomplishments so far has been ignored. Do not be surprised if San Antonio disrupts a certain team’s quest for a three-peat. The Spurs and Lakers square off for the first time on December 28.