San Antonio Spurs: Improved defense will be key to making the playoffs

NBA San Antonio Spurs Dejounte Murray (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
NBA San Antonio Spurs Dejounte Murray (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

San Antonio Spurs need an improved defense

For as great as the San Antonio Spurs under Gregg Popovich have been over the past two decades, this year has been quite a challenging one. The team has been reliant upon an odd mix of young players and a duo of vintage veterans in DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, the results weren’t stellar.

A 27-36 record before the season paused, the Spurs had a solid, albeit dated, offense that ranked 11th in the league. The team scored the 10th most points per game but were 26th in 3-point makes. Even though the offense was archaic, it was the defensive side of the ball though that was really the problem for San Antonio this season.

Since Popovich took over as the Spurs’ coach, he has helped lead the team to be at least a top 11 defensive team for 21 of his 24 seasons. In fact, the team had at least a top 11 Defensive Rating for 21 straight seasons (from the 1997-98 season through 2017-18). It wasn’t until the 2018-19 season that the Spurs dropped significantly on that end of the floor.

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This season, the Spurs were ranked 24th in that metric, giving up the sixth-most points per game this season, along with the fifth-most 3-point makes per contest. It was an overall ugly showing on the defensive side of the ball this season, one that has followed the Spurs in their two scrimmage games thus far in Orlando.

What is wrong with the San Antonio Spurs?

Coming into the restart in Orlando, everyone knew it was going to be a tough road for the Spurs to make it into the playoffs. The Spurs had lost arguably their best player in LaMarcus Aldridge to shoulder surgery, and to account for that loss Popovich and his coaching staff knew they’d have to experiment with their lineups in hopes of finding something that could make the team competitive.

In the team’s first scrimmage the results came as expected. Playing a team who many consider the best in the league in the Milwaukee Bucks, the Spurs got absolutely demolished 113-92. In that game though, the Spurs played a smaller lineup which featured Dejounte Murray and Derrick White in the backcourt, Lonnie Walker IV and DeMar DeRozan at the wings, and center Jakob Poeltl in the paint.

The loss was bad but there were bright spots in the fact that the Spurs got to play their young trio together and with time there was hope that they could improve to be an even better perimeter defense than what the Spurs had. Going with a smaller lineup, however, meant that the Spurs weren’t able to contain Milwaukee’s frontcourt of Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Brook Lopez who all scored over 15 points.

The disappointing results continued into their second scrimmage in which they lost the Brooklyn Nets, 124-119. An undermanned Nets team, led by Caris LeVert, hit 14 3’s on the Spurs en route to their high-scoring victory.

The Spurs did continue to show some flashes being aggressive early, shooting more 3’s along with the strong play on both ends from Derrick White and Lonnie Walker but Spurs are going to need to do more to make a playoff run happen.

Looking at the numbers, what’s a major concern is this young lineup the Spurs are playing is playing exactly like a young lineup who played very little time together would, and that’s sloppy. The Spurs have committed a league-leading 46 turnovers and 57 fouls through just two scrimmage games, which is absolutely horrendous.

The San Antonio Spurs moving forward 

What needs to be mentioned is that as poorly as these Spurs have played so far, the lineup they’re using is actually their best hope for a playoff run. Murray, White, and Walker are the future of the Spurs franchise so it’s about time they start playing together.

The chemistry isn’t there with this lineup yet and that’s probably the biggest problem. Most teams playing in Orlando right now have lineups that played together consistently throughout the regular season.

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There’s still hope, though, if Popovich and his staff are going to ride this lineup the rest of the way there’s no better coach to make it work than Pop. This unit just needs more discipline and both ends of the floor and time to become cohesive with each other’s strengths. There’s little time to do it but if they can then there’s still a chance the Spurs can make a run to the playoffs.